NBA Schedule Give and Take

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

Phil Jackson had a phrase for games like the Lakers lost on Sunday evening to Toronto: “Schedule Losses.”

Sometimes the way things line up on a given night across the 82 games, there are mental and physical factors going into a game that make a certain result more likely.

Quick disclaimer: the 10-1 Raptors are good enough to beat any team no matter the situation.

That said, an imbalance in rest can be the biggest factor. L.A. arrived at 2 a.m. Sunday morning after a tough win at Portland snapped a 16-game losing streak to the Blazers on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Toronto was off on Saturday, awaiting the Lakers in Los Angeles for a 6:30 p.m. tip.

A few other elements were working against L.A., such as the Kyle-Lowry-led Raptors being especially eager to see LeBron James after he eliminated them in the prior postseason for seemingly the 100th time. There was even a factor that, on paper, may have looked like a big advantage for the Lakers, but actually may have hurt them.

L.A. found out about two hours prior to tip that Kawhi Leonard was going to miss the game. Yet as I noted on the Spectrum SportsNet pregame show after hearing the news, that often works in favor of the team missing the star, at least for one game. Or at least, it has for the last few years with the Lakers. The combination of the opponent exhaling a bit – call it human nature – and the team missing their guy rallying around the flag can create a difference in energy output, at least at the beginning of games.

"I’ve played in a lot of these games and I know what it’s like to think, ‘Okay, this game just got a lot easier,’” said Luke Walton after the game. “In my experience, unfortunately, most the time when a player like Kawhi sits out, that team ends up winning or at least they give a hell of a run. We tried to explain that that’s part of how this works, but it doesn’t seem like we took that to heart.”

So when the Raptors appeared to have been collectively shot out of a cannon as they exploded to a 42-17 lead, it wasn’t that they were the aggressor that had a lead that was a surprise, only that it was such a massive one.

Sure, it’s convenient to point out various explanations/excuses depending on your perspective after the 121-107 loss. I do it here only to look ahead to Wednesday’s game against Minnesota, when none of those things are applicable.

It’s not a back to back. The Lakers have had two full days between games.

The Wolves played on Monday (a loss at the Clippers) while the Lakers were off. And, L.A. just lost 124-120 last week at Minnesota in a game where they had multiple fourth quarter leads, but fell victim in part to career 33 percent 3-point shooter Jimmy Butler* making 5 of 6 3’s in the fourth quarter alone.
*Since that game, Butler is 0 for 10 from three.

So, no excuses are available. And at the same time, nothing can be taken for granted just because the schedule lines up well.

"Obviously that stuff plays into account during the season, but if you ever expect you're going to start winning games because the schedule is lighter or you have more rest days, you're not going to win those games," said Walton. "You have to be ready to go out and take wins, whether you're playing on back to backs or you have two days before a game."

Tip off time on Wednesday is 7:30 p.m., and the Lakers should certainly be ready.

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