Center Andrew Bynum was a driving force on the Lakers road trip. He scored 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in the Lakers 96-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. (AP Photo/LM Otero)Count the Lakers back in after Bynum helps the Lakers to a 3-1 record on the road against four of the top teams in the NBABy Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
The Lakers up and down season has led to many “make or break” moments, and so far its been a roller coaster ride with several peaks and valleys. Before the All-Star break the Lakers were nearly sunk and it was getting close to a point where the back-to-back champs could be written off, but now, after winning eight out of nine games, the Lakers look like they are in good shape heading into the final stages of the regular season. Their latest road trip had disaster written all over it, as they were scheduled to play the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, who are the top two teams in the Western Conference, and the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, who are both in the top five in the Eastern Conference. This Lakers team has laid more than a few eggs against the top teams in the league this season, and this road trip could have been another chance for teams to have their way with the champs. But the Lakers still have the switch flipped to the “on” position, and they looked like a team that was ready to defend their title. Outside of one close loss in Miami, which was a game that the Lakers had chances to win late, the Lakers were nearly flawless on their trip. The Lakers ran the Spurs out of their own building from the opening tip off, they convincingly defeated the Hawks, and they led the Mavericks for most of the night.
Road trips are tough, especially when the schedule is stacked with nothing but playoff teams. A 3-1 record shows that the Lakers are dialed in right now. The Lakers are playing at a championship level, and one reason why is center Andrew Bynum. Bynum has had more ups and downs than his team, but when he is playing up to his abilities, the Lakers are extremely tough to beat. On the road trip Bynum’s rebounding and defense set the tone for the Lakers. Bynum has a season average of 8.6 rebounds per game, but on the road trip he averaged 15 a game. Against the Spurs, Bynum did not score very many points, four to be exact, but his 17 rebounds and three blocked shots allowed the Lakers to dominate the paint. Since that game, Bynum has continued the crash the boards and clog up the middle, and now he is getting more looks on the offensive end. In the three games since the Spurs win, Bynum has averaged 17 points per game, with a high of 22 against the Mavericks. On the season he is only averaging 11.6 points per game. Bynum’s shooting percentage is also up. On the season he is making 57 percent of his field goals, but on the road trip he averaged 79 percent. Bynum has been inconsistent over his career. He has had stretches where he has played at an All-Star level, and he has had stretches where he has disappeared. At the moment he is on the upswing, and if he continues to play like this through the rest of the season and the playoffs, it is going to be extremely difficult to beat the Lakers in a seven game series. After the victory over the Mavericks, the Lakers are only a half a game behind them in the Western Conference standings. Both teams are playing for the second seed in the playoffs, with the Spurs way out in front for the first seed. The Lakers and Mavericks have split their two regular season games, with one more match up between the two teams at Staples Center. The winner of that game will hold the tiebreaker and could be in the driver’s season for the second seed. The Lakers are also a game behind the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls for home court advantage if they were to play either of those teams in the NBA Finals. As it stands today, the Lakers would have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and that’s about it. But if the Lakers can pass the Mavericks, Bulls, and Celtics in the standings, then the only team that they will be giving up home court to in the playoffs will be the Spurs. The Lakers can deal with giving up home court in one series, but if they have to give up home court in three series on the way to the NBA championship, that will be a very tough road.
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