Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: February 14, 11:59 AM ET
Scenes from the bumpy road

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLA.com

The 2013 Lakers were supposed to travel like rock stars, surrounded by adoring fans. Instead, onlookers have gawked at the team like rubberneckers at a car crash.

Jan. 30 -- Phoenix -- Day 1, City 1

Suns assistant coach Ralph Sampson, all 7-foot-4 of him, watched from the sidelines as the Lakers went through their pregame routine in Phoenix. It was no surprise his eyes focused on Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Nearly 30 years ago Sampson teamed with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston to form the NBA's version of the "Twin Towers."

Gasol and Howard have struggled to find their equilibrium as a duo. In Phoenix, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni brought Gasol off the bench as a backup center to Howard rather than feature the big men at the same time.

Gasol has since gone down with an injury, but Sampson thinks the two bigs can figure things out over time.

If their hearts are in it.

Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard has put up good numbers so far, but questions remain about his longterm commitment to making it work in L.A.
"You've got to have a mutual respect for each other's game and understand each other's game, what one can do and what one can't do, and understand the strengths and weaknesses and really work on it in practice," Sampson said. "They've got to figure out how to complement each other so they can play both of them together. Now, if you play both of them together, they can be pretty damn good."

Meanwhile, Earl Clark, who was drafted by Phoenix with the No. 14 pick in 2009, sat at his locker, getting ready for the game.

Clark didn't receive near the fanfare former Sun Steve Nash did upon his return, but people noticed. A steady stream of ball boys, video coordinators, team scouts and Phoenix beat writers made their way one or two at a time to Clark's locker before the game, congratulating the versatile forward on finding a home with the Lakers under D'Antoni.

"They finally let me in, man," Clark said, clearly touched by all the extra attention but maintaining that same laidback demeanor that helped him pick up the nickname "Eazy" Earl.

He finished with just 5 points and 8 rebounds against his former team, but he came up big on the trip overall -- averaging 12.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals -- solidifying his reputation as a throw-in treasure in the deal that brought Howard to Los Angeles.

Feb. 1  Minneapolis -- Day 3, City 2

If Phoenix was a short hop from L.A., Minneapolis was an arctic journey. The Lakers were far from the warm climes of Southern California as they prepped for their game against the Timberwolves in a subzero climate.

It was so cold that Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Lakers' TV station, turned into The Weather Channel for a segment detailing all the reactions to the frigid conditions by Lakers players and traveling media.

Following shootaround, Kobe Bryant joked to teammates that he wouldn't need to ice down afterwards because he was going to make the two-minute walk outside back to the team hotel across the street from the Target Center.

Undaunted, Metta World Peace stripped off his practice shorts and strolled out of the arena wearing nothing but a jacket and compression tights.

He must have gotten a chill out there. MWP shot just 21-for-74 (28.4 percent) in the six games he played on the trip and was suspended for the other one.

Feb. 3 -- Detroit -- Day 5, City 3

Maybe the strangest moment yet in what already has been a bizarro season for the Lakers: Automatic Nash goes to the line with 2.7 seconds left in the game and the Lakers up by just one, and misses both free throws.

Coming into the game, Nash was the most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history, slightly ahead of former Cleveland Cavaliers standout Mark Price.

The Lakers held on to win but Nash, now percentage points behind Price, was rattled, saying it had been "12 or 14 years" since he clanked two freebies in the final minute and recalling a late-game loss to the Clippers during his Dallas Mavericks days.

"Well, the devil probably has frostbite on his b---s," Bryant said by way of explanation.

Bryant was just getting his colorful quotes warmed up. The New York media awaited him.

Feb. 5 -- Brooklyn -- Day 7, City 4

The lasting vision from the Lakers win over the Brooklyn Nets was Gasol going down with a torn plantar fascia and leaving Barclays Center on crutches just big enough to support his 7-foot, 250-pound frame.
Bryant
Kobe Bryant showed flashes of brilliance on the Grammy trip, on the court and in the press room.
The lasting sounds were generated by Bryant -- from the oohs and aahs and "MVP" chants his late dunk on Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries elicited from the crowd to the lines he dropped in his postgame press conference.

There was his take on his new "Magic Mamba" passing persona leading to his turn-back-the-clock dunk: "I was pretty shocked that the lane was so wide open. I think that everybody's been drinking the Kobe-pass Kool-Aid so everybody kind of stayed on the perimeter with the shooters. It just parted like the Red Sea. I felt a little like Moses."

His reason for hiding the pain in his sore right elbow after the dunk: "It was after it, but after a play like that you really can't grab your arm. It messes up the swag of the moment. So you got to kind of suck it up for a while."

His frank take on where the team would be without Clark (who hit a clutch jumper to help beat Brooklyn): "We'd be in deep crap."

And his take on the pain in his shooting arm coming at a time when he was passing so much: "It's kind of like it's telling me something, like, 'What the f--- are you doing?'"

Feb. 7 -- Boston -- Day 9, City 5

At the start of the season, on Oct. 29, the Lakers' odds of winning the NBA championship, according to the Bovada online sportsbook, were 11-4.

The Celtics' odds back then were 14-1. After a coaching change and a rash of key injuries, the Lakers' title odds had dropped to 14-1 when they came into Boston. The Celtics, dealing with injuries of their own to Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, saw their odds of a ring plummet to 30-1.

But there is still history between them; 17 banners for the green-and-white versus 16 for the purple-and-gold; the recent run of two Finals meetings in a three-year span; the "old" guys in Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce still playing for pride.

"It's always special to come into this arena," Bryant said after shootaround at the TD Garden. "Obviously there's been a lot of memories for me personally in this arena and just in this city as a whole as a fan growing up. So, it's always special."

Bryant has one year remaining on his contract, meaning this trip to Boston could be one of his last. Was he savoring it more than usual?

"It's been like that for every city that we go to, particularly the East Coast cities," Bryant said.

While Bryant was cherishing his memories, World Peace had to dig into his brain to recall what turned out to be one a key moment in the Lakers' franchise history -- World Peace seeking Bryant out in the showers following L.A.'s Game 6, series-clinching, loss to Boston in 2008 and telling him he wanted play with him someday.

World Peace ended up joining the Lakers the following offseason and propelling L.A. to a title over the Celtics with a clutch performance in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals.

"I forget about that a lot until someone reminds me," World Peace said of his shower chat with Bryant.

Talking about the past seemed more appealing than living in the present. The Lakers would go on to lose to Boston, 116-95, their worst loss of the season.

Feb. 8 -- Charlotte -- Day 10, City 6

The Lakers trailed the Bobcats, owners of the league's worst record, by 20 points in the third quarter before rallying to win 100-93.

"Just irritated," Bryant said after the game. "Very irritated. That's all."

Not much else to say.

Feb. 10 -- Miami -- Day 12, City 7
Steve Nash
Steve Nash has had to turn up the fire in an effort to jump-start this team.
LeBron James was spectacular, scoring 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting against the Lakers. The Lakers were less than spectacular, with their ugly play in the second half epitomized by a shouting match between Nash and Howard in the third quarter.

"I'm sure pretty much every point guard in this league has barked at somebody this year," Nash said later, trying to diffuse the situation. "Maybe it's the Napoleon in me."

Could be some of that. Could be some of the moodiness in Howard too.

"It's totally part of the game," Nash said. "You've seen me bark at a few guys in the past. It's basketball, you know? It's an emotional sport and you're out there fighting. There's a million things going on. Who knows if you got a good night's sleep or your girlfriend is giving you a hard time or what. So, guys are emotional, fighting out there and it sometimes gets the better of us. I think everybody on our team has gotten pissed at some point. That's the way the game is."

It seems no matter where they play, the game is pretty difficult for the Lakers this season.