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Los Angeles Lakers Must Go 5-2 on 7-Game Road Trip

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives on Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 106-95 Laker win at Staples Center on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Todd PheiferAnalyst IIIJanuary 29, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers have won two in a row, and a reasonable amount of optimism has returned in regards to turning things around in the second half of the season. It helps when one of those wins was against the 34-11 Oklahoma City Thunder.

Granted, it helps when you outshoot your opponent 55 to 44 percent from the floor and hit 41 percent of your threes.

Is this a sign that the Lakers are finally going to live up to the hype? Or is this the last bit of success before Los Angeles limps through the rest of the season and misses the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season?

As Ramona Shelburne recently tweeted:

Have the Lakers turned it around? That's like predicting the US economy back in 2008 espn.go.com/los-angeles/nb…

— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 28, 2013

If the Lakers are going to recover and make the postseason, they must take advantage of every opportunity. To that end, Los Angeles must go 5-2 on their upcoming seven-game road trip. That is not an absolute requirement, but it would certainly help their chances.

One assumes that the Lakers can beat the 15-29 New Orleans Hornets when they visit Staples Center on Jan. 29. The Lakers have lost to some subpar teams this year, but they seem to have a much better strategy over the last couple of games.

It would be nice to beat the soon-to-be Pelicans and then come home 25-27.

Road trips can be tough, and on paper the opponents are an interesting mix of competition. At the moment, the records of the road trip opponents are:

Phoenix Suns (15-30)
Minnesota Timberwolves (17-24)
Detroit Pistons (17-27)
Brooklyn Nets (27-18)
Boston Celtics (21-23)
Charlotte Bobcats (11-33)
Miami Heat (28-13)

Phoenix, Charlotte and Detroit should theoretically be beatable. Minnesota does not have a great overall record, but they are 11-7 at home. Brooklyn and Miami will be tough to beat on their home floors. Boston was going to be a tougher opponent before Rajon Rondo was lost for the season.

Los Angeles has the talent to win five of those games, but conservatively the fans cannot plan on beating the Heat or the Nets. The Lakers cannot afford any missteps, which means that a 3-4 or 2-5 road trip would be a disaster.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles is a very dismal 5-15 on the road this season. The Lakers are still giving up 101 points per game. Still, they have held their opponents to an average of 90 points over the last two games.

The Lakers are currently 4.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. That is not an insurmountable deficit, but there is little room for error over the next few weeks.

Thanks to the short winning streak, Los Angeles has also raised its chances of making the playoffs to 31.3 percent as calculated by Hollinger’s Playoff Odds.

Los Angeles could conceivably recover from an average road trip, but there are some tough opponents looming in the distance. Oklahoma City arguably represents the first elite team that the Lakers have beaten this season. The Lakers need a few more big wins if they are really going to make the playoffs.

The odds are still against the Lakers. It starts with a successful road trip.

5-2.

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