Lakers - Bobcats Preview: Back-to-back schedule losses?

ORLANDO FL - FEBRUARY 13: Jason Richardson #23 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot against Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at Amway Arena on February 13 2011 in Orlando Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)


The 1998-1999 NBA season will be remembered by history for a great many reasons.  It was the first season of the true post-Jordan era, the first championship for NBA icons David Robinson, Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich, and the beginning of San Antonio's bizarre odd-numbered years dynasty, in which they would win 4 out of the next 5 championships in seasons that ended with an odd numbered year.  However, by far the biggest story line of that season was the way in which it began, or should I say, didn't.

The 1998 NBA season almost did not happen.  The season began in lockout, just as next season seems likely to do, and there was some question as to whether the season would happen at all.  The lockout was not resolved until the beginning of 1999, and the league resolved to play a 50 game season which began on February 5th, 1999.  The season lasted exactly three months, and the slew of tightly packed games brought back an event that hadn't been seen in decades, the back-to-back-to-back.  Three games, in three nights.  That's rough.  Predictably, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't fare too well in the third game of these infamous sets, going 1-2 on the season.  I would imagine that performance was at or above the league average.  When you play that much basketball in that short a period of time, it's damn near impossible to play at a high level.

What does any of this have to do with present day, you ask?  Well, the back-to-back-to-back no longer exists in today's NBA, but the Lakers just came as close as is possible to playing one.  The played Boston and New York back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, then flew from New York to Orlando, and played the third game of their set nearly 1/2 a day earlier than normal.  That's not a lot of time to recover.  In that context, it's really not all that surprising to see that the Lakers lost as a result of very poor outside shooting.  Tired legs = bad shooting, and considering both the circumstances, and the shooting performance, I feel confident in labeling yesterday's defeat to the Orlando Magic as a classic schedule loss.

The schedule loss is a by-product of one of the highest intensity sports in the world having a densely packed and non-standard schedule.  Let's break that down:  I would venture that professional basketball is the single sport most susceptible to fatigue (except perhaps soccer) because of its high impact and short rest between games.  Because of this, and because of the scheduling nightmare that comes with having to schedule 41 home contests for each NBA arena (against each arena's various other commitments) causes the schedule to be non-uniform.  So you have games like yesterday, where the Lakers were playing for the third time in 62 hour period, and travelling some 2,000 miles in the process, while the Magic played only once in the three days leading up to yesterday's contest, and they were in their own beds that entire time.  Obvious advantage - Orlando.  I'm not complaining about this.  It just happens.  Sometimes, the schedule requires a team to play back-to-back games in Los Angeles (or Golden State) and then Denver, and situation in which Denver has been shown to have a supreme advantage.  The Lakers benefit from schedule losses, too.  But, just because its nothing to complain about does not mean its something to ignore. 

And I've spent so much time talking about all this because the Lakers are in danger of being victims of their schedule twice in a row.  Normally, a schedule loss is followed by at least some reprieve, a day off, or perhaps two, before  the next game which allows the team in question to recharge their batteries just a little bit.  But the Lakers have no such luck.  Instead, they get another game the next day, a total of four games in five nights.  Normally, the 4th game in five nights is the schedule loss.  Instead, the Lakers traded a short turnaround for yesterday's game in for a long turnaround (relatively speaking) for tonight's contest.  Will it be enough to avoid back-to-back losses in which the Lakers were at a significant fatigue disadvantage each night?  We'll have our answer in 12 hours.

Their opponent in tonight's contest is one-time nemisis, the Charlotte Bobcats.  Last season, the Lakers finally seemed to defeat whatever weird and unexplainable personal demons allowed them to constantly be defeated by this lesser team, but for a few years now, Charlotte has always posed the Lakers more of a problem than can properly be explained with basketball analysis.  The Bobcats are, once again, not very good.  They have improved under new head coach Paul Silas, after Larry Brown walked out the door (with a hand pushing him along the way) earlier this season.  In late January, they won 5 out of 6 games, and they also made the Boston Celtics familiar with defeat so that it wouldn't hurt so much when we beat them the next game.  They are coming into tonight's game having defeated the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta.  Considering past history, and the list of the Bobcats' recent conquests, this is an opponent which must be taken seriously.

They are not, however, and opponent to be feared.  In between the impressive wins against Boston and in Atlanta, they lost to the Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets, and the loss to the Nets came at home.  They are only 3-6 in their last nine games.  They boast one of the worst offenses in the league, and a defense which is far removed from the league leader that saw them sneak into last year's playoffs.  Their two best (or at least, most well known) players were both rumored to be on the trading block for Ron Artest (who is the Lakers 5th best player?  Maybe?).  They do not have a single player whose PER tops 20 (the Lakers have four).  Their starting center is Kwame Brown. I guess I could have shortened that entire paragraph to "Their starting center is Kwame Brown.  'Nuff said".  My apologies for wasting your time.

In any case, though we love to laugh at Kwame for his foibles, he remains an above average post defender.  Therefore, the Lakers best offensive strategy of "Feed the big man" will be slightly inconvenienced.  That said, Kwame's not that good, and his good defense tag only applies to the guy he's guarding specifically.  He's not a particularly strong help defender, and the Lakers just happen to have multiple threats in the post.  Those threats will be necessary, because Gerald Wallace is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, and he will make life as difficult on Kobe Bryant as one can.

On the other side of the ball, I'm not really sure what to tell you.  The Bobcats offense seems to consist solely of "Is Stephen Jackson shooting well tonight?"  Of late, D.J. Augustin has been quite good for the Bobcats, but he'll be missing tonight's game due to injury, so the only threat that needs to be focused on is Captain Jack.  With those cirucumstances, there be a good opportunity for the Lakers to plunder a win.

Lakers

Bobcats

RECORD

38-17 (5)

23-31 (21)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.7 (T-3)

-3.0 (23)

PACE

91.5 (17)

90.1 (25)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.9 (2)

103.0 (26)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.6 (3)

14.9 (30)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.231 (12)

0.248 (4)

Free-Throw %

77.7 (9)

74.8 (22)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.222 (15)

0.206 (17)

3PT% (Off.)

35.9 (15)

33.8 (25)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.9 (10)

48.1 (25)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.3 (9)

52.8 (22)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.4 (5)

27.1 (10)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.8 (8)

106.4 (14)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.0 (20)

12.9 (22)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.180 (2)

0.225 (12)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.244 (24)

0.246 (26)

3PT% (Def.)

34.0 (6)

36.6 (20)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.2 (7)

49.2 (13)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.8 (3)

53.6 (13)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.49 (21)

71.58 (26)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All table numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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