Posted Apr 8 2011 9:22AM
The Lakers started losing again and the Spurs started winning again, the race ended almost as quickly as it materialized and, suddenly, it officially became just another issue.
The Lakers' quest for a third consecutive championship now will come without the guarantee of homecourt advantage for at least some of the Western Conference playoffs and potentially beyond that to the Finals. San Antonio saw to that by finding the rip cord just in time. The Lakers saw to it by going from wins in 17 of the first 18 games out of the All-Star break to immediately losing to the Nuggets, Jazz and Warriors and, worse, being out-rebounded by the Warriors, a screaming sign of a lack of interest. Opponents have to try to not rebound to get beat on the boards by Golden State.
The Spurs will be No. 1 in the West when the postseason opens next week, the Lakers No. 2. But the Lakers are, as would be expected, unfazed at this early stage of the process. They know that things take a sharp turn back in their favor if San Antonio is ousted, just as chances are pretty good the Lakers won't become unhinged if both teams advance to a showdown.
This is a group that ordinarily yawns its way through such concerns, the benefit of proven success and years of playing as a travelling circus. Not this time, though. They know.
"There's a number of good road teams in our conference," coach Phil Jackson. "But still, in all, when it comes down to the seventh game, that's a big difference when it's on your home floor."
In 2008, the Celtics had homecourt advantage in the Finals, the only time the Lakers did not for any series during the current run of three consecutive West titles. Boston won the first two at home, put L.A. in an instant and insurmountable hole, and then closed out in L.A. in Game 6. The Celtics' heart and toughness had a lot more to do with it than the Celtics' building, but it has not slipped anyone's mind in Boston that the only playoff elimination since 2007 came as the team on the wrong side of the 2-3-2 format.
In 2009, the Lakers had homecourt advantage over the Rockets in the second round and needed every ounce of it, with a Game 7 at Staples Center to determine whether Houston would complete the improbable upset. L.A. won.
In 2010, the Lakers had the Celtics again and homecourt advantage with Game 7 in L.A. This generation of Lakers would have been running head first into the same green wall the Jerry West-Elgin Baylor-Wilt Chamberlain collection did decades earlier. But the most important few hours of the season were at Staples Center and the Lakers pushed through the sludge of an ugly game to claim a second title in a row.
"Probabilities are you're going to get calls when you have the ball in your home court in the seventh game," Jackson said.
Even in Dallas, someone asked, home of the most vocal referee critic, Mark Cuban?
"No," Jackson replied, "we're not talking about that. We're just talking about overall, whether it's a World Series or whatever. It's just human nature and you can't avoid it. It's just the way it is."
"I agree with that aspect of it," said Derek Fisher, the Lakers' point guard through it all. "In the event that there's a deciding game -- one game that makes a difference between who wins and who losses the series -- history, the percentages, everything tells you that the home team is going to have the advantage. We know for us last year in Game 7 against the Celtics, being down 13 in that game, without being at home, with our crowd and the momentum and the energy that comes from being at home, maybe we don't figure out a way to come back and win that game. It's definitely something that, realistically looking at it, you say of course you'd love to have it. At the same time, I'm not in that group of people that would say it determines everything ..."
The Lakers will almost certainly finish behind the Bulls in the overall standings, too, giving Chicago homecourt advantage in a possible Finals between the Bulls and Lakers. And L.A. is up just a game on the Celtics and Heat in the same race. The Lakers could have to win two rounds without homecourt to threepeat.
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