Lakers Will Only Go As Far As the Road Takes Them

In the NBA, the standard basketball court spans a length of 94 feet, 50 feet wide. The basket stands at a height of 10 feet, and the steel rim has a diameter of 18 inches. The three point line is drawn at 23.75 feet from the basket, 22 feet at the corners. No matter where the game is played, and although the specifics of each NBA stadium vary on the outside, the dimensions of the court inside never change.

The basketball court is perhaps the only constant in a game built around the excitement of its unpredictability, and yet, the familiarity of the court’s surface area matters little when it comes to wins and losses. Case and point, the Lakers are 17-2 at home, 6-13 on the road.

While the Staples Center has been kind to the Lakers this season, the road hasn’t—and that’s putting it lightly. On the road, many factors come into play. The compacted schedule leaves little room for travel and/or time off between cities, hostile crowds, and extra-motivated opponents may have an effect on the visiting team. But if you’re a team with title hopes like the Lakers, (and yes, if you’re wondering, we can still assume the Lakers have those aspirations) a losing record on the road is a tell-tale sign of an early playoff exit.

With 14 games left to play on the road, there’s no better time like the present for the Lakers to conquer their road woes.

If the Lakers are to collect more wins than losses on the road, they may have to come within an arm’s length of perfection, or simply just execute better on offense. The Lakers are better offensively at home, and it’s not even close on the road. At home they average 97.3 points per game, and on the road, the number dips down to 90.6 points per game. The disparity could just come from their generally unproductive bench, but it really comes down to how they choose to utilize their big men.

Deferring to Pau Gasol more frequently on the road isn’t exactly a novel idea. How often the Lakers put that plan into action—well, that’s more of a novelty. If they want to get better on the road, giving the ball to Gasol will have to become a necessity. Gasol has actually been better statistically on the road than he has at home, and you can decide for yourself if you think it may have something to do with the fact that he was booed mercilessly at the Staples Center to end last season. He averages more points on the road (18) than at home (14.9), and his shooting percentage is slightly better. Plus he’s probably the most versatile power forward in the game on offense, and the Lakers most consistent player. There just aren’t enough reasons not to run the offense through him more often.

Andrew Bynum has better numbers at home than on the road, but it’s not by a wide margin. The advantage on the road (or anywhere) is that if both big men are being given the ball, the defense isn’t going to know who to double-team, giving the Lakers more opportunities for easier buckets. To start the season, Bynum wasn’t particularly good at getting out of double-teams, but as the season has progressed, he’s getting increasingly better.

Anything that would help facilitate the Lakers offense is worth a try, including monitoring Kobe Bryant’s minutes on the road. In 19 games played on the road, Bryant is averaging 40.2 minutes, while at home it drops down to 36 minutes. No one will ever question Bryant’s willingness to play tired, hurt, or under pressure, but in all of the Lakers’ 23 wins this season, Bryant is averaging 37 minutes, in all 15 losses he averages 39. Think two minutes hardly makes a difference? We’ve seen Bryant divert from his usual self down the stretch in the fourth quarter—turning the ball over, missing shots down the stretch, and exhibiting poor execution when the game is on the line. Plus you know, there’s always that added benefit of giving some rest to the guy who’s been playing (and well at that) with neck spasms for the last three games.

For the most part, Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum are going to show up on a nightly basis, but in order for the Lakers to be competitive with the rest of the teams in the western conference, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace will have to be productive on a consistent basis as well.

While Blake has played much better this year compared to last, by far, he still struggles with his shot on the road. The injury to his ribs limited his playing time on the road to 10 games, so there’s a chance the numbers a result of poor sampling. At home Blake hits 41.4-percent of his three-point shots, and on the road the percentage on average is a staggering 19.4. His percentage of field goals made on average at home is 42.7 percent, and on the road its 32.2 percent.

World Peace has been steady on defense, but his numbers on offense are inconsistent to say the least. When he’s been able to put up points for the Lakers, it usually ends in a win, but when he’s failed to make an impact, it results in a loss. Hard to believe the Lakers ebb and flow depends on MWP, but with Lamar Odom out of the lineup, his production value increases quite a bit.

For better or worse, the Lakers have won eight of their last 11 games. This week, they still have to play two games on the road. However, lucky for them it’s against the Wizards and the just barely over .500 Timberwolves. Building their confidence against the Heat last Sunday was nice, but the loss in Detroit on Tuesday was a severe setback. Regardless of what the team does moving forward, they have to raise their win percentage on the road.

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