Should the Lakers be gunnin’ for that No. 1 spot?

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Andrew Kamenetzky and I continue our on-going conversation about the Spurs-Lakers rivalry.  ESPN LA’s Land O’ Lakers blog published my thoughts on the current Spurs/Lakers scuffle. And they have another nice post going about the Spurs/Lakers rivalry to further satiate your mid-afternoon baller blog fix. Elsewhere, Henry Abbott is riffing on Scott Sereday’s Advanced Scouting from earlier today. (Or, if you’re willing to read any old thing about L.A. basketball, Hoopspeak is running something I wrote about John Wooden as part of their on-going interaction with a University of Michigan course on basketball cultures.) Busy day.

Back to Spurs/Lakers. For his part in our exchange, Andy Kamenetzky addresses the question of whether the Lakers are sunk without home court advantage in the postseason:

Ah, the never-ending Kamenetzky brothers debate. Brian delved into the topic after the Christmas Day debacle when the Lakers were merely five games behind the Spurs. (Nostalgia!) Disconcerting data was crunched and in a nutshell, history hasn’t been kind to the road team. (Although ironically, the Western Conference Finals, where these teams would theoretically meet, features the best visitor percentage). This prospect has troubled my brother, and I don’t think he’d pick the Lakers in a road series.

Personally, I’m not as concerned. Given a choice, I’d obviously rather have HCA, and watching the Lakers fritter it away through carelessness hasn’t been fun. But I don’t consider it make or break for a team with the Lakers’ collective experience. People always mention how the Lakers couldn’t have won that grueling Game 7 against the Celtics in Boston, and they’re probably right. But I think that’s arguably irrelevant, because last season’s team isn’t this season’s team. Conquering that pressure cooker adds an invaluable level of confidence impossible to manufacture from thin air. Between that and so many other unique perspectives, I don’t think the Lakers would be daunted at the prospect of a must-win on the road.

Would it be hard? Of course. But it’s supposed to be hard, as I’ve reminded our readers.

Interestingly, the Spurs (along with the Celtics) are the only other teams I don’t personally believe “need” home court, either. Getting HCA against a team like Miami is as much about stealing an opponent’s life blood as gaining a tangible advantage. But San Antonio doesn’t strike me as a team that would live or die by HCA, another reason this particular situation doesn’t automatically alarm me. At the end of the day, the victor between these teams will be decided by execution and skill, not location.

Of course, this is all predicated on the Lakers regaining their excellence and cranking it up several notches (which I still think will happen). Otherwise, it would be a short postseason with every game at Staples.

  • SpurredOn

    The number 1-seed is as much about HCA in the WCF as it is forcing the Lakers and Mavs to match-up in round 2. That’s a tough, competitive six or 7 game series waiting to happen. Mavs could only win with HCA, but imagine a Lakers team coming of seven difficult games regardless of which team had HCA, perhaps making three flights to Texas, only to have to do it all over again in the following round.

    As Spurs fans we should recall 2008. Yes, the injury to Manu cost the Spurs more in the WCF than home court, but not having it in round-2 meant seven total games against NOLA, followed by one off day spent in travel after being stuck on the tarmac. Not having those advantages don’t usually cost you in the series at hand, but it shows itself later in the post-season.

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  • idahospur

    @ SpurredOn
    Agreed.

    Saving some travel time seems to be a good strategy that may make the difference come playoffs. Based on current rankings, Spurs will be traveling 1700 ishmiles to Portland in the first round.

  • Rowrbazzle

    Despite losing all those games without Dirk, the Mavs are actually tied with LA in the loss column (1 back in the win column). They’ve played a tougher schedule than LA and are already up 1-0 in the head-to-head match-up. According to the stats in Kamenetzky’s post-Christmas article, the home team’s winning % is .787 in the semifinals. The Lakers might want to worry about keeping home court in the 2nd round before even looking at the WCF.

  • jwalt

    Glad people are talking about Dallas again. Dirk finally looks healthy and I’m truly hoping they get the 2 seed and the Lakers the 3 seed (don’t drop to 4th!).

    Dallas can beat LA but more importantly it would mean SA would only have to play one of those teams.

    And I think without a doubt it will one of those 3 teams that goes to the finals.

  • rj

    i don’t know why, but i look at that dallas roster and i don’t see a championship team. dirk playing out of his mind keeps them competitve, but i don’t see their roster picking up the slack if he falters. terry doesn’t deliver consistently and neither can kidd. it’s getting late in the season for beaubois to make an impact. losing caron butler depleated there already thin team and leave it up to cuban to pull off another blockbuster, chemistry shattering trade…..

  • Tim in Surrey

    Hey everybody – I won’t tell you that you must read Tim’s piece on John Wooden. But I will say that you ought to read it… :)

  • rob

    Great point SpurredOn. Even great teams, teams that would be expected to win, might have issues playing their best ball in those situations.

    I would also contend though that one of the reasons the Spurs have done statistically well in most of their playoff situations is the acclimation of the long rodeo road trip they incur during the regular season. In a way, climatizing the team to such conditions that other teams normally don’t experience.

    But let’s hope the Spurs don’t have to endure such conditions again as last year. The Spurs suprised a tough Dallas team in the first round last season only to be wiped out by the time they had to travel for the Phoenix series. At this stage to most of our key players careers…road trips will take it’s toll in their ability to perform their best.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    I think HCA will be crucial this season…..the teams are so close in talent and experience that something like having 4 out of 7 in your house throughout the playoffs (except the NBA Finals, where I think it actually favors the team with 3 straight homes games) is going to tip the scales.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Oh BTW, what a kickass win for the Spurs last night! Hate the Lakers, Love the victory! Thanks McD, for having big nuts around the basket and scoring the tip-in!