It’s been just over eight years since the Los Angeles Lakers last played a playoff game at Staples Center. They played a play-in game against the Golden State Warriors at Staples earlier this month, but that wasn’t technically a playoff game, even though LeBron James felt like it was.
“I’m going to be honest, man: our Laker faithful — in that Warriors game, in that play-in game — made it feel like a playoff game and we treated it like a playoff game,” James said after Tuesday’s game. “Obviously this is a different situation but it felt like it. It felt like a playoff game.”
The last actual playoff game the Lakers played in Los Angeles took place on April 28, 2013. The No. 7 Lakers were down 3-0 in their first-round series with the No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs and with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake all sidelined, everyone knew the series was going to end in a sweep that night.
The Lakers will be a No. 7 seed taking on a No. 2 seed when they host the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, but the circumstances will be much different. Not only are they expected to have a clean injury report, but they’re coming off of a win on the road that tied the series at 1-1.
“It’s going to be pretty special for our fans, to just have fans in the building” James said. “We want to continue to make them proud and that’s what I came here for; to be able to play a playoff game in front of the Laker faithful.”
There won’t be as many fans at Staples Center as there would be in a normal season. There won’t even be as many fans as there were at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Arizona due to California’s COVID-19 restrictions, Kyle Kuzma thinks the energy in the building is going to be electric.
“It’s going to fun,” Kuzma said after practice on Wednesday. “It’s going to be really fun. I’m really excited for it, I think we’re all excited for it. The organization is excited for it.”
The Lakers aren’t going to let their level of excitement distract them from the task at hand, though. After splitting games on the road, they’ll try and win their next two games at home and take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, which Kuzma recognizes is easier said than done.
“It’s going to be tough,” Kuzma said. “They always say the first one is easy and the second one is tough because teams understand who you are, they understand how you win, they understand what you’re trying to do defensively and what makes you good. We’ve seen that the firs two games of these early playoffs with us ...
“It’s a fun challenge, though. It’s like chess or a puzzle: just trying to figure out where it is and put the pieces where they need to be and we did that in the second game.”
The Lakers and Suns will tip-off at 7 p.m. and the game will be nationally broadcast on TNT.