January Presents Challenges Aplenty for the Lakers

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer IJanuary 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 3: Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks over Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks on January 3, 2010 at Staples Center 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Lakers are 27-6 and owners of the NBA's best record. Much of that has to do with a home-heavy schedule, which saw the Lakers play 22 of their first 33 games at home.

After a 12-2 November, the Lakers followed that up with an equally impressive 12-3 record in December.

So far the Lakers are undefeated in 2010 thanks to victories against the Sacramento Kings and Sunday night's drubbing of the Dallas Mavericks.

But after Tuesday night's meeting with the Houston Rockets, the Lakers have a stretch that sees them playing 12 of their next 15 games on the road.

Considering the Lakers finished with the league's best road record last season (29-12), there isn't any reason to be overly concerned.

But with their unimpressive defense of late (Sunday's game notwithstanding), Kobe's finger issues, another hamstring injury to Pau Gasol, gastrointestinal issues for Lamar Odom, and the pratfall antics of Ron Artest, January's schedule should be a little bit more difficult than initially anticipated.

The most difficult stretch of the month is an eight-game road trip that includes three sets of back-to-back games starting Jan. 21 in Cleveland and ending Feb. 1 in Memphis.

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Here's what the calendar looks like:

That doesn't include a road game on Jan. 8 in Portland, and a back-to-back in San Antonio and Dallas on Jan. 12 and 13, respectively.

Of those 11 games, six are against teams that have defeated the Lakers either this season or last.

Of those games against teams who haven't defeated the Lakers in the last 12 months, one of the five is against the mighty Celtics, one is against the run-and-gun Knicks on the second night of a back-to-back, and two are against teams with impressive home records—Toronto and Memphis (the latter also being on the second night of a back-to-back).

That leaves the Washington game as the only one that you can put in the win column now without the risk of a jinx.

There is plenty of motivation for many of those teams to play their best ball against the NBA Champs. Would anybody be surprised if the Blazers beat the Lakers on Friday?

Even if the Blazers had only four starters, I'd still make them the favorites when you consider how much trouble they've given the Lakers up in Portland the last five years.

Only three of the Spurs' 20 victories this season have come against teams with winning records, and if the Hawks beat the Heat on Monday night, you can make that two. You don't think the Spurs want to let the world know they're not dead yet?

The Mavericks will be chomping at the bit to get revenge for Sunday night's game, especially with the Lakers playing on the second night of a back-to-back—just like they had to do this past weekend.

Philadelphia loves to "boo" Kobe and with Allen Iverson back, the place might actually be packed.

Don't forget about a home date with the Orlando Magic on MLK Day. If anyone wants revenge against the Lakers, it's the team that was humiliated by them in last year's NBA Finals.

By Feb. 1, the Lakers home/road disparity will go from 22/11 to 26/23.

If their overall record is 39-10, then this team will be in the driver's seat for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. If they're 35-14 or worse, then they will continue having to answer questions about their mettle and ability to defend their title.

If they finish somewhere in the middle, then the race for home-court is alive and well.

Regardless, the honeymoon is over. It's time for them to show what they're made of.