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by Bryan Leonard - 04/06/2010
There have been several NBA teams coming home from long road trips, and over the last few weeks several teams beginning ones. Road trips are interesting from a handicapping point of view. First, good teams will band together and take the attitude that they look at the road trip as a challenge, as if they have something to prove. Second, teams often tire out at some point during a trip, so a trip can take a toll on the team’s offense, defense and even spread mark.
The Lakers just came home from a lousy road trip. The Lakers had plenty of reason to allow frustrations to get the better of them coming off a 2-3 trip, with Kobe Bryant's post-game scowls, Sasha Vujacic's argument with the coaching staff and the entire team's flustered and angry looks after each mistake.
They walked into Thursday's practice with more of an eagerness to play than to sulk. And they finished the practice with more of an eagerness to replicate the improved execution in an actual game than wonder if it's at all possible. The results were on the court, as the Lakers had a 106-92 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz.
Sometimes teams have a chip on their shoulder when going on a long road trip with something to prove. A year ago the Lakers went on a 5-0 road trip, winning at Boston and Cleveland, as if to say, “We are the team to beat.”
A few years ago I recall a road trip the Dallas Mavericks took where they went 5-0 holding every opponent to under 97 points! That was clearly an example of a team with something to prove and they looked at the road trip as a challenge. That same season the Pistons went on a trip out West and what was most noticeable is that they went 1-2 straight up and 0-3 against the number the final three games of the trip. That was the end of a grueling 18 game stretch, going 12-6.
It was the most mentally and physically draining stretch of the season. Then-Coach Flip Saunders said, "My focus going forward is to make sure we're healthy and rested for the playoffs. I think we need to step away a little bit and get reenergized for the stretch run." This was interesting and explains why they tired out at the end of the trip. They just happened to hit a rough stretch.
What also stood out was that the coach admitted the players were tired. He said he was more interested in getting more rest for his starters while gearing up for the playoffs. From a handicapping perspective, this should get your attention. Keep careful tabs on how teams rest their starters down the stretch. The Lakers, for instance, haven’t had a very good bench the second half of the season, so they could struggle in meaningless games where the starters play few minutes.
The Nuggets, like the Lakers, are home from a lousy road trip, but looked great in their first game back. Remember, road trips and line-up changes happen all the time and can have a significant effect on a team, both straight up and against the number.