Hidden Advantages LA Lakers Have in the Playoffs
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The final fortnight of the season is still fraught with tension for the Purple and Gold, but they control their own destiny from here on out.
Even assuming they do maintain their current position, things don't get any easier once the postseason gets rolling. The Lakers are looking at a first round showdown with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Against those two powerhouses L.A. is just 1-5 this season, with one probably meaningless matchup against the Spurs remaining on the docket.
Irrespective of how bleak the forecast looks, the Lakers do have some hope in the second season.
For one, Kobe Bryant continues to be confident that L.A. will make noise come playoff time. There's a guy any team could wade into battle with.
Here are three more hidden advantages the Lakers have in the playoffs.
No team benefits more from the postseason schedule than the Lakers. Old guys need their rest—even ones with German-engineered knees.
Six of L.A.'s nine rotation players are 32 years of age or older and seven of them have played at least nine seasons in the NBA. There's a lot of wear and tear on these bodies.
Then there are the injury issues. Steve Nash is out with an injury. So is Metta World Peace. Pau Gasol recently returned from injury. Bryant is banged up. And of course Dwight Howard is still dealing with his season-long back and shoulder ailments.
With games more spread out there will be less action missed by those who are out of the lineup, while those who are nursing smaller nicks will get ample rest and not have to deal with the back-to-back and four-in-five-night situations that take their toll over the course of a season.
There's something to be said for having been there before. And the players on this squad have certainly been there before.
The nine veterans in the rotation have combined for a whopping 683 career playoff games, the most of any team in the postseason field.
Several of the core pieces carry championship experience with them and even newcomers like Howard and Nash have led their previous teams on deep playoff runs (ironically, both fell short to Kobe and Pau in L.A.'s two most recent championship seasons).
In addition to overall playoff experience, the Lakers are also familiar with each of their potential Round 1 opponents.
They've squared off with this OKC team in two of the last three postseasons, dispatching the Thunder in 2010 and falling to them last year.
San Antonio's' nucleus has been together forever. Bryant has faced the Popovich-Duncan Spurs several times in the playoffs, while Nash and head coach Mike D'Antoni also ran into San Antonio multiple times in the postseason during their stint with the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers will definitely know what to expect when they face off with the West's elite.
3. Star Power
You can't win a championship without stars.
That's pretty much the rule in the NBA (the 2004 Detroit Pistons excepted). And few teams can put as much star power on the court as the Lakers can.
Los Angeles has multiple guys in their starting lineup who can boast about their MVP trophies, First Team All-NBA selections and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Heck, they even have a former Sixth Man of the Year coming off the bench for them (Antawn Jamison in '03-'04).
The results with all those stars in the lineup have been pretty uneven this year, but their Big Four haven't all been healthy at the same time for virtually the entire season.
You can focus all your attention on Bryant, but then Howard can go off for 46 and 19 like he did against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2011 playoffs.
Or Gasol can throw up a 36-16-8 like he did against the Denver Nuggets in the '08 postseason.
Even Nash can flash back to the days when he could put together incredible back-to-back performances of 34-13-12 and 39-9-12 the way he did against the Dallas Mavericks in the '05 playoffs (OK, maybe he can't reach that far back, but he did manage a 29-point, 11-assist game against the Lakers in the 2010 Conference Finals).
Given the favorable postseason schedule with all the off days to rest and recover, the Lakers can play their big guns major minutes and limit the exposure of their suspect second unit.
Despite their regular season struggles, I'm willing to bet no team wants to face Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash at the same time for an entire series.
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