After losing the most difficult contest of their five-game road trip, the Los Angeles Lakers have taken advantage of inferior teams from the Eastern Conference to win the next three.
The Lakers will try to complete the trip with another victory Sunday night when they look to sweep the Detroit Pistons for the first time in eight seasons.
Los Angeles (21-4) has built the best record in the NBA partly thanks to a favorable schedule with 17 of its first 21 games at home. This five-game trip was the Lakers’ first extended road swing.
It got off to a bad start with a 102-94 loss at Utah last Saturday, but the Jazz are the only West opponent in this stretch. Los Angeles improved to 9-0 against teams from the East with a 103-84 victory over lowly New Jersey on Saturday.
The Lakers trailed at the half for the third time on this trip before scoring 57 points after the break to improve to 6-2 on the road. Los Angeles beat Chicago and Milwaukee - two more losing teams - before arriving in New Jersey for Saturday’s game.
“The schedule favored us,” coach Phil Jackson said. “These teams are not .500 teams and Utah is a very good team on their home floor, so some of it has to do with the competition. But I think we played a little bit better.”
The Pistons (11-15) have lost three straight and represent another struggling, sub-.500 team.
Winning both games against Detroit, however, is something the Lakers have not done since 2001-02. Los Angeles lost nine straight - including postseason - at the Palace of Auburn Hills before a 92-77 win March 26 behind Bryant’s 30 points.
Los Angeles could be facing a team that is even more short-handed Sunday. Prince (back) and Hamilton (hamstring) remain out and Ben Gordon(notes) has missed the last six games with a sprained left ankle.
“Rodney’s had a wonderful start and stuff like that but we need him to lead. … He’s a very gifted offensive player, but we have to generate things, with being short-handed, from everybody,” coach John Kuester said. “Not just Stuckey, everybody has to take ownership of how we defend and even if you don’t make the right play, your body language tells you whether you’re ready to react the way we want you to, and that’s all I’m asking.”
The Pistons have won five straight at home overall, but are 3-10 against West opponents.