Friday, February 20, 2009
If you ask any Laker fan about the loss in the Finals last year, other than responding by popping a Xanax or breathing deep into a brown paper bag, they will likely blame the absence of Andrew Bynum and the lack of overall defensive toughness as the two most glaring reasons for the Lakers' demise last June.
And while these are the widely accepted reasons both in Los Angeles and nationwide for the Lakers' loss against the Celtics, I would submit another element as the true pivot point of last year's Finals.
Home Court Advantage.
Certainly the vacancy created by Bynum's loss and the toughness problem contributed to the defeat, but since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the Finals in 1985, the number of times the home team has won the three middle home games is the same number of votes Alex Rodriguez should get for the Hall of Fame: zero.
That means, even when the team without home court advantage can manage to win two of their three consecutive homes (the best that any team has managed to do since the inception of this format), they still have to steal two away games from the team with the regular season's best record. This has proved to be a daunting task over the years, and the reason why, if the NBA chooses to stay the course of the 2-3-2 format, the advantage of home court in the Finals will continue to be crucial.
It swayed the pendulum of momentum even further in the Celtics direction last year and will likely do the same this year.
After winning the first two games of the series in Boston last season, the C's knew that if they could just get one the games in LA, they would be hopping a red eye back to Beantown for the final two contests, only having to win one of them. Definitely a very favorable scenario for Doc River's veteran club.
So even as the durability issues persist for the Lakers young center, the Lakers are playing some of their most energized and intense basketball of the year, and they must capitalize on the recent knee injury of Boston defensive anchor Kevin Garnett if they want to playing Games 6 and 7 of the Finals on the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Figueroa instead of the raucous Boston Garden.
You don't wish harm or injury on any opposing player, no matter their impact or status, but any athlete will also tell you that you make the most of any edge you can get. And the loss of the Celtic superstar for at least a week definitely qualifies into that "any edge" category.
Currently, the Lakers stand at a league-leading 44-10 before their showdown with Chris Paul and the Hornets Friday night at Staples, percentage points ahead of the second place Celtics at 44-12. So with the Big Ticket on the shelf for the time being with the bum leg, Kobe and Company must seize the day and maximize this current stretch to create some separation between the P&G and the defending champs.
After all, the winner of game 7 might very well be decided by who is sitting courtside; LA's Jack Nicholsen or Beantown Boys Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.