HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anyone suggesting that they’re ready to pick playoff favorites based on what we’ve seen the past few days is free to make those predictions, if they dare.
Basing anything on the final days of the regular season is a dangerous proposition, as we found out last season. In case you forgot, the Lakers stumbled down the stretch in late March and early April before going on to claim their second straight Larry O’Brien trophy in late June — over a Celtics team few predicted would be close to winning a title themselves after their uneven regular season showing.
The path of the coming playoff storm is so hard to predict, will take so many twists and turns and always leaves us more surprised than we imagine we will be (which is the main reason we’re choosing not to read too much into the Lakers’ current five-game slide or the Celtics’ .500 play in their past 10 games).
We’d love for the Heat’s stomping of the Celtics Sunday to mean something more than it did, but both teams know better than to assume it will have much impact — if any at all — on what could transpire if they meet again in the postseason.
It would make life much easier on us if we were sure that the Bulls’ impressive finish to the regular season translates into anything more than just good vibrations at the end of an 82-game marathon, but we should all know better than that by now.
The Nuggets’ post-trade deadline revival could very well be the story of the season’s second half, only to be wiped from our memories in a matter of days if they can’t duplicate that same type of success in the first round.
And who (at least in New York) doesn’t want to believe that the Knicks’ seven-game win streak, punctuated by more Carmelo Anthony crunch-time heroics Sunday, isn’t the foundation for a furious postseason rally to come?
The bottom line? In the past 10 seasons, only two teams that finished with the league’s best regular season record have gone on to win the NBA championship — the Spurs in 2003 and the Celtics in 2008. So you can understand our reluctance to base anything off of those simple metrics alone.
The playoff field is set, but the seeds are still up in the air thanks to some surprise complications — like the Lakers’ slide. More from my main man Dave McMenamin from ESPNLosAngeles.com:
“We grew complacent a little bit,” said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. “We got caught.”
Their five-game skid undid their success, as the Mavericks are now tied with the Lakers at 55-25. (Although the Lakers hold both of the first two tiebreakers by virtue of winning the Pacific Division and taking the season series 2-1).
Suddenly, L.A.’s back-to-back games against San Antonio on Tuesday and Sacramento on Wednesday aren’t just about resting starters in advance of the playoffs (as Bryant said the Spurs are likely to do). It’s about fighting to make sure that 17-of-18 run wasn’t in vain.
“We got to a point that we need to bounce back. Obviously we must win these next two. There’s no room for error,” Pau Gasol said. “We got to a point now where every game will be a playoff game for us. That’s how important these next two games are. They’re must wins if we want to keep that second seed.”
The loss to the Thunder wasn’t as bad as the laughers against Golden State and Portland. They corrected their turnover problem until they didn’t, coughing up just one through the first three quarters and then giving it away nine times in the fourth. And their defense, which [Kobe] Bryant classified as “horrible” after the game, wasn’t as bad in quarters 2-4 as it was in the first. They gave up 36 points on 63.6 percent shooting in the first period and then “just” 28 points a quarter on 52 percent shooting after that. So that’s some kind of progress.
Gasol is right about one thing, there is little room for error now that the slate will be clean for the new (post)season in the NBA. And that goes for the Lakers and any other outfit that fancies itself a championship contender.