On Sunday afternoon Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers will face the New Orleans Hornets in Game One of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, and we will finally have an idea of what type of effect, if any, the events of last week had on the team.
The Lakers were dealing with issues on various fronts, as Bryant and Jackson's fines from the NBA and Bynum's knee injury have basically overshadowed the team's series with New Orleans.
Bynum got the drama parade started when he fell to the floor awkwardly during a game against the San Antonio Spurs, and Lakers fans everywhere held their collective breaths as their hopes for a three-peat sat grimacing on the court in pain.
In the same game Bryant was called for a technical foul in the 3rd quarter, and as he sat on the bench he uttered the two now infamous words that left his wallet $100,000 lighter and ignited the furor of civil rights groups across the country.
Not to be undone, Jackson decided to enter the soap opera himself by telling a group of reporters that he felt the NBA's collective bargaining issues would eventually lead to a stoppage in play, and that concern factored into his decision to retire after this season.
Jackson's little nuggets of wisdom led to another $75,000 fine from David Stern and the NBA, and now the Lakers must find a way to balance those issues with the drama of playoff basketball, and they are inter-related.
For instance Bryant has made all the right moves in the wake of his incident, and even went as far to say that the hateful word he spoke should be erased from our collective vocabulary.
The Lakers in turn have agreed to work with various civil rights groups in an effort to educate children on the pain that anti-gay slurs can cause.
But none of that will matter in the playoffs, because the media will continue to latch onto the story, and opposing fans will use it as a way to torment Bryant on the road.
Even though Bynum recently completed his first full practice since his injury and the Lakers expect him to start Game One against the Hornets, every step he takes on the court will be highly scrutinized.
Each time Bynum groans, moans or grabs his knee predictions of doom and gloom for the Lakers will likely follow.
Jackson will likely also receive plenty of media attention during the playoffs, since his statements about the impending CBA poses another set of questions that I will explore at a later time.
But on Sunday Bryant, Bynum and Jackson will be able to set aside those issues at least temporarily and deal with a different type of drama that they are much more familiar with.
Considering the circumstances, the Hornets are probably the ideal first round opponent for the Lakers, because it will give them a chance to resolve some of the above mentioned issues against a clearly inferior opponent.
Jackson should be able to limit Bynum's minutes against the smaller Hornets, and the Lakers will get an idea of how much time the media will decide to spend on non-basketball issues.
The Lakers are accustomed to the glare of the spotlight, and all the recent distractions could ironically be just what the team needs to establish focus for the postseason.
The Lakers road to a three-peat will probably be more difficult than their last two championships, and for the first time in four years, they will enter the postseason without the benefit of the West's No. 1 seed.
The quality of competition has increased in the west and throughout the league, and there are numerous teams eager for the chance to end the Lakers reign.
The challenges ahead will certainly test the Lakers and offer other dramatic sub-plots of their own, but at least Bryant and his team can find comfort in the fact that this is the type of drama they are most comfortable with.