Not having home-court advantage throughout the playoffs last season might have hurt the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of winning the NBA title. They’re determined not to let that happen again.
The Lakers look to build upon the league’s best record and win 16 straight home games in a single season for the first time in 20 years when they wrap up a five-game homestand Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets.
Los Angeles (27-5) had home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs last season, but didn’t have it in the NBA finals because Boston had finished with the league’s best record. The Celtics would win all three of their home games in that series, including the Game 6 clincher.
The Lakers had been chasing the Celtics for the league’s best record for the first two months of this season, but a recent slump by Boston has helped surging Los Angeles take over the top spot.
The Lakers defeated Portland 100-86 on Sunday to win their sixth in a row and move one game ahead of Boston and Cleveland in the loss column.
“It’s always a good sign to be on top, but you just can’t relax,” said Pau Gasol, who had 19 points against the Trail Blazers. “There’s too many games and too much competition to just relax and get comfortable and be satisfied with the best record.”
The league’s best record and home-court advantage throughout the postseason would surely benefit Los Angeles, which went 10-1 at Staples Center in last season’s playoffs and is 18-1 at home in 2008-09.
The Lakers are riding their third 15-game home winning streak this decade— the current one dates back to a 106-95 loss to Detroit on Nov. 14. They haven’t won 16 in a row at home in a single season since a 17-game run in 1988-89. The franchise record is 21, set in 1976-77.
“It’s obviously important to have home-court advantage, so we look at it as a challenge to achieve that goal,” reigning league MVP Kobe Bryant said. “Obviously we have a long way to go. It’s a great opportunity. We have quite a few home games here, so we look forward to trying to stretch this out a little bit. We have plenty more gears to go to. Plenty more. I haven’t even played in third gear yet.”
Bryant is averaging 31.0 points on a homestand that started with a 92-83 victory over the Celtics on Christmas. Two days before that win, Bryant had 26 points in the Lakers’ 100-87 victory at New Orleans (20-10).
Los Angeles also beat the Hornets 93-86 in New Orleans on Nov. 12. The Lakers led by 19 points at halftime in each game.
New Orleans, which opened a four-game road trip with a 97-77 win over Portland on Friday, lost to Denver 105-100 on Saturday to snap a four-game winning streak.
Against the Nuggets, the Hornets trailed by 26 points in the third quarter before pulling within three with 9:31 left, but could not complete the comeback.
“Every now and then we get to a point where we aren’t playing real well and things aren’t going our way, and then we just kind of buckled down,” New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. “We kept faith and trust in one another and we just battled back. You always feel that you have something positive to take.”
Chris Paul finished with 30 points and 11 assists on Saturday for his fifth straight double-double. Paul, runner-up to Bryant in last season’s MVP voting, is averaging 23.5 points and 11.5 assists in the two games versus the Lakers this season.