Could A Four-Game Losing Streak Be A Good Thing?

The Lakers' stretch of post All-Star break play tempted many, myself included, into believing that the Lakers were indeed a changed team, one that was not only capable of playing just well enough to win a championship, but one that could go above and beyond that, one that could utilise their collective potential to its maximum output and truly make history with what would be a classic storybook ending to Phil Jackson's (supposed) last three-peat; by putting on a display of historical dominance with a degree of consistency completely alien to these Lakers on their way to the championship.

Alas, we were fooled, as these hopes quickly came crashing down in the form of a four-game losing streak. How things change - a few months ago a four-game losing streak was cause for panic amongst many, with concerns creeping up amongst some that perhaps these Lakers truly didn't have it in them to win another championship. Perhaps they were too old, too slow. Maybe they just didn't want it enough. Maybe they just weren't good enough. Just as those doubters were quelled then, now too have those who dared to believe these Lakers would ever consistently play to their true potential. Indeed, this four-game losing streak on the back of a 17-1 stretch bears a hot-and-cold pattern that is classically Laker - they exerted just enough effort to prove that they could indeed win, felt satisfied with doing so and thus returned to simply playing out the preseason waiting for the games to actually count.

Even during the near-historic run, the thought did occur to me that perhaps the Lakers were peaking too early. Perhaps, physically, play like this could not be maintained through to the end of the season. Perhaps this push would ultimately lead to the Lakers' untimely demise. Obviously, all good things must come to an end, and the Lakers run would eventually dry up. Whether that occurred in March, April, May, June or even sometime next year was the question; and now we have our answer. This Laker run was not some phenomenal display of 100% effort or hot shooting - it was simply the byproduct of focus, with the Lakers focusing enough on their areas of expertise to truly dominate the opposition, but only doing so for long enough to prove that they still could, before returning to their dormant state.

By doing this, the Lakers have essentially removed the question of 'how long can they keep this up?' and 'is this sustainable?', instead replacing these with the protocol question of 'when needed, will they be able to flip the switch in time?'. Now this question, whilst arguably as crucial as the other two, is one we have historical precedent for. Whilst a 'new' mentality of consistency for the Lakers was something we had never seen before, something we could not truly understand nor predict the outcome of, this hot-and-cold play resembling a four-year-old child playing with the proverbial switch is just a regular day in Lakerland, with historical precedent leading to one potentially concluding the odds of a positive outcome are favourable. Not that I'm saying the Lakers are guaranteed to win a title or anything - just that they've been here before, and it's generally turned out well for them.

With the idea of 'momentum' heading into the playoffs being alien to the Lakers, the only real consequence of this letting up of the pressure by the Laker train is the notion of home-court advantage. The Lakers, as a consequence of this losing streak, have been mathematically eliminated from the possibility of obtaining the number one and two overall seeds, and are currently tied with Boston and Miami for the number three overall seed (currently, in the event of a potential matchup between the Lakers and Boston in the Finals, the Lakers hold the tiebreaker due to having a better record against the opposite conference; whilst Miami holds the tiebreaker over L.A due to sweeping them in the regular season). Before this losing streak, the Lakers were appearing to be in good position to take the number one overall seed from San Antonio and Chicago, as it seemed they just couldn't lose. 

However, the value of home-court advantage is debatable. Whilst most of the commenters here appear to be in contention that HCA can be crucial, pointing to Game 7 of the 2010 Finals as evidence, some Lakers players, namely Kobe Bryant, have doubted the value of home court, calling it 'overrated'. Looking at the Lakers' record statistically, there can be supporting evidence found for Kobe's claim, in that the Lakers' road record is only 3.5 games  behind their home record; and indeed throughout the season the location of the game has made little difference. Whilst bench players such as Shannon Brown play better at home, core players such as Kobe Bryant prefer doing their work on the road.

Of course, the playoffs are a different monster entirely, with meaningful contributions from supporting players (who generally perform better on their own court) being crucial and the crowd being louder than ever. A popular argument seems to be HCA isn't important for veteran teams, who know how to play regardless of where they're playing (a theory I tend to agree with), meaning that for a potential series against San Antonio or Dallas (interestingly enough, two teams also with excellent road records), HCA would not play a large factor - a premise that sounds quite reasonable. However, looking at two of the Lakers' other potential opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls, home court would be quite desirable. Whilst the Bulls have played very well on the road themselves, their home record is the best in the league. And one only needs to look at the Lakers-Thunder playoff series from 2010 to see how important home court was to the young Thunder.

Ultimately, the Lakers' crashing early, in the regular season arguably, has several benefits - in addition to the air of familiarity presented by this occurrence, it provides less risk of exhaustion or even injury, as well as aiding in staving off the mental fatigue generated from constantly being focused. However, it remains to be seen whether these benefits outweigh the loss of HCA. Obviously the end goal of the season is to win a championship, and the only way to discern whether this crash was cumulatively bad is to wait and see if the Lakers are holding a trophy in June.

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