- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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If you thought the Lakers had it rough in December, the month ahead could prove to be another difficult ride. Here's a look at the Lakers' upcoming schedule:
Fri., Jan. 7 -- New Orleans Hornets
• New Orleans started the season 8-0 like the Lakers and -- also like the Lakers -- they've struggled of late. Lamar Odom scored 24 points off the bench when they last played in New Orleans. Since then, Odom has agreed to do a reality television show with his wife, Khloe Kardashian. So he's got that going for him.
Sun., Jan. 9 -- New York Knicks
• This is the Lakers' first game against the resurgent Knicks with Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. If Toney Douglas -- who is averaging 9.4 off the bench this season for New York -- has a big game, the Lakers will be reminded that they drafted him with their first-round pick in 2009 and traded him to the Knicks for $3 million and a second-round draft pick this year.
Tue., Jan. 11 -- Cleveland Cavaliers
• Cleveland has only one victory in its past 17 games and hasn't even been competitive in most of its losses, including a 129-95 loss to the 9-26 Minnesota Timberwolves. Everyone knew the Cavs would struggle after LeBron James left, but few thought they'd be the worst team in the league. Forget the MVP; maybe LeBron James should win some sort of lifetime achievement award for leading them to the best record in the league the past two seasons.
Wed., Jan. 12 -- @ Golden State Warriors
• The Lakers' first road game in a week takes them to Oakland where the Warriors play the Lakers in between a couple of games against the Clippers. The Lakers had no problems against the Warriors in their first two meetings this season, beating them by an average of 26 points. They've had about as much trouble with the Warriors as sub-.500 teams have had against the Lakers at Staples Center recently.
Fri., Jan. 14 -- New Jersey Nets
• Since being traded to the Nets, Sasha Vujacic has averaged 26.6 minutes and 14.5 points per game (including 22 points against Minnesota last week), joining Jordan Farmar (12.6 points in 24.9 minutes per game) as former Lakers reserves enjoying a rebirth in New Jersey. It's only a matter of time before they go Hollywood and make a cameo appearance on "Jersey Shore." By the way, since Vujacic was dealt two weeks ago, the Lakers are 4-4. Just sayin'.
Sun., Jan. 16 -- @ Los Angeles Clippers
• Before you chalk up a Lakers win in this "road game," remember what happened the previous time the Lakers played at the "Clip Joint." If DeAndre Jordan hadn't cut his fingernails before the game he probably would have blocked Derek Fisher's last-second, game-winning layup, and Kobe Bryant would have looked angrier than he already was that he didn't get to take the game-winner.
Mon., Jan. 17 -- Oklahoma City Thunder
• This will be the Lakers' first game against Oklahoma City since the Thunder nearly took the Lakers the distance in a grueling first-round series in last year's playoffs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have blossomed into one of the league's best one-two punches this season, which shouldn't come as a surprise to Lamar Odom, who was their teammate on the gold medal-winning USA team at this summer's FIBA World Championship.
Wed., Jan. 19 -- @ Dallas Mavericks
• The Lakers' first game outside the state of California in two weeks will be one of the most talked-about of the season. It was already going to be a big matchup from a playoff-seeding standpoint, but after Phil Jackson chimed in regarding the Mavs' loss of Caron Butler, Mark Cuban responded by calling Jackson Jeanie Buss' "boy toy," so there will be plenty to talk going on off the court.
Fri., Jan. 21 -- @ Denver Nuggets
• Will Carmelo Anthony still be a Nugget by the time the Lakers come to town? Will it even matter? The most recent time the Lakers went to Denver the Nuggets were without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen and still won 118-112, so Carmelo's presence shouldn't change the result in this one.
Tue., Jan. 25 -- Utah Jazz
• The Lakers blew a 19-point second-quarter lead against the Jazz the last time these two teams played. Then again, it seems Utah has come from behind against almost every team it has played this season. Deron Williams and the Jazz are still smarting from the Lakers sweeping them out of the playoffs last year, while the Lakers know they must finish with a better record than the Jazz if they want to avoid being a No. 4 seed in the playoffs this year.
Fri., Jan. 28 -- Sacramento Kings
• Sacramento was 3-1 when the Lakers traveled to play the Kings in California's capital at the beginning of the season. Since the Lakers beat them, the Kings are 4-24, including a 113-80 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center last month. Don't expect the Kings to take the throne any time soon.
Sun., Jan. 30 -- Boston Celtics
• Boston returns to the Staples Center for the first time since squandering a 13-point second-half lead in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and watching the Lakers celebrate their 16th championship. This game might also turn out to be Shaquille O'Neal's last game on the Lakers' court. Expect to hear debates on whether O'Neal deserves to have his jersey retired once he finally retires.
Tue., Feb. 1 -- Houston Rockets
• Houston has always been a tough matchup for the Lakers no matter what the Rockets' record is. Houston nearly beat the Lakers on opening night (112-110) and did beat them about a month later (109-99). Expect another ugly game this time around, and thank your lucky stars these two teams won't meet in the playoffs.
Thurs., Feb. 3 -- San Antonio Spurs
• If the Lakers fail to make it to the Finals for the first time in three years and deprive Phil Jackson of his fourth three-peat, it will most likely be because the Spurs are going back. San Antonio is the class of the league and is doing it with little help from Tim Duncan. During the Spurs' 97-82 dismantling of the Lakers last week Duncan scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, and Manu Ginobili scored nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. In the past, if the Lakers had held those two to those numbers, they would have won by 15 points; this year, against a revamped Spurs team, they ended up losing by 15.
Sat., Feb. 5 -- @ New Orleans Hornets
• This is the first game of a 7-game, 11-day road trip before the NBA All-Star break. It could also go a long way in determining whether the Lakers are actually a championship team. If Ron Artest is continuing to struggle and getting into arguments with Phil Jackson at this point in the season, some of the Lakers may be looking longingly at the opposing bench where Trevor Ariza is averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Hornets, no doubt wishing he could return to Los Angeles. Yes, D.J. Mbenga is thinking the same thing, but that won't be happening anytime soon.
Mon., Feb. 7 -- @ Memphis Grizzlies
• Oh yeah, the Grizzlies; remember them? They were the sub-.500 team that came into the Staples Center and beat the Lakers 104-85 in a game that wasn't even that close. A Lakers win here won't make up for that debacle, but a loss would likely take the Lakers right back to square one.
Thurs., Feb. 10 -- @ Boston Celtics
• Will this be the Lakers' last game against the Celtics this season, or simply their last before June? The last time the Lakers were in Boston, the Celtics were holding a 3-2 series lead and their fans were serenading the Lakers' with Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." The Lakers ended up winning the title back in LA, but this game could decide home-court if they were to meet again.
Fri., Feb. 11 -- @ New York Knicks
• Kobe Bryant's favorite arena to play in is Madison Square Garden. Two years ago Bryant dropped 61 points in the Garden while talking trash to Spike Lee before recording the audio for their movie, "Kobe Doin' Work." Bryant will have to do plenty of work to reach 61 again but the Lakers will have a better chance of winning if he scores half that and gets his teammates involved.
Sun., Feb. 16 -- @ Orlando Magic
• The Lakers' second big Sunday afternoon game on ABC is a rematch of the 2009 NBA Finals, and also Matt Barnes' first game back in Orlando since he famously tried to goad Bryant into a fight last season. The Magic have completely overhauled their team this season but are still one of the top teams in the East as long as Dwight Howard is manning the paint.
Mon., Feb. 14 -- @ Charlotte Bobcats
• If this is indeed Phil Jackson's last season, this may be the last time Jackson and Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who sits courtside at home games, will be on the same court during a game. Bryant always tries to put on a show for Jordan as well, so look for him to take more shots during the game than Jackson would like.
Wed., Feb. 16 -- @ Cleveland Cavaliers
• The Lakers' last game of the road trip and last game before the NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center should be a good opportunity for the Lakers reserves to get some run before the break. Judging by their play this season, the Lakers' reserves could probably beat the Cavaliers if the starters wanted to take the night off, which might not be such a bad idea.
The Lakers had a rough December but the month ahead could be tougher.