You'll have to forgive a slightly shorter preview for today's game, since, you know, the Los Angeles Lakers just played tonight's opponent, the Phoenix Suns. In beating Los Suns by a comfortable margin on Friday night, the Lakers should be real clear on how to keep the winning streak going. However, there is one new variable to consider, and when introduced, that variable has been a virtual death knell to the purple and gold. That variable is playing away from Staples Center.
The Lakers have actually been damn near dominant when the game tips off above their own logo. The 13-2 record the Lakers have compiled at home outstrips the performance of each of the last two seasons, one of which was championship caliber squad. Of course, the Lakers' disappointing overall record means that their corresponding road performance has been god awful. 5-10 on the road is just terrible, terrible stuff.
And it also doesn't make sense. If there's one thing people like to say about the Lakers, its that they are an old and slow group. The Lakers ARE an old and slow group of guys, but in order to have an old roster, that means you must also have an experienced roster, and experienced players are supposed to be better at handling the energy swings involved with playing in a building where everybody hates your guts instead of worships the ground you walk on. Inconsistency should be the one quality this team doesn't have to worry about, but if you add the consistently strong performances at home with the consistently terrible ones on the road, inconsistency is exactly what you are left with.
Can today be a turning point? We better hope so. Tonight represents the first of four games in five nights, and the last two (at Dallas, at OKC) are tough, tough contests. Tomorrow night's home tilt with Portland is no cakewalk either. Those games put into sharp relief the concept that games like tonight's, against an opponent you so clearly outmatch, need to be taken care of, no matter the location.
So the formula for tonight's contest doesn't change. Feed Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Let Kobe exact the revenge of 2006-2007 that he never seems to tire of exacting. Use strong ball movement to get open outside shots, and then hit those shots. Having been able to spend almost a full week in the friendly confines of their own practice facility, the coaches have seemed to get the offense on track a little bit, and it will be vital for that progress to maintain itself instead of taking steps back. The plan sounds so simple, but executing the plan will be significantly more difficult tonight than it was on Friday. We don't know why it will be more difficult, and with a team as experienced as the Lakers, it shouldn't be more difficult, but after a while the numbers don't lie. The numbers say the Lakers will struggle to win this contest, even if there is no viable explanation for why.