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NBA Playoffs: If the Lakers are inevitable, do you want them early or late?

Mar 29, 2010, 1:58 AM EDT

Take a look at our NBA’s Race to the Playoffs. Go on. Acquaint yourself. It’s a mess. Particularly the Western Conference.

There are seven teams that could end up in the 8th spot, staring down the Lakers (we’re tossing out the Grizzlies, love them as I do. No way anyone’s going in the tank like they need them to). Denver, Dallas, Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, OKC, Portland. Any one of them could wind up under the crosshairs of the defending champions.

One of the things Greg Popovich has talked about extensively is the imperative of avoiding that eighth seed, of not ending up in a tussle with LA in the first round. It’s a fairly easy idea. Try and avoid the best team as long as possible, hope someone else does the dirty work for you, hope they get tired, hope they get banged up, go as far as you can, get as much playoff money as you can, stay away from the big, bad Lakers.

And pardon me if I sound like Owen Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums (“What this book presupposes is… ‘What if he didn’t?'”), but I do keep having the same thought.

Isn’t it better to get LA sooner rather than later?

Hear me out. LA has shown three things this season. One, when they’re plugged in, they can beat anyone in the league, with only the possible exception of Cleveland. Two, they are prone to long periods of boredom and uninspired play. Three, they don’t respond well to adversity, often going into the tank if it feels like things aren’t going their way.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Rockets series last year, going seven games without Yao Ming for much of it. Or take a look at the blowout to OKC, or the Cleveland games. They have a counterpunch, but if that counterpunch is met and matched, they struggle to trade blows.

So why not try and get them early? Imagine this scenario. The Spurs get the Lakers in round one. The mighty Lakers, facing a Spurs team that’s given them some trouble, but really, hasn’t been all that good this year. And the Spurs come out, and unload in Game 1. Drop everything they possibly have. Empty both barrels.

Now, obviously the Lakers will respond, because when put in a corner, they fight back. Because nobody puts Baby Gasol in a corner. The Spurs should rope-a-dope Game Two. Let ’em have it. Lay down. Let them go up by 30. Get comfortable. Allow them to blow you out completely. Because giving them that confidence is a good thing. You want them thinking the first game was a fluke and they have it on lockdown. Because if you can respond in Games 3 and 4, you can push them.

Isn’t that a better approach for any team, not just the Spurs? Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, any team with playoff experience. Face the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and they have their playoff legs under them. Kobe smells that fifth ring. Your guys are tired. And the Lakers are expecting you. And if you lose, well, you were going to lose regardless.

Give yourself the best chance. Go at them early. Don’t run from the Lakers. Draw the line in the sand, and challenge them to maintain focus in April, not May and June, when they’re used to it. It’s a risky scenario, but given the success they’ve had, the talent, the advantages, isn’t it time to think outside the box a bit?

  1. Darius - Mar 29, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Matt, I’m biased but I disagree with your third point regarding the Lakers not responding well to adversity. I think it’s the opposite – they respond well to adversity. They responded in the Houston series; they responded in the Denver series. The major issue with this Lakers team is how frequently #2 on your list pops up. They allow adversity to set in based off the fact that they don’t always bring their best game to the party. That leads to them getting into situations that they must fight out of, and pretty much for the past three seasons (save being able to beat a very good Celtics team in the Finals) they responded and won. So, sure, they may drop a game that they shouldn’t and look uninspired in doing so. But when it’s time to respond in the next game,they do.
    I do agree with what you’re saying about getting the Lakers early, because if you get them later in the playoffs the avalanche may be too overwhelming to overcome. So, see if you can steal some games early in the playoffs and take your chances in game 6 or 7 and see if you can steal the series.

  2. Rod - Mar 29, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    I also say that the youngsters on this Blazer team need to learn a hatred for the Blazers. The kind of loathing that comes from them knocking you out of the playoffs. If they can’t get past them this year, at least build the anger for future years. :)

  3. Rod - Mar 29, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    I also say that the youngsters on this Blazer team need to learn a hatred for the Lakers. The kind of loathing that comes from them knocking you out of the playoffs. If they can’t get past them this year, at least build the anger for future years. :)

  4. beezer - Mar 29, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    i agree with pop, hustle for reward, not for failure. no one wants LA 1st round. NO ONE!! period. what if or not. i dont see any games goin to 7 for the lakeshow. yeah im biased–but so what? their starting 5 is THE best in the league–better than clevelands. now their bench? not so much. im confident their starting 5 can win every series when put to the test, every last one of them. only thing that concerns me is, the lakeshow has a worse road record this year than theyve had the previous two seasons. bynum isnt even a factor–they can play well without him and have played well in the past. i hope hes back and can be efficient, but we will see.

  5. Suga Shane - Mar 29, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    I don’t totally agree with you. I do think earlier is better, but not that early.
    No championship contender is going to lose in the first round (sorry, Dallas). It’s just not going to happen. That’s embarrassing and no champion likes to get embarrassed. Besides how many legit title contenders have lost in the first round (sans Dallas).
    I know the competition has never really been this close and evenly spread, but still.
    Also, top teams Like the Lakers won’t lose in the Conference Finals. They have come to far and are too close to the finals to give in at that point. Plus all the other reasons you listed.
    I think the best time to get a team like the Lakers is the second round. Look at the Celtics last year. There was no way in hell they were losing to the Bulls, no matter how much fire power the Bulls threw at them. We all knew the Cs would just find a way.
    But it wore them out and the Magic were waiting. The Celtics shouldn’t have lost that series (they were leading the series 3-2 if i recall correctly) but they weren’t close enough to the finals to push through the injuries, the boredom, or the fatigue. and they weren’t in an embarrassing situation to try and save face.
    Like-wise, the Lakers handled the first round. Yet it took a long grueling series vs the Rockets for the Lakers to finally convince themselves that the fruit was worth the labor. After barely edging a lowly and dwindled roster of nobodies, the Lakers handled a much stiffer Denver Nuggets in 6 games. Had they faced the Nuggets in round two, who knows what the outcome would have been.
    Two years ago, the Hornets finished a hair behind the top seed in the west. They lost the top seed when they lost their final regular season game to the lakers. The lakers went on to make the finals, the hornets… well know one really remembers. They didn’t make the WCFs. They got bounced in the second round in a long hard fought series with the Spurs and that was the end of that.
    It’s happened time and again and will continue to happen. People say its a long season and teams get bored. It’s also a long playoffs and teams tend to lose focus, especially when they hit that middle ground.
    The Western Conference Semifinals. That’s going to be any teams best chance to beat the Lakers.

  6. Heath - Apr 13, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    I don’t think it matters. I think that the Lakers may lose in the 1st, or 2nd round, and never have a shot at the west finals. I don’t think it matters what team faces tham (OKC is), because I think that the Lakers are done. Even if they make it to the finals, which I doubt, I cannot see them winning another ring. Cleveland has already went to the jeweler and had their rings sized.

  7. svt - May 18, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Spoke too soon huh?

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