12/11--Minnesota at Lakers
On a couple of different occasions during the Lakers current 11 game winning streak, Phil Jackson said something obvious, yet unusual for a coach to admit:
"We're going to lose again," Jackson said, "it's coming."
He's right, and I think that loss is coming tonight in Utah.
I've been saying this for a couple of weeks. Jackson has taught me over the years that some losses can be attributed to scheduling--and this looks like one. The last time the Lakers played back-to-back games, going west to east, they were hammered in Denver. I predicted that loss (the only other time I've done it this year), and I'm predicting another one tonight.
There are several reasons for this prediction, but more than anything else, this feels like a loss. It isn't that the Lakers aren't good in back-to-back games--they're actually great in those. It's this specific situation that gets them. For example, they play back-to-back twice in the coming week--Chicago/Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by New Jersey/Detroit on Saturday and Sunday. I think they'll win all four. But tonight, they're changing time zones, climates, and playing a team they just played three days ago. Utah is one of the best home teams in the NBA, even if you don't show them your playbook earlier in the week.
I'm writing this at 3:47 AM in Salt Lake City. I'm wired from the trip, and I didn't play. Here's a time frame of what the Lakers have been through tonight:
9:50 pm Lakers beat Minnesota
12 midnight Flight departs LAX for Utah
1:25 am Flight lands in Utah (where it's 18 degrees and snowing)
3 am Players arrive at hotel (one hour time change)
The game is set for 6 pm tonight, California time.
On top of all of this, Kobe Bryant fractured his right index finger in the win against Minnesota. He'll learn to play through it, he always does. But it normally takes a game for him to figure it out. Pau Gasol's first loss as a Laker was in February of 2008 in Atlanta, a game after Kobe fractured his pinkie on that same hand. He was off that night, but figured out how to shoot with the bad hand in the next game, and the Lakers won their next ten games in a row.
By the way, the Jazz had Friday night off, and are coming off of their best win of the season on Thursday night against Orlando. Utah has won six straight at home. Did I mention this feels like a loss?
Of course, I could be wrong. A few years ago, Kobe was in that stretch of games when he scored more than 40 points a game for ten straight games. The Lakers won a double overtime game against the Rockets at Staples Center, and Kobe could barely walk. We boarded a plane for Utah at 1 AM, and arrived in Salt Lake City even later than we did tonight. I've never been more convinced the Lakers would lose than that night. They won, and Kobe led the way.
If that happens tonight, I'm not sure Phil Jackson is right. They might win another 11 games in a row. Ron Artest, who uses Twitter several times daily, tweeted this from the plane right before we took off:
"great game!! true test tomorrow!!!!"
That's a good sign. Great teams test themselves throughout the season, and the Lakers won't have a tougher early season test than this.