The Los Angeles Lakers have their sights set on securing home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs, and if they end up earning it, they can credit their impressive play away from Staples Center.
The NBA’s best road team has won five straight in visiting arenas, and the Lakers will look to extend their streak Friday night as they continue their seven-game trip against the New Jersey Nets, who are hoping to get All-Star Devin Harris back from injury.
Los Angeles (57-14) is a game behind Cleveland for the NBA’s best record, but it’s certainly doing its best to stay in the race for home-court through the NBA finals with its play on the road.
The Lakers are a league-best 26-9 away from home, including a perfect 6-0 trip two months ago that included wins in Boston and Cleveland. They moved to 3-0 on their season-long seven-game trip on Thursday night, using a 20-0 run to close the third quarter and 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists from Kobe Bryant to win 92-77.
“We want to be the best team in the league,” said Lamar Odom, who also flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, 10 boards and seven assists. “We have to set goals in order to get better and one of our goals is to be the best, have the best record before the playoffs start. Ultimately we want home-court advantage in the playoffs.”
The Lakers could have been a step closer to that goal if the Nets (30-41) had been able to help them out in their latest game. New Jersey took a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter Wednesday in Cleveland, but LeBron James took over to lead the NBA-best Cavaliers to a 98-87 win.
It was the Nets’ sixth loss in eight games, and they’re now four games back of Chicago and Detroit, which are tied for the final two playoff spots in the East.
“Losing at this time of year is frustrating because we’re fighting for so much,” Vince Carter said after scoring 20 points on 7-of-21 shooting. “Not winning takes us backwards and we’re continuing to go a little backwards. Hopefully, we can get the next one and get ourselves back in it.”
New Jersey has played its last five games without Harris, who strained his left shoulder in a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 15. Harris, though, could return against the Lakers - he’s listed as a game-time decision.
The Nets had Harris healthy when they visited Staples Center earlier this season, but the All-Star’s 21 points and six assists didn’t make a difference. Pau Gasol scored 26 for the Lakers, who stretched a two-point halftime lead out to a 120-93 victory.
Gasol and Bryant have carried Los Angeles offensively, but Trevor Ariza has emerged recently to give coach Phil Jackson’s team another quality scoring threat. Since Ariza entered the starting lineup on March 11 in Houston, the Lakers have won seven of eight - going 5-0 on the road.
Ariza has averaged 13.1 points on 61.4 percent shooting in that stretch.
For the Nets to have a chance Friday, they may need a big game from Brook Lopez. New Jersey’s rookie center has averaged 15.4 points in his last seven games, but he’ll have his hands full against Gasol.
The Lakers will be looking for their third straight win against the Nets despite Bryant averaging just 9.0 points in their last two victories.