Lakers weigh significance of five-game trip
With the Lakers embarking on a five-game trip beginning Wednesday against San Antonio, Coach Phil Jackson initially saw it as something that could "make or break" the team's standings in the Western Conference. The Lakers had enjoyed remaining the top seed throughout the season, but three consecutive losses in early March further tightened the race among Denver, Dallas and Utah.
Since then the Lakers (52-18) have reeled off six consecutive victories and have a pretty firm standing in the West, holding a five-game lead over the Nuggets (47-23), a five-and-a-half game cushion against the Mavericks (46-23) and a seven-game advantage over the Jazz (45-25). With Denver and Dallas losing Saturday to Milwaukee and Boston, respectively, Jackson shared Monday that he no longer feels this upcoming trip bears as much significance in the standings.
After still expressing some frustration over the Lakers' second-half letdown in their 99-92 victory Sunday against the Washington Wizards, Jackson is mindful his changed perspective could reduce the urgency the team could have during its trip.
"I hope the players don't take that as an [excuse]," said Jackson, who gave the team a day off from practice Monday partly to help conserve energy. "They know we really want to establish our road game, and we had a real good road record the last couple of years."
The Lakers last four championships featured solid road records, including the 1999-2000 team (31-10), 2000-2001 team (31-10), 2001-2002 team (24-17) and 2008-09 (29-12). And those championships seasons also entailed the Lakers ending the regular season pretty strongly. Consider the Lakers' record in the last month during those title runs: 1999-2000 team (20-4), 2000-2001 team (18-7), 2001-2002 team (18-7) and the 2008-2009 team (17-5).
Meanwhile, the current Lakers are in a sort of standstill. Though they have won three consecutive road games, the Lakers aren't satisfied with their 20-13 road record. Despite going on a six-game winning streak, most of the team is far from pleased with its current play.
Of course, these road records and strong finishes don't necessarily guarantee post-season success. For example, the 2007-2008 team that lost in the NBA Finals to Boston had a 27-14 road record. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant also brought up a good point that the late-season success doesn't always make the playoffs uch easier. With the exception the 2000-2001 team that went 15-1 in the playoffs, the Lakers faced hefty challenges the other seasons.
Consider the Lakers went through four series that weren't decided until the last game, including the 1999-2000 team's first-round victory over Sacramento in five games and its West Finals victory over Portland in seven, the 2001-2002 team's West Finals victory to Sacramento in seven, and the 2008-2009 team's West semifinals victory to Houston in seven.
"I think it helps," Bryant said about the team ending the season strongly. "You want to go into the playoffs feeling like you're playing well. All the years we've won except for the second championship run, we've had tough playoff series. We were pushed to the brink of elimination even in the first round. We went into the playoffs playing extremely well. It really doesn't matter too much. That second run we had was one of those situations where we got in a zone as a team and stayed in it for 16 games."
(A quick aside: In the video below, Bryant teased The Times' Broderick Turner for wearing a New Orleans Saints hat, suggesting he became a bandwagon fan after their Super Bowl title run. Turner told Bryant he's a New Orleans native, something Bryant jokingly refused to believe.)
-- Mark Medina
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