Six pivotal players down the stretch

The Lakers will need Dwight Howard down the stretch, especially against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

As the end of the regular season nears, teams in the hunt begin their preparation for the "second season" -- the playoffs. When I was in Phoenix, we already would have started anticipating possible playoff matchups and preparing game plans for each opponent, including detailed personnel reports and end-of-game play videos.