Thursday, April 17, 2008

"The Lakers' film star"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Smith column: The Lakers' film star

Chris Bodaken spends hours of time in the video room, helping to prepare the Lakers for their next opponent.

Register columnist

TBD – to be determined – is like a curse phrase. It's the ugly, unnerving unknown and quite possibly the worst three letters anyone can tell Chris Bodaken.

As a Lakers scout and director of video services, Bodaken has to think ahead. He's the guy who sizes up the next opponent, considers the next contest, writes statistics-loaded scouting reports, strings together highlight footage for each player and coach and anticipates each one-on-one matchup, game situation and crunch-time scenario.

And with "TBD" as the Lakers first-round opponent in NBA playoffs for much of the last frenzied week in the wild, wild Western Conference, Bodaken has had to fight a panic that strikes like a medicine ball to the kidney.

"It's a crazy time, not knowing," said Bodaken, a 1990 USC grad who latched onto the Lakers 15 seasons ago as an intern. "The uncertainty of the playoffs is hard. When this happens at the end of season, I have to ask myself, 'Can I be a gambler? Can I wait until the last minute and pull an all-nighter?' "

A week ago, the Lakers' playoff picture was scrambled. As games played out and teams flip-flopped positions, there were four possible opponents, then three, and after the Lakers locked up the top seed with Tuesday night's regular-season-finale victory over Sacramento, two.

Bodaken had to wait until the final buzzer of the league's regular season sounded Wednesday night for the Lakers' first-round foe – TBD – to turn into either the Denver Nuggets or the Dallas Mavericks.

Denver or Dallas? Denver or Dallas? Denver or Dallas? The teams rattled in Bodaken's head and twisted his stomach for days.

He's the gambler he was a decade ago when he would wait to know the opponent, get the coffee pot going on a constant drip and spend 24 tense hours scanning through boxes of videotape.
He doesn't want that work stress anymore. He's 40 now. He has children.

So by Tuesday morning, Bodaken and his assistant, Patrick O'Keefe, had prepared for both the Nuggets and the Mavericks, knowing all along that they would ultimately have to chuck half their work into the trash.

"I'm afraid to guess how many days and hours of watching film it takes to get ready for the playoffs," said Bodaken, of Pasadena. "It's probably a scary number."

Bodaken and O'Keefe can pace themselves and even get ahead during the regular season because the next game and the next opponent are on the schedule. Playoffs usually kick their work into fast-forward.
Their workplaces at Staples Center and at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo are cramped, chilly climate-controlled quarters with just enough room for two chairs, a video editing station, 10 TV screens, four TiVos, a couple VCRs, a DVD recorder, walls lined with thousands of hours of archived NBA footage, stacks of blank DVDs and a clock.

There are no windows. Only a timepiece tells Bodaken whether it's day or night in these rooms where it's always gametime.

"It's like a Vegas casino in here," he said. "You keep going, watching, working, not knowing what's happening outside."

Getting ready for the Nuggets and the Mavericks began with poring over the Lakers' games against both teams and meeting with the Lakers assistant coach assigned to study that team throughout the season.

The Lakers went 3-0 against the Nuggets, but they haven't faced Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony since a 116-99 victory on Jan. 21. So Bodaken had to pull footage from the Nuggets' more recent games to see how they're playing now against other teams.

The Lakers went 3-1 against the Mavericks in close contests with an average score of 107-106. Fortunately for Bodaken, the Lakers played the Mavericks on April 4 and won, 112-108.

Bodaken and O'Keefe also retrieved the fourth-quarter action of every close game the Nuggets and Mavericks played this season to see what the teams did in critical situations. They watched the game both teams played this week, checked injury reports and analyzed statistics from the minutes the star players played to the team's free-throw shooting percentage.

"About 98 percent of NBA games are on DirecTV, so it was just a matter of going back and finding the game," he said. "It was a lot harder before the days of digital TV and the Internet."

For each Lakers coach, Bodaken and O'Keefe made highlight DVDs – or in the case of some less tech-savvy assistants, VHS tapes – of game footage featuring both teams.

"Phil (Jackson) likes to see the flow of the game, so he won't get quick cuts but segments of action," said Bodaken of the Lakers coach's viewing preferences. "He watches more video than any coach I know."

For each Laker, they put together 15-20 minute DVDs featuring about 60 game scenes of the Nugget or Maverick player or players whom the Laker will be defending.

"It's all about finding the tendencies of the other player in the matchup, things like whether a guy dribbles twice to his left before pulling up and shooting," said Bodaken. "Knowing the details, especially for a student of the game like Kobe Bryant, really helps them get ready."

His eyes have burned from all the watching, scanning in fast-forward and focusing frame-by-frame in slow-motion. But Bodaken is at ease knowing he will be ready to hand the Lakers their customized DVDs and written scouting reports when they leave their first practice in preparation of the playoffs.

His job will be done – until the next gametime, when he will log Sunday's action live from his Staples Center workroom. His day could last 15 hours. His eyes could be tired. His hands could cramp, his back ache.

But Bodaken knows that the Lakers depend on him to leave as little as possible to TBD.

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