The Lakers are two games into their five-game road trip, winning at Chicago and losing to the Toronto Raptors. They have three games remaining against the Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, and Oklahoma City Thunder. The first two should be wins while no one will be shocked if they lose to OKC again.
This trip is the perfect barometer test to see just how far they have truly come. They started out the season promisingly, showing huge flashes of improvement and hope for the future, only to fall into a 3-17 stretch that ended with a nine-game losing streak.
Since then, they are 8-3 and are back to early season form. However, most of those eight wins came at home to mediocre teams. This road trip will test just how far they have come.
First, they have to show that they can beat the teams they are supposed to be beating; the teams that are as bad as they are, if not worse. It’s one thing to do it at home, but another thing to do it on the road (especially with a young team).
The next step in the team’s development has to be winning away from home. That is the only thing that will propel them to the next level. Starting with winning games against the Bulls, Magic, and Nets is an excellent place to start. You have to start somewhere, so why not start from the bottom and work your way up. If you struggle with them, then you have ways to go.
They beat the Bulls impressively and hung in and gave one of the best teams in the NBA with two All-Stars (the Raptors) a battle. The Bulls had a similar record, but that’s because of a slow start. They caught fire in December and, while they have leveled off, are an improving, talented, and an upstart young team like the Lakers, who are playing better than people expected.
So winning in the Windy City was never going to be easy. Losing a tough battle against an elite team while not having anything going for you (only Larry Nance Jr. had a good game) on offense is impressive on its own.
Now they face a young Magic team that is struggling but does have some talent and then a better-than-expected Nets team. If the Lakers can come away with a win in both these games, losing in OKC is more bearable. An OKC team that has finally figured everything out and as of Monday night is on an eight-game winning streak.
A 4-1 trip would be outstanding. A 3-2 trip with the only losses coming at the hands of two of the better teams in basketball is nothing to be ashamed of or scoff at. 2-3 would be disappointing but okay. 1-4 would be unbearable.
The only way to take the next step in your development as a team is to separate yourself from those in your tier by putting yourself above them. That starts with beating them at home.
Then you have to beat them on the road, and playing on the road is always tougher. So if the Lakers can show they can at least hang with their opponents away from the comfortable confines of Staples Center and in an uncomfortable and hostile environment, that is an improvement in of itself.
If the Lakers are serious about their (very very slim) playoff hopes, they have to win games against the bottom of the NBA and distinguish themselves from it, not be a part of it. The next three games will show us what this team is actually made of and will potentially dictate the outcome of the rest of the season on a smaller scale.