The Lakers go into tonight’s game versus the Sacramento Kings with a 56-25 record. The team’s performance during the past two weeks have been lackluster and frustrating for Laker fans. The Lakers dropped five straight games, something that has not occurred in Laker Land since the acquisition of Pau Gasol. Yesterday’s performance against number one seed, San Antonio Spurs, snapped that losing streak but the win was far from perfect. The Lakers seemed to play with no urgency until the last three minutes of the fourth quarter. The injuries to Bynum, Blake, and Barnes were definitely felt last night.
Yes, the Lakers had captured a playoff seat awhile ago and are fully capable of turning on that switch at any time, but that doesn’t mean the team can shift to a lower gear and seemingly throw away games. This especially holds true when the team is fighting for a coveted playoff position. A win tonight earns the Lakers a number two spot with a possibility of facing the Grizzlies or the Hornets. With tonight’s match-up marking the end to the 2010-2011 regular season, the Lakers need to win this game to create momentum for the playoffs.
Momentum is a game changer in the competitive and ever-changing atmosphere in the NBA. This is just what the Lakers need to have a brighter attitude going into the first round of the playoffs. Winning tonight will also relieve the reminder of the five straight loses and missed opportunities that can affect a team vision and motivation. Momentum in sports, especially with basketball and its fast pace, is so crucial that coaches will call a timeout to stop the momentum of the opposing team. According to leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, “when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and troubles seem inconsequential.”*
When a team is already locked into the playoffs, the coach usually will choose to rest his star players. Phil Jackson has approached this concept in the opposite way. Jackson believes that non-must win games are still important and will act as great practice and preparation for the team as they enter the playoff season. Yet, Laker fans will see more bench time for players such as, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Due to a hyper-extended knee, Andrew Bynum will not travel with the team to Sacramento. Derek Fisher may not receive as much rest time because of the absence of his substitute, Steve Blake, due to his battle of the Chicken Pox. By the end of the game, we will see what kind of long-term production the reserves can produce.
Tonight’s game also serves as a chance to avenge the 100-95 loss to the Kings on January 28, 2011. Kobe Bryant scored 38 points and passed Hakeem Olajuwon on the all-time scoring list on that January night. However, Kobe did not get too much help offensively, with Shannon Brown and Andrew Bynum being the only other scorers in double figures with 17 and 12. A key to winning tonight’s game is the closeout of the great rookie from Kentucky, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins recorded an impressive double-double with 27 points and 10 rebounds during the last match-up with these two Pacific division teams.** Gasol and Odom had a difficult time stopping Cousins in the paint, which is critical for the two to succeed at tonight.
Tonight’s last game of the regular season isn’t a must win game. However, it is important for two reasons: playoff position and momentum. Prior to tonight’s game, the Lakers are in a race with Dallas for the second spot in the Western Conference. If the Lakers fall to number 3, it means facing the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. If this playoff match were to unfold, I don’t see the Lakers losing the series, but based on their sometimes struggles with the Blazers, especially at the Rose Garden, I would rather see them face Memphis. Regardless of potential playoff pictures, the Lakers should focus on creating momentum and solidifying the number two spot in the West while staying healthy.
*Source: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
*Statistics provided by the NBA.com[phpbay]Lakers Swingman, 3, “”, “”[/phpbay]