Los Angeles defeated Denver 96-87 on Saturday night in Game 7 of the opening round series between the two teams to advance to the Western Conference semifinals with the Thunder.
It will be a rematch of the opening round in the 2010 playoffs, when the Lakers defeated the Thunder in six games in the franchise’s first playoff appearance in the Oklahoma City era. The Lakers went on to win the NBA championship in seven games over Boston.
But after a trip to the Western Conference Finals last year, the Thunder, with home-court advantage this time around, is now widely projected to knock off the Lakers. The Thunder won the three-game regular season series 2-1, winning by 15 in OKC and nine in the first meeting in L.A. before losing by eight in double-overtime in the final meeting in L.A. on April 22.
Game 1 will be played Monday at 8:30 p.m. inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on TNT.
When the Thunder takes the court, it will have had eight days off since closing out Dallas in a sweep on May 5. That lengthy layoff could translate to the Thunder being either rested or rusty.
But Oklahoma City seemingly has an advantage over the Lakers seeing as how L.A. is coming off a grueling series that went seven games and now is faced with executing a quick turn around and playing the first four games of the second round in six nights.
Following Game 1, the series will continue Wednesday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, with that contest also scheduled for and 8:30 p.m. tip-off on TNT.
Games 3 and 4 will be a Friday/Saturday back-to-back inside Staples Center in Los Angeles. Game 3 will be televised on ESPN, and Game 4 will return to TNT. Both games in Los Angeles are scheduled for 9:30 p.m. central time.
If necessary, the Thunder will return to Oklahoma City for Game 5 on Monday, May 21 on TNT before playing Game 6 in L.A. on Wednesday, May 23 on ESPN.
If a Game 7 is needed, it will be played in Oklahoma City on Sunday, May 27 on TNT. Start times for Games 5 through 7 have yet to be announced.
The back-to-back contests in Game 3 and 4 stem from the NBA lockout pushing back the start of the season. The league announced in November that if any first-round series needed seven games to be decided back-to-back games in the second round might be necessary for the league to remain on track for starting the NBA Finals on June 12.
Because of the possibility of the Staples Center in Los Angeles having the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, as well as the NHL’s Kings, all in the playoffs, arena dates are limited.
If the Clippers defeat Memphis in their Game 7 on Sunday and advance to the second round, they would host San Antonio on Sunday, May 20. That would rule out the Thunder playing in L.A. that same Sunday and warrants the back-to-back in Game 4 on Saturday, May 19.
Meanwhile, the three-day break between a potential Game 6 and Game 7 is because the L.A. Kings are scheduled to host the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday, May 24 in a potential Game 6 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals. The Clippers also would host the Spurs in a potential Game 6 on Friday, May 25.
The Clippers and Lakers regularly play day-night double-headers throughout the regular season. But because it’s now the postseason, and the majority of games fall on weekdays, it would have been difficult for the league to schedule and execute a day-night game for two different teams to play a playoff game in the same building.
A potential Game 7 in the Thunder series couldn’t have been scheduled for Saturday, May 26 because the league had reserved Sunday, May 27 as the first possible date of the Western Conference Finals if both Western Conference semifinals ended in six games or less.
If necessary, Game 7 of the other Western Conference Semifinal series between the Spurs and the winner of the Clippers and Grizzlies also has been scheduled for Sunday, May 27.
The league annually attempts to design the schedule in a way that all conference semifinals end on the same day so that if both go to seven games each team has the same amount of rest.