After a bus ride at a marathoner’s pace through snowy Denver and a thorough de-icing of the team plane’s wings once the Lakers got on board, the team finally took off for Salt Lake City at about 2:30 a.m., a 93-89 road victory in the Mile High City already a thing of the past.
By the time the players were actually in their respective hotel rooms in Salt Lake City in advance of a 7 p.m. tip that evening, the clocks were showing 4 a.m., meaning L.A. would have only 15 hours between entering rooms and tipping off.
This particular back-to-back happens to be more grueling than usual due to a combination of a late national TV start (8:40 p.m. tip) and winter weather conditions, but it’s not something Derek Fisher hasn’t seen time and again in his 16th NBA season.
“I think the No. 1 step you take is mental,” Fisher explained after playing a key role in the final defensive stanza that allowed L.A. to hold on and beat the Nuggets. “You make a decision right after the game, in the Denver locker room, that you’re going to start preparing for the game in Utah. You start telling yourself that you have to figure out a way to bring the necessary energy, passion and commitment to the next night’s game, and there are no excuses.”
Utah, after all, isn’t too interested with what time the Lakers turned lights out in their hotel rooms.
“Utah could care less if we played the night before,” Fisher agreed. “We talked briefly about it as a group – making sure guys are hydrating, taking care of themselves tonight and trying to put the right things in their body so that they can respond. But it’s early in the six-game trip, this is just game No. 2 (coming up), and there’s no reason to be tired just yet.”
When the Lakers do actually take the court against Utah at 7 p.m., it may be the first time they learn who’s going to play in what has become a very beat up Jazz back court.
Regular starter at the point Devin Harris missed the team’s Thursday loss at Golden State due to a hamstring strain, and is a game-time decision who doesn’t appear too likely to play based on his comments. Regular back up point Earl Watson sprained his ankle and also missed Thursday’s game, and may also find it tough to play against L.A., leaving third stringer Jamaal Tinsley — who was actually the No. 1 pick of the D-League draft by the L.A. D-Fenders before being called into Utah’s camp and making the team — as the only sure option. Tinsley played well against the Warriors, totaling 13 assists, with nine points and six boards in 34 minutes.
The team’s regular shooting guard, Raja Bell, who has guarded Kobe Bryant so many times, has also missed the last three games due to an adductor strain, and is questionable to play as well. Gordon Hayward, who usually starts at the 3, started at the two, while Josh Howard filled in at small forward. Both played very well, totaling 40 points in nearly 40 minutes a piece. Rookie Alec Burks was the only back court sub for the Jazz; he scored seven points in 13 minutes.
Utah’s strength will remain in the front court, where Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors all see minutes, but the Lakers would certainly prefer a low post battle to the type of open court game Denver tried to play – if unsuccessfully – in the first of this back-to-back.
We’ll see how it all works out in a (very) few hours.