The practical implications of losing Game 5
May, 9, 2012
By Brian Kamenetzky
Inside the Lakers locker room, the lone wall not lined with stalls has in the center a large flatscreen used for watching video flanked by two whiteboards. Before the tip, coaches use the space for notes on the evening's game plan and opponent. After, the one on the right always has the next day's plan. Some days it announces practice times, or when players are required to come in for physical therapy.
Following Tuesday night's Game 5 zombie walk against Denver, it read simply, "Flight, 3:00 pm. Pack for 3 games."
With that, you have one of the more significant practical implications the loss.
The Lakers now head to this afternoon to Denver for a Game 6 either propelling them into the second round or back to Staples for Game 7 Saturday night. The Lakers robbed themselves of an opportunity to eliminate the Nuggets, simultaneously blowing a chance for multiple days off ahead of a potential second round tussle with the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the whiteboard scrawl implies, should the Lakers win Game 6, they won't travel home, but instead straight to OKC, likely kicking off the series either Saturday or Sunday.
(UPDATE: The NBA has released Saturday's playoff scenarios, and no matter what, the Lakers will be playing Saturday. Either Game 7 vs. Denver at Staples, or Game 1 in Oklahoma City.)
Last night, Kobe downplayed the impact of losing out on potential rest.
"It doesn't matter. I don't care if you give us a year to rest. If we're fortunate enough to move on and play Oklahoma, that year's rest isn't going to make us any faster," he said.
True enough, but think how springy and spry the Lakers looked in Game 1, after Kobe had banked a ton of rest following his shin injury and other starters basically enjoyed a week off after sitting the regular season finale in Sacramento. They dominated the Nuggets from start to finish. Moreover, even if more rest won't make them faster, playing one or maybe two more games before round two might make them slower, particularly if the series goes long. There's a reason nobody starts the Indy 500 with half a tank of gas. Perhaps more importantly, losing messes with the team's ability to prep in an organized fashion for OKC. They could have practiced in L.A. today and again tomorrow, then flown on Friday to Oklahoma ahead of what was tentatively scheduled to be a Saturday opener.
With that time, the Lakers could have better digested the reams of scouting material the coaching and video staff will have prepped for them, the value of which was shown early in this series against Denver. Andrew Bynum had only one turnover in the first two games, something Mike Brown and Bynum both linked to a better understanding of how the Nuggets would send their double teams. They could have allowed Jordan Hill, who still has had only a handful of real practices with the team thanks to the way in which the compressed schedule almost completely eliminated the ability of the Lakers (and other teams) to run full speed between games, to get that much more of a rhythm with his teammates.
Now, at best L.A. gets a relatively long road trip. At worst* they spend the next few days playing a lot of games with as many airplane rides in between.
How much all of this is worth is a matter of debate, but it's hard to refute the notion the Lakers will need to maximize their potential in order to defeat the Thunder four times in seven games. Every little bit counts. They can't afford to give things away, even around the margins.
All of this, of course, assumes they eliminate the Nuggets, whether tomorrow or Saturday. I still believe they will, because a fully engaged Lakers team ought to take one of two games against Denver, and after last night's on-floor power outage it's hard to believe they won't bring more juice going forward. But, in the spirit of last year's team, L.A. made its path tougher. They're not good enough to make a habit of this sort of thing.
*"At worst," of course, they could actually lose the series to Denver, certainly solving the problems associated with multiple and flights, but in less-than-ideal fashion.