Posted Mar 17 2010 9:48AM
SACRAMENTO -- The matter was settled in clipped, definite terms Tuesday night at 5:40 p.m. in a corner of the visitor's cubby-hole locker room inside Arco Arena.
The Lakers will have home-court advantage through at least the West portion of the playoffs.
The Lakers will not lose that No. 1 spot in the conference standings.
Lamar Odom said so.
"That's not going to happen," he insisted.
"That's not going to happen," the reserve forward repeated.
How can you be so sure?
"Because I know my team," Odom said. "It's not acceptable."
But, Denver. Dallas.
"Of course they're serious threats. Every team's a serious threat. You can lose any game you play. But us losing that spot's not going to happen."
The league office will probably want the Lakers to play the final 14 games anyway. So let's pretend that a month is left in the regular season and the best record in the conference still remains undecided. Let's also act like the Nuggets are four back and the Mavericks are 4 ½ behind and the tiebreakers against both are still in play. Just for the sake of discussion.
"We don't even think that's a possibility," center Andrew Bynum said of finishing out of the top spot in the West. "I don't even know how to comment on that really. We just don't think that's going to happen."
Suppose the Lakers fall from No. 1. It won't matter right away because they'll have home-court in the opening round and, with a victory over an underdog opponent, the second as well. But getting to the conference final, they may have to open at Dallas or at Denver.
It's looking far into the future, wondering about May and possibly even June in March. But teams that judge the success or failure of a season by the playoffs are all about down the line. And the very thought of whether the Lakers can win a series without home-court advantage has crossed their minds.
"I don't know. I really don't," coach Phil Jackson said. "I think that we haven't played great on the road this year. The last two years we had really good road records. We want to have home-court advantage. We feel we can sustain it if we continue on the pace we're going. We look over at the other conference, too, and see who's sitting two and three and Orlando's sitting a couple games behind us [in the overall standings]. Those are all important things when your goal is to win a championship and repeat."
L.A. is 20-13 away from Staples Center, after going 29-12 last season en route to the title and 27-14 in 2007-08 while reaching the Finals before losing to the Celtics. Seven of the remaining 14 games are on the road -- counting the meeting with the Clippers as a home contest even though it's on the books as a trip -- and most of those are tough situations in any city: San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston in a back-to-back, New Orleans, Atlanta, then Denver and Minnesota in a back-to-back.
The final 14 games are against 12 opponents with a combined .503 winning percentage. L.A. has three back-to-back sets. It's in the rest stop now -- the Warriors, Kings, Timberwolves and Wizards in a row -- but payback comes with the eventual obstacle course of Atlanta, Utah, Denver and Portland.
The Nuggets have 15 games remaining against 15 opponents with a combined .553 winning percentage, with eight at home and seven on the road. Denver has four back-to-backs. The schedule challenge still ahead is at Orlando-at Dallas-Portland-Clippers-at Oklahoma City-Lakers beginning March 28.
The Mavericks have 15 games remaining against 12 opponents with a combined .525 winning percentage, with eight at home and seven on the road. Dallas has three back-to-backs. It has only one stretch of two games in a row against opponents with at least 40 wins now.
"You've got to win games on the road, too," Kobe Bryant said, downplaying the potential of finishing out of the top spot and noting the need to do well away from Staples Center in the playoffs either way. "You're not going to win every home game. You're eventually going to relinquish home court at some point. You wish that's not the case, but it happens."
Asked if he was as confident of this team's road chops as the previous couple seasons, Bryant said, "Sure. I am. But that doesn't mean that it's not trouble. That Denver series last season scared the crap out of all of us. Houston, too. I am extremely confident. At the same time, I know how dangerous that is."
Not that, apparently, it will come to that or anything.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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