|A determined Lamar Odom says he and his LA teammates are ''taking care of business.'' (Rick bowmer/Associated Press)|
Down the stretch, Lakers are homed in
At stake now is a key advantage
With the Western Conference's top playoff seed in hand, the Lakers are now eyeing the East.
The Lakers are trying to stay ahead of East powers Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. To remind them just how important home court is, the Lakers just have to think about the 2008 Finals.
"There won't be any let-up this year," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom. "We're striving to get the final word. Our goal is to make it back to the Finals. We want home court for that particular reason."
The Lakers had the West's best record last season with 57 wins, but the Celtics had 66. And although Los Angeles was favored when the Finals began, the Celtics were nearly unbeatable at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Celtics took care of business at home three times and won one road game, a 24-point comeback triumph in Game 4, for a 4-2 series victory and their 17th NBA title. Along with a need to improve defensively and get tougher, Los Angeles knew to win this season it would have to secure home court in the Finals.
"That goal is one of our main objectives," Odom said. "We know how important it was after the run last year."
The Lakers and Cavaliers are in a tight battle for the top record in the league. The Lakers are 60-16, with four of their six games left at home; the Cavaliers are 61-15, also with four of six at home.
"It's a challenge," said Odom. "Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston are playing at a high level. Hopefully, for the fans and for competitive spirit, [the best record] will come down to the last three or four games."
Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are both averaging more than 36 minutes per game. But with the home court a big goal, don't expect Los Angeles's key players to rest now.
"You rest when you're tired," said Odom. "We're in shape. We had a tough training camp. Everyone is taking care of business and their body."
One thing that will bolster the Lakers' hopes is the return of Andrew Bynum, who tore his right MCL Jan. 31. The 7-foot center hopes to play April 12 against Memphis.
But even with Bynum out of the lineup, the Lakers haven't taken a step backward.
"A team effort is needed to win on a consistent basis," Odom said. "[Bynum] going down and us winning, that's what good teams do. More success means more time to bide for him. And that's what we're doing."
The good news for the Lakers is that while the East powers beat up on each other, LA has an easier road to the Finals. Unless San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all truly healthy and playing well, nobody can challenge Los Angeles in the West. Add home-court advantage at the
"In a funny way, we had [the 2008 Finals]," Odom said. "We could have been up, 3-2. We were up 20 points [in Game 4]. We would have gone back to Boston up, 3-2. We want to have more games at Staples Center."
Local stars on Springfield's radarWhile Springfield might have been too late to be affiliated with the Celtics, it isn't too late to be affiliated with former New England stars.
The NBA Development League announced last week that Springfield has been awarded an expansion team to begin play in the 2009-10 season. Portland, Maine, also recently was awarded a team - the Maine Red Claws - which is expected to be affiliated with the Celtics. The Springfield team could be affiliated with New York, New Jersey, or Philadelphia.
"I'm a Celtics fan," said Springfield team owner Michael Savit of Newton. "It would have been great to be affiliated with the Celtics. But there is an assumption that the Celtics would be in Portland, which was in the making before I even talked to the D-League. It wasn't a competitive thing.
"To be honest with you, I have a background in minor league baseball and I've got teams all over the country. I am affiliated with minor league teams that aren't necessarily geographically close. And you know what? It doesn't make a difference. The bottom line is the D-League team in Springfield is affiliated with the NBA."
Savit is hopeful he can draw New Englanders to games with local stars from, say, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Connecticut, and Holy Cross. Ex-UConn swingman Denham Brown plays for Iowa, while ex-UMass swingman Gary Forbes plays for Tulsa.
"An effort will be made to get some of those guys on the team," Savit said. "If we had a team this year, Gary Forbes would have been on the team."
Springfield will play home games at the MassMutual Center, which recently hosted the NCAA Division 2 Elite 8. There is no coach or team name yet.
"When I started talking to the NBA, we could have gone pretty much anywhere in the country," said Savit. "But the NBA wanted to make a push toward the Northeast, toward New England."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com