LOS ANGELES —
You know the guy standing across the free-throw lane all too well. You know he keeps his gym socks rolled up neatly, second locker on the left. You know he likes to dunk his toast in his coffee and that he despises guacamole.
You could place his usual drive-through order without batting an eye: Triple Whopper, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, double cheese, hold the pickles, biggie size on the fries.
How do you know this?
Because you play for the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz.
They know everything about each other. Ev-ery-thing.
That's what happens when you play three or four times during the regular season each year, and in the playoffs, too. Tuesday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal makes it 24 meetings in the last three seasons — not counting an additional three preseason games.
Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least a sense of sameness.
"Definitely, you feel that way, especially since during the season you play somewhat different teams every night, and then you get in the playoffs and you play the same team for two weeks in a row," said Jazz forward C.J. Miles. "That's the biggest thing — you don't want to get bored with it, because that's when you lose a little mental focus with these teams. You're like, 'Aw, I know what they're gonna do.' You don't want to come into a game and say, 'Aw, I know what's coming.' "
What's coming Tuesday night is Game 2, a contest with major ramifications. If the Lakers win, they are squarely positioned to eliminate the Jazz for the third straight season. But if the Jazz win, it puts considerable pressure on the defending NBA champs.
The trick is not to start viewing one another like a television rerun.
"It's definitely tough, but at the same time, it helps us," said L.A. forward Luke Walton. "They know what we are doing, but we know exactly what they are doing, too. In the end, it comes down to who wants it more and who can execute it better. There are no secrets. No secret plays and no secrets to not being familiar with the team. We know them as well as any other team in the NBA."
Noted Jazz guard Ronnie Price: "It's always fun to play a team you're used to playing."
In an I'm-sick-of-looking-at-your-face kind of way.
You can see it in the way they line up. With a couple of additions like Utah's Wesley Matthews and L.A.'s Ron Artest, it's the same cast of characters as last year. And it's the same cast as the regular season. The Jazz know, for instance, that Derek Fisher likes to duck his head and bull to the hoop. They know Kobe Bryant likes to score quickly to answer a big basket by the opposition.
Meanwhile, the Lakers know Price isn't a great outside shooter and Carlos Boozer tends to settle for jumpers if they block a shot or two down low.
Seeing one another in the post-season is like seeing a co-worker a dozen times a day. First time you pass, you say, "Good morning." Second time, you say "Hi." Third time, you say something awkward like, "Looks like Higgins is happy with his promotion."
Next time, you just nod.
Then you start looking preoccupied or pretending you are texting someone.
Ever run into a neighbor at the grocery store? You see him in produce, which is fine, but after seeing him again in frozen foods, meats, pharmacy and the bakery, you stop caring about being nice and start thinking about murder.
"You get tired of it sometimes, but you've got to deal with it," said the Jazz's Paul Millsap. "When you see them multiple times, it can get tough."
But just like any workplace situation, there's not much anyone can do about it.
"It's the playoffs," said guard Deron Williams. "That's how it's gonna be, you know?"
Yeah, we know.
We own the DVD.
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