The Lakers haven't lost since center Andrew Bynum suffered a knee injury last weekend. Four games, four wins, all on the road and two against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
No doubt, the Lakers made a statement by beating the Celtics 110-109 in overtime Thursday night to end the Celtics' 12-game winning streak. An even louder statement was made with 101-91 victory over the Cavaliers, handing Cleveland its first home loss of the season with Kobe Bryant worn down by flu-like symptoms and LeBron James having a rare cold shooting night.
These games were equally important because if the Lakers should meet either the Celts or Cavs in the NBA Finals, Los Angeles would enjoy a homecourt advantage by virtue of sweeping each season series. And as anybody who has ever played in a Game 7 will tell you, it's easier to win one at home than on the road. Home teams are 13-3 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Of course, beating teams in January and February doesn't guarantee the same results in June. Yes, the Celtics went 2-0 against the Lakers in the regular season and beat them in Finals. But the previous year, the Spurs lost both regular season games to Cleveland but swept them in the Finals. Two years ago, the Heat lost to Dallas twice in the regular season and dropped the first two games in the Finals ... before winning the next four straight to claim the title. Between 2000-05, the teams in the Finals split their respective season series.
But if the Lakers and Cavaliers meet this year, Phil Jackson's team will be a confident group -- with or without Bynum, who hopes to return by the start of the playoffs. When the Lakers defeated the Cavaliers 105-88 last month, Cleveland played without center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. On Sunday, the Lakers didn’t have their big guy and still won by 10.
The big men played a big part in the Lakers' recent wins over the Cavaliers and Celtics. In fact, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol have combined to averaged 22.5 points and 12.3 rebounds. Odom was huge against the Cavs with 28 points and 17 rebounds. And since moving from power forward to center in Bynum's absence, Gasol has scored 31, 31, 24 and 18 points while averaging almost 14 boards.
Last year, the Lakers didn't have Bynum for most of the season and still won 58 games, but they could have used him in the Finals against the Celtics. If he returns for this year's playoffs, the Lakers will make it back it to the Finals. And if they play the Cavaliers, they shouldn't expect LeBron to shoot 5-for-20 again.