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Lakers value health over home-court edge, but to what degree?

April 19, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Lakers Coach Mike Brown has some difficult decisions to weigh in the next few days.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown has some difficult decisions to weigh in the next… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

While Lakers Coach Mike Brown has juggled his various day-to-day responsibilities, he also has insisted on keeping in mind the big picture.

He wanted to teach as much information in practice, but not enough to make his players feel as if they're cramming. Brown played his starters heavy minutes in hopes of jump-starting team chemistry but hoped it didn't come at the expense of contributing to fatigue. He believed his lengthy film sessions would build a strong foundation and not risk having his players simply tune out.

The big picture involved entering the playoffs full of health and energy. The Lakers maintained that perspective with Kobe Bryant's left shin injury, sitting him for the past seven games because any progress could've faced serious setbacks if he were rushed back too soon. It also coincided with the Lakers (40-23) approaching the playoffs as they currently nurse a half-game lead over the Clippers  for the Western Conference's third seed with three games remaining.

"I'd love to have a third seed," Brown said. "But if it doesn't happen, it won't be the end of the world."

Brown's actions during the season suggested that he has met the challenges in balancing that out.

Despite pledges to limit Kobe Bryant's minutes to 33-35 per game, Bryant's averaged an NBA fourth-highest 38.1 minutes per contest. He did so because the Lakers lacked a definitive backup shooting guard without Shannon Brown. Coach Brown also liked Andrew Goudelock's shooting touch but believed giving him too many minutes would seriously expose the Lakers on defense. Benching Bryant late in a winnable game last month against Memphis sparked the most headlines. Yet playing Bryant 40-plus minutes in four double-digit losses arguably seemed more confusing.

Players instantly loved Brown's intense and prolonged practices because it showed the coach's enthusiasm and fed their desire to learn the system as quickly as possible. Yet when losses and fatigue mounted, players privately and publicly lamented the lengthy sessions. In turn, Brown frequently has given the Lakers days off between games and shortened practice and film time.

It remains to be seen how such an approach will translate into the postseason.

The Lakers records show a wide gap at home (25-7) and on the road (15-16). Consider the discrepancy between home and road games in points (98.3, 95.8), field-goal percentage (47.1%, 44.6%) and assists (23.8, 20.1). Ramon Sessions looks better at home (12.5 points on 45.2% shooting and 6.5 assists) than on the road (10 points on 40% shooting and 4.7 assists). The Lakers entire bench also fare better at home (22.1 points) than on the road (18.8 points)

But here's why such an issue remains dicey, particularly for a veteran-laden team assuming a new coaching staff in a lockout-shortened season.

History shows home-court advantage makes a huge difference. Consider the various playoff series results since the 1983-84 season for teams that had home court advantage, including the first round (172-52), conference semifinals (88-24), conference finals (38-18) and NBA Finals (21-7). Since the 1983-84 season, eight Western Conference teams won as a No. 1 seed, while three teams each won as both a No. 2 and No. 3 seed.

The Lakers haven't won a playoff series without home-court advantage since Shaquille O'Neal's departure in 2004. Many concede that played a large part in securing Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston. Yet they also remain wary of chasing the benefits that home-court advantage might bring.

The Lakers had home-court advantage over Dallas in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, but fell in a four-game sweep partly because of nagging injuries and fatigue. They had lost home-court advantage, after all, in playoff matchups in 2009 against Houston and Denver only to reclaim it back with a road victory. And for Brown, his Cleveland teams lost both in the 2009 and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals despite holding No. 1 seeds. 

"We would have definitely wanted to win the West, but it didn't shake out that way," Brown told reporters. "The next-best bet for us is to try and hold on to third place. We're trying like the dickens to do it, but I'm not going to do it at the cost of somebody's health or something like that."

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