As we look at the calendar, the Lakers likely have six more days until their first playoff game. While the schedules have not been released and no one knows for sure when the Lakers will play, I would bet that a Sunday matinee – where the league gets its most exposure – ends up being when the NBA decides to have one of the league’s marquee franchises play its first game of the opening round. In terms of days off, that week could be useful to some of our aching players that need some time to rest up. However, in those six days the Lakers have two more regular season games – back to back contests against the Kings and Clippers on Tuesday and Wednesday. Many are arguing for Phil to sit key players so that they can be as fresh as possible going into the post season. As has been stated many times before, this Lakers team looks tired. They’ve played more games than any other team in the past two plus seasons (two trips to the Finals) and its key players (Kobe and Gasol) have also spent their summers playing for their respective country’s national teams. So after year round basketball for what is going on the third straight calendar year, some rest could come in handy. Right?
Well, it looks like that rest is not going to happen. When asked if his starters would get any run in the upcoming games, Phil Jackson confirmed that they would. From after the loss to Portland yesterday:
“They’ll play. They won’t play heavy minutes, but they’ll certainly play. We’ll play guys in the minutes they’re accustomed to, 30 minutes hopefully, at least. So that they get the work and we’ll try to keep guys out of 40 minute games.”
And, for what it’s worth, this is what the players want. When asked how his knee felt after not playing in a couple of games, Kobe said:
“It feels pretty good. It’s a little rusty, a little stiff from not playing, not being active. I’ll be fine. That’s why it’s important to get out there and play a little bit, loosen up the joints a little bit . . . It’s OK. It feels strong.”
And Gasol has also gone on the record stating that he’d prefer to get some more court time in over ther final week of the regular season. Rest be damned, these guys want to do what they do as proffesional players – lace up their sneakers and go compete. And while fans may think that this isn’t the best option for aging players that don’t look to be at their physical best, understand that this is nothing new. Below is something that I wrote almost a year ago today:
As the team prepares for another deep playoff run, there are two major issues that are on the minds of every fan. First, are the Lakers playing well enough right now for that deep run? In recent weeks the team has not played anywhere near it’s best basketball. The bench is a shadow of the group that many pundits and fans hailed as the league’s best second unit. Plus, the starters have looked disjointed – not running the offense with precision and not playing the level of defense you would expect from the NBA’s sixth ranked team in defensive efficiency. Overall, the team is playing uninspired for major stretches of every game. Which leads us to the second concern – are the Lakers going to rest it’s best players to gear up for the pursuit of that elusive championship? Every fan can tell that this team is not only a bit bored, but it’s tired. When Kobe, maybe the best conditioned athlete in the league, is shooting flat jumpers (even by his standards) and lacking explosion to finish around the basket you know that the entire team could use some time away from the game to rest weary legs.
Sounds familiar right? Now, I’m not trying to say that this season is exactly like last season. Last years team had a better record at this point in the season (even though they had, coincidentally, lost a game to Portland in game #80) and had some signature wins throughout the year that gave even the most pessimistic fans something to hang their hats on. There was also the hunger factor of coming off a Finals defeat the season before that loomed large in the memory of every player on the roster (save Shannon and Ammo). This current team has not had those same experiences and has none of those factors going for it.
All that said, I find solace that this team has been through this situation before. And while nothing is guaranteed – not a healthy return of Bynum, the bench playing better, or the outside shots starting to fall – I’m still content with where this team is. Yes, things are seemingly worse than ever. This team is wounded. But, as the old saying goes, a wounded animal is a dangerous one. In past years, regardless of the circumstances or the talent available, this team has responded when its back is against the wall. So even though things are seemingly at the lowest point imanginable, the playoffs are coming and the Lakers get to participate. They get the chance to play a single team multiple times and play the ultimate chess game. And with that being the case, I like this teams’ chances. Call me too optimistic, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. And rest or no rest, I think this team will be ready.
UPDATE: Well, so much for that. In an effort to ruin my ability to be timely with what I write, Kobe will sit out the last two regular season games against the Kings and Clippers. However, to not prove me completely wrong, the Lakers are claiming it’s his mangled finger that is causing him to sit out the games and not his knee. While I still believe what the core of this post was about, I do feel good that Kobe is going to get some time off. Not so much for the tired legs factor (I honestly don’t think any of this rest will be more beneficial than the time off between games that he’ll get during the playoffs), but because this will get our bench guards some extra playing time and hopefully create a comfort level for them in the post season. Last year (and in the year prior) the Lakers reserves were quite comfortable in their roles by the time the post season arrived. They may not have been playing any better than they are now, but they at least had a season’s worth of stable minutes in order to be ready for what awaited them in the playoffs. So with Kobe now sitting out, Sasha, Shannon, and Farmar should all get plenty of minutes to find a groove.