1. When Trip Ends, What Will Lakers Look Like?
LOS ANGELES -- The stage and lighting equipment is already starting to fill the back hallways of Staples Center, the sign the Grammys are about to take over the building and the Lakers are leaving for their longest road trip of the season: six games over 11 days.
By the time they play their next home game on Feb. 14 they will be 42 percent of the way through the season, Kobe Bryant will probably move past Shaquille O'Neal into fifth place on the list of NBA all-time scorers and there could be some new faces on the roster.
"If we do well on this, then we'll be the team we need to be," Andrew Bynum said. "If we don't, then they might start looking around."
Lakers coach Mike Brown confirmed reports that the team has been in touch with Gilbert Arenas, whose sole duties of late have been cashing the checks Orlando keeps sending his way after using the amnesty provision on the remainder of his contract. Arenas believes the Lakers want to see what type of shape he is in before making a commitment, according to a source.
A disastrous slide over the next couple of weeks could prompt more dramatic moves, such as the breakup of the Bynum-Pau Gasol front line that had set the Lakers apart from the rest of the league in past seasons. The situation around Dwight Howard in Orlando is rapidly deteriorating. Deron Williams is sending signals that he'd rather be in a warmer climate than the New York metropolitan area. There might be cheaper or younger tradable pieces than Bynum and Gasol around the league, but you won't find better ones. But they haven't added up to an elite team in L.A. this season.
By the time the Lakers return home it will be just more than a month until the March 15 trade deadline. This could be the last chance for the current roster to prove it has the answers within. The 2011-12 edition of the Lakers still doesn't have a signature victory after 22 games. There hasn't been a galvanizing moment that inspires the fan base and strikes fear in the rest of the league.
Beating the Charlotte Bobcats 106-73 Tuesday night doesn't fit the bill. Teams beat the Bobcats by 30 more often than hybrid-car drivers fill up the tank. This was Charlotte's fourth loss by 30-plus points this season. Victories against the Bobcats shouldn't even count toward playoff seedings, the way beating lower-division schools doesn't help college football teams qualify for bowl games.
"They're an undermanned squad, so you can't take it too seriously," Bynum said.
The Lakers' winning back-to-back games at Denver and Utah to start the road trip would count as something significant. Bryant moving past Shaq and beating the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers in his native Philadelphia would be a memorable night. Boston looms on Feb. 9; a victory against the Celtics warms hearts throughout Lakerland. The Lakers hit New York, and Bryant has a knack for lighting up Madison Square Garden. The Toronto Raptors finish the trip.
If it's any boost of confidence for the Lakers, they're coming off their first back-to-back 100-point games of the season, only the second and third times they passed the century mark.
"I don't know if anything has 'arrived' for us yet, but we are getting better," Brown said.
For the first time the new coaching staff has moved beyond installing its principles and started working on preparing for specific opponents.
Meanwhile, Bynum is getting more experience against double-teams, as evidenced by the nice baseline spin and reverse layup against the Bobcats that he celebrated by keeping his hand extended high in the air as he ran back downcourt. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds, the type of numbers he was putting up in his first games back from the season-opening suspension.
The Lakers are getting some good backup-guard minutes from Andrew Goudelock, whose penchant for looking for his shot brought him a new nickname.
"We call him Mini Mamba," Bryant said.
Goudelock had 12 points, one of six Lakers in double-digit scoring. Bryant started off on pace to record his first 50-point game in three years, scoring 24 points in 16 first-half minutes. But he missed all five of his shots in the third quarter, then sat out the fourth because the reserve players had things in control.
The other starters spent most of the fourth on the bench, as well. Maybe they should have turned to the photographers on the baseline and posed for a picture together just in case.
2. Mavs Look To Emulate Sweet Ride
DALLAS -- A year ago, folks would have cackled at comparisons of the supposedly soft Dallas Mavericks and the old Detroit Bad Boy teams.
OK, maybe you think it's still a stretch. The defending NBA champions are still a title shy of pulling even with those Pistons and don't possess any elbows nearly as intimidating or oft-used as the ones attached to ex-Detroit enforcers Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer.
But these Mavs, like those Pistons, are a ridiculously deep, veteran-loaded, one-superstar squad that might just be primarily responsible for the delaying of a dynasty. Yes, Dirk Nowitzki's Mavs could be to Kevin Durant's Thunder what Isiah Thomas' Pistons were to Michael Jordan's Bulls.
If you're Durant's age and were in diapers during the Bad Boys' heyday, perhaps you need a quick history lesson. It took Jordan six seasons to win his first ring, as his Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs the previous three seasons by the Pistons, the last two coming in the Eastern Conference finals.
The loyal fans in Loud City might think that comparing this budding rivalry to the 1987-90 Detroit-Chicago scene is premature, but there's no doubt the Mavs believe they have some major mental mojo over their neighbors from north of the Red River.
The Mavs provided strong proof with Dallas' surprisingly quick five-game dismissal of the Thunder in last season's Western Conference finals. And certainly nothing that has happened this season has changed the Mavs' minds.
3. Daily Dime Live Rewind
Relive and note all the chatter, memes and Photoshops of Tuesday's Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Anderson Varejao, Cavs: Though his team didn't win, Andy went for 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in a 93-90 loss to Boston. His game harkens back to the not-too-distant past when Cleveland and Boston battled for top spot in the East. "He's probably one of the most underrated players in the league. I was kind of joking saying we need to double-team him on the rebound when the ball goes up," Boston's Paul Pierce said.
Kings' ball security: Let's see. The Warriors' star backcourt goes freezing cold. Meanwhile, the Kings dominate the boards behind double-figure rebound nights from DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Jason Thompson to the tune of plus-15. Still, a loss for SAC. Maybe having 10 more turnovers than the Warriors had something to do with it.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"He's going to look a little cuter. I don't know that it's anything more than that."
-- Pacers coach Frank Vogel, on center Roy Hibbert having his broken nose set Monday morning.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
Credit card pull from the hat and I lost lol!!!!! But besides that I had a great time eating with my teammates.— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled24) January 31, 2012
5. Grit And Grind
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Melo Back, But Challenge Awaits
The Knicks had one of their best offensive nights of the season on Tuesday.
They shot a season-best 60 percent from the floor and hit nine of their 18 3-point attempts. Their leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, missed just five shots all night and they handed out 24 assists on 42 makes.
"We made shots," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's the biggest thing."
And that's great.
But anyone who wants to declare the Knicks back from the dead should first consider Tuesday's opponent.
Detroit came into town with a 4-18 record, having lost five games this month by at least 20 points.
The Pistons are a mess on defense; they rank 29th in both defensive efficiency and opponent field goal percentage.
So the Knicks' breakout game was against a team that's broken.
The real test will come on Thursday when New York (8-13) welcomes the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls into the Garden. That's the first of three games in three nights for the Knicks, who won for just the second time in 11 games on Tuesday.
"Thursday we find out," D'Antoni said. " That's the next step."
8. 30 For 30
Joe Johnson scored 30 points while playing just more than 30 minutes in the Hawks' 100-77 road win over the Raptors. No Atlanta starting guard had scored that many points in that little time on the court since Rumeal Robinson scored 30 in 30 minutes at Philadelphia on March 4, 1992.