By J.A. Adande
Without much fanfare Staples Center just hosted one of the most unusual four-day stretches of basketball in modern NBA history. The Lakers and Clippers hosted four games between them from Friday to Monday, yet only two teams visited. The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets took turns playing the Lakers and Clippers on consecutive nights, in the easiest set of back-to-back road games they'll face all year.
It was a rare scheduling quirk that could only happen at Staples Center (the lone arena to host two NBA teams), something made even more unusual because it's happened three times already this season -- the Dallas Mavericks played the Lakers and Clippers on the first weekend.
It's uncommon for visitors to play both L.A. teams on a single trip. These games seemed to portend a concession to the league's changing economics -- staying in L.A. for an extra day means one fewer flight to charter -- and actually made a lot of sense. Yet it won't be repeated for the rest of the season. And Matt Winick, the NBA's senior vice president of scheduling and game operations, insists this was a fluke.
"It just happened," Winick said. "I'm not that smart."
Winick said it was a result of trying to fit games into an incredibly busy arena, which also is home to the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and hosts events such as the Grammy Awards and the Pacific-10 Conference men's basketball tournament during the NBA season.
So it turned into a break for the three teams that got to play these double-dips in November. Usually a back-to-back game means arriving at the next city in the middle of the night, perhaps with a time zone shift. It's physically draining and mentally disorienting.
"Good thing about this is you don't have to leave the hotel," Hornets coach Byron Scott said, before New Orleans played the Clippers a day after losing to the Lakers. "You don't have to get on a plane and go to a different setting. So it has its advantages."
There is the risk of an extra night amid the temptations of Los Angeles, but it wasn't an issue for the Hornets. They went from a 104-88 loss to the Lakers to a 112-84 victory over the Clippers.
If there's anyone who should be complaining it's the Clippers, who miss out on the usual benefit of catching a team on a back-to-back. In fact when the Clippers played Dallas it was the Clippers who had to travel the night before, coming back from a game in Utah. Dallas swept the Lakers and Clippers in the back-to-backs. (The Grizzlies were swept, although they only lost to the Clippers by three points).
The common links are: Western Conference teams from the Central time zone. The league wouldn't do this for Eastern Conference teams that visit the Clippers and Lakers only once each during the season, the same way it wouldn't schedule a Western Conference team in back-to-back games at the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks. It doesn't want to diminish the impact of visiting superstars such as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant by having them play two games in the same region with no space in between.
The closest thing to this happening again in Los Angeles will be a three-day stay by the San Antonio Spurs in February, when they play the Clippers on the 6th and the Lakers on the 8th.