In order for the Los Angeles Lakers to reach the NBA Finals and go for a fourth straight title, they might need to do something they didn't have to do in 2000, 2001 and 2002 begin each Western Conference series on the road.
Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and their supporting cast begin their quest for championship No. 4 Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis, the city the Lakers called home until 1960.
Milwaukee at New Jersey, 8:30 a.m.
Boston at Indiana, 11 a.m.
Phoenix at San Antonio, 1:30 p.m.
Portland at Dallas, 4 p.m.
Utah at Sacramento, 6:30 p.m.
Orlando at Detroit, 8:30 a.m.
L.A. Lakers at Minnesota, 11:30 a.m.
New Orleans at Philadelphia, 4 p.m.
All Times ADT
Actually, it's a quest for title No. 10 for Jackson, who is seeking to become the only coach besides Red Auerbach to lead his team to that many championships.
Minnesota is our first test,'' O'Neal said. Mr. (Kevin) Garnett has something to prove, and we have something to prove. It should be a good series.''
O'Neal makes two good points.
Despite what they've shown over the past three seasons, the Lakers can prove themselves worthy of the dynasty title they so warmly self-embraced last June.
Yes, these Lakers are one of the great teams in NBA history. But are they among the greatest of the great? Four straight titles would put them in that realm; three in a row comes up a little lacking.
As for Garnett, he's still seeking to prove the theory that a team with the league's most expensive young player can actually make it to the second round of the postseason. K.G. is 0-6 for his career in the first round, 5-18 if it's broken down game-by-game.
You've got to be able to put not only yourself but your team in position to shut your critics up,'' Garnett said.
Recent postseason history is always a big part of looking ahead to the playoffs, a time when the games take on a much greater meaning and the quality of play is better than what was seen on a nightly basis during the regular season.
There was plenty of uncertainly early Wednesday evening, when no one except Sacramento and Utah knew who their first-round opponent would be. But the other 14 teams now know exactly what lies ahead of them.
There will be no more back-to-backs, no more long road trips, no more crossing the Mississippi River in either direction until the best of the West and the best of the East are all that are left standing.
And until the Lakers lose, if they lose, the focus will be on them.
It will even be that way for the Western Conference teams that aren't playing Los Angeles many of which have endured their share of mental distress at the hands of the Lakers over the past few seasons.
Take the Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers' biggest rivals took the eventual NBA champions to overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals a year ago. The Kings still feel as though they were cheated in Game 6, when the Lakers went to the foul line 27 times in the fourth quarter alone.
We still feel it has an asterisk by it,'' Chris Webber said of that series.
If the Kings can get past the Utah Jazz in the first round and the Dallas Mavericks or the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round, it's entirely possible that they'll earn their chance for redemption against the team that has eliminated them from the postseason three straight years.
The conference is better one through eight, so you can't just sit around thinking about the Lakers. If you concentrate on one team when you're playing another, you're never going to make it out of that round,'' Webber said.
The playoffs begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. EDT when Milwaukee plays at New Jersey, to be followed that day by four more Game 1s: Boston at Indiana, Phoenix at San Antonio, Portland at Dallas and Utah at Sacramento.
Sunday's games, aside from Los Angeles-Minnesota, are Orlando at Detroit and New Orleans at Philadelphia.
This is the first year the NBA will play a best-of-7 format in the first round, replacing the old best-of-5 format that had been used since 1984.
The additional two games was supposed to have eliminated some of the downtime that existed the past two seasons, when many teams would often have three or four days off between first-round games.
There will be no more than a two-day break for any of the teams in the East, although that's not the case in the West.
There will be a four-day break between Games 2 and 3 in the Jazz-Kings series and three-day breaks in the Portland-Dallas series and the San Antonio-Phoenix series.
That's just part of what you have to be able to adjust to,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. There's not anything we can do about it, except complain or be upset. I don't think that does you any good.''
The Jazz ended their regular season with a loss at Sacramento on Wednesday night and decided to fly home rather than stick around in northern California for a couple of extra days. But since it's well-documented what can happen in Sacramento when a visiting player orders a bacon cheeseburger from room service, perhaps getting out of town was the right idea for the Jazz.
The Jazz still doesn't know if this will be the last season together for John Stockton and Karl Malone, who have helped build Utah's 20-year run of qualifying for the playoffs second only to Portland's 21-year streak.
The Blazers will be playing in what figures to be one of the most wide-open first-round series, taking on the league's highest-scoring team Dallas.
The Mavericks were fortunate to avoid a first-round matchup with the Lakers, a team that has defeated them in 44 of their last 49 meetings including 25 in a row in Los Angeles.
For now, the defending champs are the concern of the Timberwolves.
There are no easy wins in this league,'' Garnett said. It's our hand. We've got to play it.''
If Los Angeles gets past Minnesota and the other higher-seeded teams advance, the Lakers will open the second round and possibly the third on the road.
The trail to the championship goes through L.A.,'' Dallas coach Don Nelson said. That's the way it is. They hold the trophy, and someone has to knock them out to get it from them.
But it's very hard not to have any home-court advantage going through the playoffs, and not to have it eventually catch up with you. You're always under the gun, always having to play on the road early, knowing you have to win there and not lose at home. They've never been in that situation before, and that'll be different for them.''
Different, yes. But not daunting.
Not for a team that went 7-2 on the road in last year's playoffs and 8-0 the year before.
When it comes down to it,'' Bryant said, we'll be ready.''
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.