Can't you tell it's playoff season for the NBA? Ray Allen gets suspended by popping Anderson Verajao in the crotch. I took in the Lakers vs Jazz game last night and both teams turned up the intensity, upped the physicality, all in an attempt to gain a mental edge on what potentially could be a first round matchup. It's why regular season NBA is so different from the NBA Playoffs.

Both teams started out pretty tame, but as the game progressed, both teams ratcheted up their pent up intensity. Finally, Deron Williams had had enough and shoved Andrew Bynum while setting a pick, Pao Gasol retaliates with a forearm shiver on the cutter, and finally, Odom wraps up Carlos Boozer out of the double team,

As a coach, usually you want your players to avoid fouling. And certainly you don't want your players to foul unnecessarily. But in certain situations, fouls can be a good thing. Sometimes, teams want to intimidate you and if your team doesn't stand it's ground, you let the opponent gain a psychological advantage. Once that happens, your team never plays quite the same afterwards. I think both teams here, the Lakers and the Jazz wanted to gain that mental edge, the Jazz attempted an unconscionable 45 free-throws, yet the Lakers won the game 125-112. I think the Lakers won both battles on this night.

In the NBA Playoffs with it's 7-game series, it's all about the psychological advantage. When the Spurs bullied the Suns the past couple of years, it got into their heads and the Suns simply didn't have the inner toughness to matchup. In the finals last year, the Celtics were the aggressor, and the Lakers didn't and couldn't match their intensity. The Mavs went soft against the Heat in game 3 of their finals matchup, faltered, and they've never quite recovered since.


So which team is the toughest heading into this year's playoffs? It's tough to say, because in most cases, because it is the events in-game and how players react to them which largely determine the outcomes. Having said that, certainly the Lakers appear to have "toughened" up. The Cavs sent a message against the Celtics the other night with their beat down both on the scoreboard and psychologically.

For more ideas to incorporate toughness into your practices, check out Phil Martelli's DVD on Building Toughness in Practices. Coach Martelli is the head coach of St. Joseph's University. Discuss this and the rest of your favorite basketball topics at the X's and O's Basketball Forum.