The Los Angeles Lakers have the NBA’s best road record, and considering they completed a perfect six-game trip earlier this season, a seven-game stretch away from home shouldn’t be too intimidating.
Starting the trip with a win, though, won’t be nearly as easy as it once looked.
The Lakers will kick off a road trip critical to their hopes of earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls, who have strengthened their own playoff hopes by winning seven straight at the United Center.
Los Angeles (54-14) is well on its way to having home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, but Cleveland has seized the best record in the league.
Should the Lakers need a big road win in the postseason, though, they should be in good shape to get it. Los Angeles is a league-best 23-9 away from home and went 6-0 on a road trip from Jan. 30-Feb. 8 that concluded with wins in Cleveland and Boston.
The Lakers, who won 114-106 over Golden State on Thursday, won’t have to face anyone the caliber of the Cavaliers and Celtics on this trip. Atlanta is the only opponent they’ll face that is currently above .500.
“It is good that it is coming up at this time of year,” Kobe Bryant said. “If you go out on the road, basically it is us against the world so to speak so we are able to bond and connect and these type of road trips build great momentum.”
Los Angeles won’t have it easy in Chicago, though, where the Bulls (32-37) have slipped into the East’s eighth playoff spot with their strong play at home.
Chicago hasn’t been beating just anyone during its seven-game run at the United Center, either. The Bulls toppled Denver, Orlando and Houston in their first three home wins, then knocked off New Orleans and the Celtics in the past week.
Perhaps more impressive than the win over the defending champions was Chicago’s ability to dig out a road win the next night. The Bulls had lost seven in a row on the road prior to Wednesday’s game, when they went into Oklahoma City and got 25 points from Derrick Rose in a 103-96 victory.
“I knew that my team needed me to make plays. I didn’t know what type of plays, but it ended up being scoring plays,” said Rose, who made all 10 shots he attempted in the second half.
Rose played well in his first game against the Lakers, recording team highs of 25 points and nine assists when Chicago visited Staples Center on Nov. 18. The Bulls, though, couldn’t stop Pau Gasol, who scored 34 points in a 116-109 Los Angeles win.
The player who’s really helped Chicago leap into the East’s top eight, however, has been John Salmons. The swingman, who came over from Sacramento last month, has averaged 23.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in his last eight games.
Salmons also will likely draw the assignment of guarding Bryant, but the NBA’s reigning MVP hasn’t really excelled against the Bulls in recent years. Bryant has averaged 19.5 points on 39.3 percent shooting in the Lakers’ last five meetings with Chicago, although Los Angeles has won six of those games.
The Bulls haven’t won eight straight at the United Center since Jan. 7-27, 2005.