We’re going to learn a lot about the Los Angeles Lakers over the next five games.
Forgive me for not overreacting to an eventually-comfortable win over the 8-39 Orlando Magic at the Amway Center. That said, the Lakers needed to beat Orlando at the end of a chaotic week that included the best win of the season, reports of Vogel’s impending demise, and a debacle vs. the Indiana Pacers that culminated in Russell Westbrook’s benching. LeBron’s comments notwithstanding, Orlando has the worst record in basketball (it showed), and the Lakers, frankly, didn’t separate themselves until late in the third quarter. Plus, each time Los Angeles seems to make any progress this season, they follow it up with immediate regression.
“We understood that this was going to be a tough game to start the road trip,” LeBron said. “Any time you start that six-game roadie away from home, it’s always the toughest game.”
I see LeBron’s point, but there’s zero chance a matchup against the Magic will be tougher than each of the upcoming five contests. Still, it’s an encouraging start to what could be a season-defining trip that could alter the direction of the franchise by the time the Lakers return to Los Angeles.
“We started it off right with a win tonight,” Westbrook said. “It’s a big trip for us. A good bonding and togetherness trip for our group and finding ways to be able to come together and come out with some wins and create some rhythm, some confidence in our group that we can be the team that we all know that we should be.”
Here are five other reasons why this trip is important to the Lakers to a degree that’s hard to overstate.
1) Strength of schedule
The Lakers’ upcoming slate features four playoff teams and last season’s Eastern Conference finalist.
They’ll enjoy a Saturday off in Miami (uh-oh) before facing the Heat (uh-oh) on Sunday. Next, they’ll take on the Brooklyn Nets who, without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as they will be on Tuesday, handled the Lakers on Christmas. On Thursday, the small-ball Lakers will try and deal with Joel Embiid before a matchup the next night with the upstart Charlotte Hornets. They’ll wrap things up with the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon.