I'm going to be honest with you: The way I'm feeling right now is probably pretty similar to the way the Lakers are feeling right now. I'm bored. I had to hit up HP's Matt Moore for writing ideas this afternoon. The conversation started like this:
Dude... off days in this first round are sooooo boring.
There's nothing to write about. Nothing. I mean, how many different ways can you say that this series was over before it started?
That's a bit how I feel. Game 2 hasn't even started, and already the storylines to this series are putting me to sleep.
Game 1 started well, ended poorly, and didn't show the greatest effort all around, but Utah obviously is no match for the Lakers, so they'll cruise through this series, but we hope they show a better effort at some point. We've already talked about the matchups, the strengths and weaknesses, what to look for, and the likely outcome. None of that has really changed. (So if you want a detailed preview, go back about two to three days in the archives.)
We get it. Just don't expect us to act like this is news, rehashing the same storylines after each of the next three or four games.
With that out of my system, rest assured that Matt was indeed a help to me, by reminding me that this series — and even more specifically, tonight's game — does matter. I'll tell you why.
At first glance, it's hard to see why Game 2 matters. Yes, deep down, we know that this series — easy or not — does matter. But this game? Is it really all that important?
As the series opener, Game 1 mattered. As a pivotal game which could strongly influence the series outcome (read: its length), Game 3 will matter. But Game 2? It seems perhaps to be the least important in the entire series, if only because it seems so unlikely that the Jazz can win it. With the series looking more and more decided with each passing day, I can only imagine that the Lakers are feeling about as motivated in playing this series as I am in writing about it.
But it does matter. Why? Because the Lakers want rest. And if they're to get the maximum amount of rest, Game 4 needs to be the end of this series. And if they expect to win the series in 4, then they need to be at their best in Game 3, the pivotal game of this series. And that starts tonight, with Game 2.
Did you follow the reverse domino effect, there?
Game 3 is the pivotal game of the series, because win or lose, I am calling Game 4 for the Lakers. If they lose Game 3, it will serve as a wake up call and provide the motivation necessary for the Lakers to come out strong in Game 4. And if they win Game 3? Phil Jackson teams are well-known for finishing off their opponents at the first possible opportunity. Kobe Bryant, in a series-ending situation, will be out for blood; letting his team lose simply won't be an option. The Lakers as a unit, and the starters in particular, will find tangible motivation for the first time in days — maybe even weeks.
At the same time, it's obvious that if the Jazz are to win a game (or two?) and stretch this series to five games (or six?), it's infinitely more likely to happen in Utah. EnergySolutions Arena is very possibly the toughest home court in all of the NBA — yes, even tougher than Cleveland (Cleveland is the tougher team, but homecourt advantage is a bigger factor in Utah). The Jazz play very well there, and they will recognize Game 3 as the moment to strike at a potentially complacent, overconfident Lakers team.
As an added benefit, a solid win in Game 3 would boost the Lakers' confidence on the road. The Lakers (along with the rest of the world) may be confident that they'll emerge from this series fairly easily, but they won't be underestimating the Jazz on their home court. If they can win the first game in Utah, it will only underscore the already present idea that they can win on anybody's court. Should LA meet Cleveland in June, that will be a valuable mental edge.
So tonight, it is important that the Lakers win — and not only that, since they can still play below their potential and beat Utah, but they must step up their play a notch from last game. A strong showing tonight, resulting in a convincing win, will put the Lakers in the right mindset heading to Utah, where they can win the pivotal Game 3 and setup a potential sweep in Game 4.
Then they can sit back, rest up, and wait for the rest of the league to catch up.