After blowing a 19-point lead in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers hit the road for a seven-game road trip, kicking it off tonight with a primetime matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.
While they are tied for the best record in the Western Conference, there’s still a lot to be learned about the defending champs over the next few weeks.
Here are the three most intriguing things to watch over the Lakers’ seven-game road trip.
1. How will role players step up against deeper rosters in the Eastern Conference?
Over this road trip, the Lakers will have a few of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, including the Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.
Their matchup with the Bucks starts off the trip, and while the casual fan will be focused on watching LeBron James go up against Giannis Antetokounmpo, matchups like this will be decided by how the role players do.
The Lakers made a lot of moves this offseason, adding Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder and former Milwaukee Buck Wesley Matthews, and how those players do should directly correlate to how the Lakers do in games like this.
Much like the Lakers, the Bucks have a deep roster of their own, adding All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday this offseason and boasting a deep bench that features D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis.
The King, the Greek Freak, Anthony Davis and Holiday will get their buckets in this matchup, but if the Lakers bench can outplay a deep second unit for Milwaukee, that would be a good sign for things to come this season.
2. How can the Lakers’ new frontcourt defend elite big men like Joel Embiid?
Embiid is on his way to having the best season of his career, and if he keeps up his current pace (26.4 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 59.1 percent shooting on two-point field goals and 36.8 percent shooting from 3), he will be in the MVP conversation at season’s end.
Last season, the Lakers did a decent job against elite big men like Embiid, with Davis being one of the best defenders in the league, and JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard being pests in the paint.
McGee and Howard are no longer Lakers, and while neither of them was an elite defender, Gasol and Harrell is a bit of a size and strength drop-off when it comes to post defense.
As Jovan Buha of The Athletic mentioned in his piece this week, this will be the first real test for the Lakers’ new frontcourt. If they can manage to slow down Embiid, they should be able to slow down any big man in the league.
3. Can they go undefeated on this road trip?
This Lakers road trip features the best and the worst of the Eastern conference, as along with the conference front-runners mentioned above, they also face some of the cellar dwellers in (chronologically ordered) the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks.
While the schedule is not their friend on this road trip (five games in the first 10 days, including a back-t0-back against the Sixers, then the Pistons), the Lakers can come out of this road trip unscathed.
The Lakers play a lot of elite offensive players on this road trip, facing off against Zach LaVine, Jayson Tatum and Trae Young over the next 12 days.
If the Lakers can manage to go 7-0 over this stretch, they can cement themselves as the NBA’s elite will potentially pulling ahead of fellow Western Conference contenders in the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns.