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Sizing up whether Lakers change their approach trailing San Antonio in the Western Conference Standings

If there are any two teams that understand the need to hold a big-picture perspective on the regular season, the Lakers and the Spurs are those teams.

They've shared a rich history this past decade that's proved unmatched. The Lakers won five NBA titles, including a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. The Spurs won three, one in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The Lakers had 114 playoff victories and were the only team this past decade to win at least 65 games in two different regular seasons. The Spurs, meanwhile, were the only franchise to win at least 50 games and make the postseason every year this past decade.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, rarely one to compliment other coaches, hands out all the praises to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who has the third-best winning per- centage (.677, 776-370) of any coach in NBA history. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pointed to both teams' front offices ("You have management making great decisions and the right decisions"). And Lakers guard Derek Fisher looks at San Antonio's personnel, ranging from Tony Parker (one of two players along with Steve Nash this season to average at least 15 points at a 50% mark, three rebounds, and five assists), Manu Ginobili (double figures in 44 of 48 games) and Tim Duncan (the Spurs' all-time leading scorer taking a backseat this season to help Parker and Ginobili run the floor).

"They understand how hard it is to stay on top for so many years," Bryant said. "The amount of effort you have to put into it and the amount of focus, work and togetherness, it's tough."

That's why it isn't surprising that Jackson and Fisher tactfully shot down my question wondering if the context for the Lakers' season has changed knowing they're trailing the Spurs by 6½ games for the top spot in the Western Conference standings. I don't necessarily mean when the Lakers (34-15) and Spurs (40-8) square off Thursday night, but for the rest of the season moving forward.

"It's way too early to talk about that," Jackson said. "You can talk about that at the end of March."

"Not at a regular-season game at this point," Fisher said. "They're far enough ahead of the pack where winning games still matters and it's important, but there isn't an eight-game window at the line tomorrow."

But the Lakers have shown signs that suggest otherwise.

Prior to Wednesday's practice, Fisher shared that the team discussed its 19-7 home record and how it needs to improve considering the mark already matches last season's home-loss record (34-7). About a month ago, Jackson began ramping up his practice sessions, including longer practice times and having Bryant change his routine from treatment, weight-lifting and shooting to joining the team in conditioning drills. He scaled back his practice time since last week, but the reasoning became clear. At that point, the Lakers ranked fourth in the West with a 23-11 record, trailing San Antonio for the top spot in the Western Conference and also falling behind Dallas (25-8) and Utah (24-11) by 2½ games and a ½-game, respectively, Jackson reached a tipping point in wanting to rectify the damage before the Lakers fall any further in the standings.

"The idea is to get them through the season in the best possible shape in the best possible placing in the conference," Jackson said. "But we don't have a lot of room to make things up. We have a home schedule right now and we've lost games on our home floor. We have to make hay right now when we can. It's important for us to finish in a position where we at least have home court advantage ... in the first round of the playoffs, for sure. Those things are important for us and we understand that."

Much has changed since then. A season-ending injury to Caron Butler and an injury to Dirk Nowitzki contributed to the Mavericks (34-15) dropping to third place and trailing the Lakers by one game. The Jazz's (29-11) five-game losing streak this month plunged them to seventh place overall. But one thing hasn't changed. The Spurs still maintain a 6½ game lead as they are off to their best record in franchise history through 48 games.

"They're very consistent," Jackson said.

That puts the onus on the Lakers, diminishing the argument further that the Lakers can wait until the end of the season or the playoffs to dial it up. Sure there are exceptions. The Spurs lost to Portland on Tuesday as the Lakers beat Houston. Both teams are only an injury away from changing course. And the Spurs are in the middle of their nine-game Rodeo Trip that entails stops at Sacramento, Detroit, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey and Chicago, an itinerary that totals 8,965 miles and a whole lot of fatigue.

But both teams are well aware of needing to pace themselves, leading to further questions if the Spurs are as vulnerable to falling through a rough patch as other teams. For now, at least, the Lakers aren't worried.

"I don't know if I ever view them differently based on their record, wins or losses," Fisher said. "Regardless of our win-loss record or their win-loss record, when you play the Spurs, you know what kind of game you're in for. They're going to play tough, hard-core defense. They're going to share the ball. They're going to execute on offense. They're going to put the ball in the hands of their best players to make the decisions. That's something that hasn't changed for years."

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Comments () | Archives (24)

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Maybe they didn't understand the question either. 'Does the context of the season change?' What does that mean exactly?

Yeah, i know you elaborated in the article and it's the kind of reporter babble question that comes from there being reporter laws against asking questions that can be answered with yes and no, but really.

to quote that wonderful character from "animal house", "boy, is this going to be great!"

MM-Dude...Phred makes a great point, what does it MEAN?
Indirect, elaborate versus succinct, personal versus contextual, and instrumental versus affective!!!!!

All star reserves TBA in 90 minutes

My guess is bynum OUT. Gasols IN.. Odom bubbleboy

Duncan will be in by popovich default

In my opinion, this Laker squad couldn't care less about the standings. Their inconsistant, lackluster, and heartless play has proven that over and over again.

That being said, there's still plenty of time to catch the Spurs. I'm more interested in the team having a better record than Boston entering the playoffs. They can beat every other Eastern Conf team without HCA, but I'm not so sure about beating Boston in a game seven on their home court.

Time to take the time and do it right tonight:

lance from da' bronx

We have to rely on a bunch of Kent Dorfmans to root us on to victory tonight? I'm selling my ticket. :)

Got a few minutes before picking up the kids. Gonna do quickie shout-outs (LRob style! lol)

D-Fish & Kobe are really good on TV, both of them are naturals (and very funny guys too!)

Did we see a little 'Troll on Troll crime' earlier with Mr. Laker vs Troll Man? LOL

Fan of the Mamba: "But the real reason it doesn't bother me anymore, is because his peers and those who truly know basketball give Kobe his props so the opinion of those who just watch or those who just write stories are just opinions and not facts."
LOVED your 9:54 am post! BRAVO!

- - -

justa/phred: Both of you read my mind regarding the 'even Ron Artest shook his hand' line by Brez. Wha? Huh? Don't get it...

- - -

888: Isn't that the case with most MJ fans - they tend to forget the (rather numerous) bad games while singing the praises of the good ones? What a true observation.

- - -

Created a yahoo question this morning on the Durant vs Griffin question, I'm going to compile all the answers from here and there later...;_ylt=AjjOscI83EJCdQRv9W4p89jsy6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20110203095142AAsg9pi

I was just wondering earlier (ongoing debate with my kids), who would you want as a future Laker: Blake Griffin or Kevin Durant?


No worries. Bring on the Spurs.

@Mamba - nice new school offering with Leona & Rihanna.

Yes sir, phred's on the case! How are you my brother?

KOBEMVP888, Don't sell your ticket, I promise not to quote him any more

@fever - Pop can't name Duncan to the team. But I believe as the coach he can select who starts regardless of who the Commish names to replace Yao.

@mclyne - That means the Lakers will just have to take Boston out in 6 if the C's get home court.

S.O.S - Sounds of Success...yep I think it'll be that kind of night.

Nothing like a "strong, united front" on Feb. 3rd.

By July 3rd...Jerry will throw Phil and Mitch "under the Buss"!

Nothing changes the context of my Lakerholism. Nothing.


MM - sorry about that. I guess I just assume that when there's a million new threads a day, they're all yours.... my badness.

STILL - it doesn't answer the question - WHY is that tool Brez saying it's a strange thing for RonRon to go up to Buss & shake his hand??

(phred - yeah... my Brez-o-meter wasn't on. I should have known....)

When Kobe said the Lakers owe the Spurs, don't think for one minute he forgot about the little incident with George Hill. I gotta feeling Georgie will be the one crying tonight...or maybe that's just an excuse to play this.

When Dave Paich and the fellas left Boz Scaggs and dropped this one I was a big fan.

Come on, Lakers!!!

Win this game for Eva Longoria!!!

I bet she's back to being a Lakers fan again.

What the heck was Tony Parker thinking?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


The approach should be to try and win tonight and build a streak going into the all-star break. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that the Spurs can be caught and have played a little over their heads all year. Speaking of All-Stars, I think that the commish will make Pau the starter, given that he is at home and all. And really who could argue with that? The center choices are just not that great in the West.

If the Lakers focus and execute like they did recently against OKC here, they'll come away with a W. Simple as that.

@Jon K

I don't think he was using his brain to do the thinking...

He just didn't think about it:

Tonight stands as usual this team already hand it to us at their house now time to return the favor at ours.Normally when there's turmoil the lakers show up and play their game.Just win baby.

Go lakers!

Nothing changes the context of my Lakerholism. Nothing.
Posted by: Don't Blame Del Harris! | February 03, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Yes, yes Listen to this one. There is much wisdom here!!!
Nothing like a "strong, united front" on Feb. 3rd. By July 3rd...Jerry will throw Phil and Mitch "under the Buss"! Posted by: RED`S LOVE CHILD | February 03, 2011 at 03:24 PM

If the Lakers focus and execute like they did recently against OKC here, they'll come away with a W. Simple as that. Posted by: KobeMVP888 | February 03, 2011 at 04:01 PM
NOW THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!! Preach MVP888, Preach!!!!!

Anyone else feel as I do that the performance of NBA players in general and Lakers in particular might improve substantially if they did not make a point of hollering loudly and grimacing dramatically when slightly touched or bumped by a defender during missed or made shot attempts. Unless these players have low pain thresholds or their ears are hypersensitive to sounds of defenders’ hands slapping down on the ball, concentrating more on executing the offense, making free throws and improving their defense might help. Or is there evidence Officials are influenced by players’ antics.



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