San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, New Orleans, and Atlanta represent the final road gauntlet the Los Angeles Lakers must conquer, and how the team performs on this trip will likely have postseason implications.
Complicating matters, the Lakers will be without the services of Andrew Bynum, who sprained his left achilles' heel against Sacramento earlier in the week. His return is not expected for another two weeks.
Of the five teams the Lakers will face, three of them are more than likely destined for the postseason, and the other two are teams who may not reach the playoffs, but are dangerous nonetheless.
An injury to a player like Bynum is the last thing Los Angeles wants to be burdened with right now, but it's a good thing the NBA's most versatile player happens to be a member of their team.
The play of Lamar Odom will be crucial in this upcoming five game road trip, and if he can find the right level of consistency, he is the one player who could decide if the Lakers once again hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.
If there is one player who could be called an X-factor in the playoffs, then it's Odom, because no other team has a player who is capable of contributing in the various ways that he can.
His 6'10" frame gives him a height advantage when he slides to the perimeter, and his ball-handling ability makes him a nightmare match-up for any post player who is forced to defend him outside of the paint.
Odom also competes on the boards as his 9.6 rebound per game average will attest, and he is called on to be the Lakers' primary ballhandler in certain situations, and is capable of being an efficient distributor in transition.
He is also an exceptional defender, and his length and quickness often disrupts the rhythm of the opposition's offense. Odom is also capable of sliding out to the perimeter and defending smaller players.
There is little on the basketball court which Odom is incapable of doing, and even though the other contenders around the league improved their rosters, not one can boast of a player with the multitude of talents he possesses.
And the reason is, no other player like Odom exists in the league, but his failure to excel at any one piece of the game may be a contributing factor to the consistency woes which have plagued his career.
Most people have heard the saying, "jack-of-all-trades, and a master of nothing," and this term aptly describes Odom, because although he does many things well, he doesn't have the focus or will to be a dominant player.
He seems to be comfortable with the ceiling his talent has reached, and even though it can sometimes leave fans pulling their hair, it actually works for this Lakers team.
Odom's quirky, submissive personality is a perfect counter for a player like Kobe Bryant, and the fact Odom can impact multiple areas of the game means he is effective regardless of who he is paired with in the lineup.
He is one of the more even-keeled players on the roster which makes him a natural outlet for the younger members of the Lakers, who may be awed by Bryant and his demanding nature.
But, in order for the Lakers to be successful Odom must sustain the type of efforts which have been more habitual this season, and eschew his inconsistent ways of the past.
Odom was huge for the Lakers in the postseason of 2009, and his inspired play combined with the performances of Pau Gasol and Bryant made the Lakers champions that season.
If Los Angeles hopes to reach the pinnacle of NBA success once again, then the play of Odom will be critical, because out of the core of Bryant and Gasol, Odom's performance is the least predictable.
But as shown in the past, Odom is more than capable of providing the necessary punch opposite of Gasol and Bryant, and due to the injury to Bynum, Odom's value to the Lakers is amplified.
The Lakers' quest for a repeat championship begins in earnest tonight in San Antonio, and Odom may hold the crystal ball which determines their fate in his hands.