The Los Angeles Lakers return home from a disappointing road trip that further emphasized the dichotomy that has defined their season: Contender at home, lottery bound on the road. The last time they were at Staples Center, the Lakers made short work of the Miami Heat and defeated a LeBron James led team for the first time in many seasons. It was the Lakers 8th straight home victory. What followed was a two game sample which proves that despite a sharp downturn in overall quality, the Lakers still know how to take a bad opponent for granted and let eminently winnable games slip away. It was the Lakers' 13th and 14th road losses.
Do you know which teams in the league have a worse record than the 1 out of 3 success rate of the Lakers in road contests? There are plenty of teams on the list: Portland, Utah, Detroit, Toronto ... a total of nine teams have lost more and won less than the Lakers have. But the Lakers are unique in the category, because if the season ended today, they would be playoff bound. More than that, the Lakers remain in the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Think about that; no other team in the league performing as poorly as the Lakers do on the road is even on pace to make the playoffs. The Lakers, by virtue of being a hair's breadth ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, would start the playoffs with home-court advantage. How is this possible?
Because nobody in the league is playing better at home than the Lakers ... Nobody.
There are zero teams who have less home losses than the Lakers. Two teams have more wins, by virtue of having played an additional contest, and both the OKC Thunder and Miami Heat are considered on the short list of teams likely to raise that championship trophy at season's end. Meanwhile, the Lakers aren't doing half bad, currently 4th in the WC pecking order, but the Jekyll - Home nature of the team's play leaves them susceptible not only to terrible losses like Wednesday night's against the Washington Wizards, but prey to headlines upon headlines of issues with team chemistry, team unity, and a coaching staff doing everything they can to keep folks on board.
And yet the Lakers continue to win at home, with stunning regularity. Why is this? It literally makes no sense. Staples Center is not the type of atmosphere that intimidates opponents. The Laker team is not filled with young players who would be able to feed off the crowd's energy even if there was any. This is one of the oldest squads in the NBA, and you would expect that experience to manifest itself in a level of consistency no matter the logo at center court. But the Lakers continue to play at a high level at home, and a lottery bound level on the road.
Having brought these concerns to the fore, we can now brush them aside, at least for a short time, because today's contest against those hate-able Boston Celtics takes place at Home Sweet Home. Boston rides into tonight's contest in a very similar position to the home team. The Lakers are faring better in terms of wins and losses, but both teams have had up and down seasons, causing (or perhaps caused by) the respective front offices to consider blowing up the squad in the hopes of improvement. For the Lakers, that means shopping Pau Gasol in the hopes of providing the Lakers with enough depth for a playoff run. For Boston, it means starting over.
But the Celtics enter the contest on a fine run of form, winning six of their last 7 contests. That might sound scary, until you remember the previous paragraph and the similarity of these two teams. Boston has perhaps the second greatest difference between their home and road play (16-8 at home, 5-10 on the road) and five of the six wins in their current streak came in Boston. So, all things point to a Laker victory, but Lakers-Celtics remains an unpredictable contest. The cast of characters is one you know all too well. Rajon Rondo, a seemingly unspectacular player who continues to mystify and amaze (dude nearly had a a 20-20-20 game against the New York Knicks last week). Paul Pierce remains a difficult and cagey one v one scorer. Ray Allen the dead eye shooter who never gets old. And Kevin Garnett, who is quietly having a fairly consistent and (more importantly) healthy season after a couple straight years of injury ineffectiveness and missed time.
Any Lakers-C's tilt gets a heavy handed dose of talk about the rivalry between the two squads, but one can't help but get the feeling that this particular contest is the first in many matchups that's flying a bit under the radar. Oh sure, the two teams have ABC's marquee Sunday time slot despite it being a matchup of two teams in the middle of their respective playoff race packs, but the hype surrounding the teams prior to the contest is entirely in regards to the concept that both teams might change dramatically over the next 5 days. With everybody by Kobe apparently in play for movement on both teams, nobody has time to ponder another Lakers-Celtics matchup.
Which leaves this is (almost) just another game, another game taking place in a location in which games tend to turn into victories. Welcome home, Lakers.