The unexpected happened. The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers:
“…In the closest thing they’ll have to a playoff game this year, Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards fed off a sellout crowd Thursday night and ended the franchise-record 13-game winning streak of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers . Washington recovered after blowing a 14-point second-half lead and held on for a 109-101 victory.”
link: Cavaliers and Wizards
This closes the gap between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the L.A. Lakers, for the best record of the season. The Cleveland Cavaliers are ahead of the Lakers by two victories. The team with the best regular season record has home-court advantage throughout all post-season play.
This leaves L.A. Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, with a significant decision. Does he play Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher their regular minutes and try to catch the Cavaliers? The alternative is to rest his veteran players, avoid late season injuries and have ‘fresh legs’ for the playoffs. In effect, this would concede the best record to Cleveland and possibly a championship round, with the Cavaliers holding home-court advantage.
The confidence to win in Cleveland may have been a strong possibility earlier in the season. That was when the second unit, the “Bench Mob”, was playing well. Now, as the season’s final weeks, the bench players are struggling. Opposing teams are able to score on the young Lakers bench players. And, on offense, players like Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Josh Powell have been having problems scoring the ball consistently.
This second unit simply needs the advantage of the home court in the playoffs. Their defensive and offensive problems would increase away from home and would be magnified by post season pressure. The task for the Lakers can be stated simply: they need to win the remaining games of the season. This would keep pressure on the Cavaliers. It would build some momentum entering post season play. The ultimate goal of the Lakers, winning the NBA championship, may rest on the remaining regular season games. With the Cavaliers’ loss in Washington, the Lakers’ playoff fortunes may be determined by how Phil Jackson manages the remaining seven games.