A late-season five-game road trip against some stiff competition should be all the Los Angeles Lakers need to stay focused on the remainder of the regular season before setting out to defend their NBA title.
The Western Conference leaders look to extend their winning streak to seven games Wednesday night when they face the San Antonio Spurs in a possible preview of an opening-round playoff series.
Los Angeles (52-18) is outscoring opponents by an average of just 5.5 points during its winning streak, clinching a playoff berth for the 15th time in 16 seasons along the way. Included in the run were a two-point win over Toronto, a three-point triumph over Golden State and an eight-point win over lowly Minnesota.
“At the end of the day it’s just about winning games,” he said. “It’s that simple. We figured out a way to do it and win a championship (last season), and it gets harder. We just need to stay focused on winning, no matter how it looks. Just win.”
It didn’t look pretty Sunday, as the Lakers got by last-place Washington 99-92. Los Angeles scored 35 second-quarter points en route to a 59-33 halftime lead, but was outscored by 19 in the second half.
“It’s getting to the end of the season and they’re looking forward to getting into the postseason, but the job’s not done yet,” coach Phil Jackson said. “I don’t think we’ve given up hope of having a record befitting of what we thought or anticipated before the season started. To do that, we have to win on this road trip.”
Los Angeles has won three in a row on the road after dropping a season high-tying four straight. After visiting San Antonio (42-27), the Lakers will face Oklahoma City on Friday followed by Houston, New Orleans and Atlanta before returning home April 2 against Utah.
Los Angeles has split two meetings with the Spurs, but fell 105-85 on Jan. 12 at San Antonio to lose for the fourth time in five visits.
“We’re relatively familiar with San Antonio,” Jackson said. “They played us in the playoffs a year ago. We have a rivalry that goes back a long ways. We have some sense of who they are and how they play.”
Kobe Bryant(notes) needs two points to move past Alex English into 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Bryant scored 20 of his 24 points in the second quarter Sunday, and his 27.6 points per game rank fourth in the league.
Bryant tallied 16 at San Antonio in January, but an ankle injury forced him to miss the most recent matchup. Pau Gasol(notes) had 21 points and 19 rebounds in the 101-89 home win on Feb. 8. The forward-center is averaging 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds over his last four games.
The Spurs, sixth in the West and with a five-game cushion over ninth-place Memphis, will be hosting the top two teams in the league this week. After the Lakers visit, NBA-best Cleveland will take the court Friday.
“Every game right now is important and big,” said guard George Hill(notes), who is averaging 14.9 points and 4.8 assists in nine games while filling in for the injured Tony Parker(notes) (broken finger).
Hill scored a career-high 27 points in Monday’s 99-96 win at Oklahoma City.
The Spurs’ Tim Duncan(notes) had 14 points and seven rebounds against the Thunder after scoring 29 points with 13 boards in a 119-114 overtime loss at Atlanta one night earlier. Duncan is averaging 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds in the last four home meetings with the Lakers.