Considering each run to a championship a journey, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has compared that process to a school year.
The season proves just as long. There are plenty of ups and downs. And there are plenty of teachable moments.
"It's a process that for me I've had great fortune in looking at seasons as something of a long haul where it's going to be an eight-month or seven-and-a-half month project," Jackson said before the 2010-2011 season started. "But in reality, you still have to give import to this opening game or this next game next week or this preseason game."
It's a tough balancing act between ensuring that team members strategically pace themselves without mailing in performances, and ensuring that they play sharp basketball without burning out. The most telling example is the San Antonio Spurs, who looked mostly sharp throughout the season en route to a Western Conference-leading 61-21 record, only to lose a six-game first-round playoff series to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher once argued that the team needs challenges and adversities because that allows for "true growth." That's fair enough, but save those lessons for the regular season.