With the Lakers set to start their third road-trip of the month all of the Lakers chatter is about the Lakers’ next five games and the seven after that. It’s all about how the Lakers play going into the postseason and what this next slew of tough games can do for the collective mentality of the team. Also, Andrew Bynum’s Achilles injury is going to be on everyone’s mind as, once again, the Lakers are headed down the stretch of the regular season with their starting center in street clothes, nursing an injury, hoping to be full strength for the postseason.
- From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog (With post-practice interviews): With the Lakers embarking on a five-game trip beginning Wednesday against San Antonio, Coach Phil Jackson initially saw it as something that could “make or break” the team’s standings in the Western Conference. The Lakers had enjoyed remaining the top seed throughout the season, but three consecutive losses in early March further tightened the race among Denver, Dallas and Utah. Since then the Lakers (52-18) have reeled off six consecutive victories and have a pretty firm standing in the West, holding a five-game lead over the Nuggets (47-23), a five-and-a-half game cushion against the Mavericks (46-23) and a seven-game advantage over the Jazz (45-25). With Denver and Dallas losing Saturday to Milwaukee and Boston, respectively, Jackson shared Monday that he no longer feels this upcoming trip bears as much significance in the standings. After still expressing some frustration over the Lakers’ second-half letdown in their 99-92 victory Sunday against the Washington Wizards, Jackson is mindful his changed perspective could reduce the urgency the team could have during its trip. “I hope the players don’t take that as an [excuse],” said Jackson, who gave the team a day off from practice Monday partly to help conserve energy. “They know we really want to establish our road game, and we had a real good road record the last couple of years.”
- From ESPN Los Angeles: The Eiger mountain located in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, rises to an elevation of 13,025 feet. The first ascent of the Eiger was made on August 11, 1858. The north face of the Eiger (in German it is called Nordwand) was not climbed until 1938. It is one of the three great north faces of the Alps, rising 5,900 ft above the valley of Grindlewald. Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have died attempting to scale the north face, thus earning it the German nickname, Mordwand, or “death wall”. It is the ultimate test of skill and endurance. Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck, on February 13th, 2008, broke his own record, by soloing the north face in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 33 seconds. Beginning the weekend of April 16th-18th, the defending NBA World Champion Los Angeles Lakers will embark on what some may characterize as a similar daunting mission. They will begin (along with 15 other teams) the arduous climb to reach the top of the league’s ‘mountain’ and claim the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy and the rings that go with it. To reach the summit, a team must win 16 games and navigate past four opponents, some far more challenging than others. Only one team will survive and be successful.
- From Silver Screen and Roll: With only 12 games remaining, the Los Angeles Lakers have definitely hit the home stretch of their regular season schedule. Traditionally, the Lakers under Phil Jackson (those with championship aspirations at least) have closed the season with a flourish. For example, the championship teams of Shaq and Kobe ended the season with records of 14-3 (99-00), 8-0 (00-01), and 8-3 (01-02). Last year’s squad finished 7-1. But the record is just a by-product. What really goes on at the end of each regular season is a conscientious increase in effort level on the part of the team. The Lakers may not care about the regular season en masse, but they do care about the final 10 games or so, if only because a strong performance through those 10 games can help a team to peak throughout the playoffs.
- From the Los Angeles Times: Less than a month from now, the playoffs will start and the Lakers will brace themselves to try to defend their NBA championship. But the road they must travel to a repeat will be difficult. That was a topic Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Coach Phil Jackson discussed Monday while the team picture was taken at the practice facility in El Segundo. Buss and Jackson recalled the challenge the Lakers faced when they were trying to win their third consecutive NBA championship in 2002. “We just talked about the time we went through the three toughest teams in the West in Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento one year,” Jackson said. “Somehow or another, it makes your team really prepped for a championship round.” The Lakers swept a loaded Portland team, 3-0, in the first round of the ’02 Western Conference playoffs. They defeated the Spurs in five games in the second round and had to go seven games to dispatch the Kings in the conference finals, winning Game 7 in overtime in Sacramento.
- From Land O’ Lakers: In Sunday night’s 99-92 win over Washington at Staples, the Lakers led by 26 at halftime and so dominated play against a travesty of a mockery of a sham of an NBA team I was left wondering if the final 24 minutes were really necessary. Yes, apparently, they were, because the Lakers played with only passing interest in the third quarter, and none in the fourth as the Wizards outscored them 32-17 and cut the lead to eight with two minutes to play. The Lakers were never really going to lose, but as a disgusted Phil Jackson noted after the game, they cost themselves a chance to get starters much needed rest and bench players much needed burn. Though enormously frustrating to fans and deadline conscious sportswriters alike, this sort of thing has gone on most of the year. While the Lakers haven’t actually dropped many games to the sub.500 set they’ve consistently played down to the level of their competition. The players talk about the need to find consistency, play with urgency, put together four quarters of good basketball, and round into form before the playoffs. We do the same. Did they use their five game tuneup against some of the league’s worst teams effectively? Will they be able to build momentum on the upcoming five game roadie?
- From ESPN.com’s Daily Dime: The reflex in Lakerland, where they’ve seen and done it all before, is to react to Andrew Bynum’s latest injury and eventual return by calling it a rerun. “We almost had the same kind of situation” last year, Phil Jackson said, alluding to the knee injury that sidelined Bynum from January until just before the start of the playoffs. The difference is that this time Bynum has been a more vital part of the Lakers than he has in the past. And there’s always a chance that this could be a replay of 2008, when Bynum was injured, projected to return for the playoffs and never did. While the Lakers have given a two-week estimate for Bynum to come back from a strained left Achilles tendon, Jackson admitted Sunday night that “we really have nothing definitive about it.” They only know that the tendon didn’t rupture. “We don’t know how this therapy’s going to come out,” Jackson said. And they don’t know what his conditioning level will be after an injury that restricts his initial workouts to jogging in a pool. From there it could take some time to get back to NBA basketball game speed. There are 3½ weeks and 11 games left in the Lakers’ regular season.
- From Kurt over at NBC.com: Phil Jackson — he of the generally stoic reaction to questions — was genuinely relieved when he talked about it. So was Andrew Bynum. So was every Laker. This weekend they learned Bynum likely will be out for two weeks with a strained left Achilles tendon. The injury came just running up the court Friday night, then the tests came back over the weekend saying it was nothing too serious, he just needs a couple weeks off. Only in this case is losing your starting center for two weeks greeted with relief. With Bynum’s long history of serious injuries — not to mention slow recovery times — an injury to the Lakers center just a month before the start of the playoffs was a serious cause for concern. He missed 32 games last year and was not the same guy in the playoffs, he missed 46 the year before and never suited up in the post season. Just missing him for two weeks is not ideal, but it is far better than the worst-case scenario.
Finally, Pau Gasol was named Western Conference Player of the Week. There was a post at Interbasket.net explaining how popular Kobe (along with Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur) is in Turkey. And Lakers Edge has a nice write up on 50 years of Lakers memories featuring some of our favorite moments, including a picture of Eddie Jones (my favorite Laker ever) laying in an easy deuce over Hakeem Olajuwon.