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The L.A. Marathon was two months ago, but it’ll seem like a jog in the park compared to what’s happening this weekend: For a potentially grueling three days, downtown Los Angeles will be the center of the sports universe.
The NHL’s Kings and NBA’s Lakers and Clippers will compete in a combined five playoff games at Staples Center in 72 hours, and the Amgen Tour of California, America’s biggest pro cycling race, is expected to end just outside the arena minutes before they drop the puck for Sunday’s Game 4 of the Kings’ series against the Phoenix Coyotes.
And before the finish of the eight-day, 750-mile, 120-rider Tour of California race, the public is invited to take part in a free five-mile bike ride from 8-9:30 a.m. along the same downtown course that the pros will ride.
Oh, and the Dodgers are hosting the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at Dodger Stadium, a few miles up the 110 Freeway.
Simply put: It’s no typical weekend in L.A.
The furious schedule began Thursday night with the Kings beating Phoenix, 2-1, at Staples to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
“This is an unprecedented weekend for Staples Center and Los Angeles,” said Lee Zeidman, senior vp and GM of Staples, Nokia Theatre and L.A. Live. “Hosting six playoff games in four days is something no other arena in the country has ever had the opportunity to do. And we are looking forward to an exciting weekend with all three teams playing and having the prestigious Amgen Tour of California cycling race going through the streets of downtown Los Angeles and L.A. Live.”
Zeidman said Staples will bring in as many as 2,500 employees this weekend, up from the usual 1,500-plus needed for an event. Fans are being encouraged to take public transportation; a new Expo rail line that carries commuters from Culver City to Staples opened last month.
It’s the first time in Staples’ 13-year history that all three of its tenants have qualified for the playoffs. The Lakers and Clippers are both in the second round of the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006 and only the second time since the Clippers moved from San Diego to L.A. in 1984. The Lakers will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and Saturday night at Staples, and the Clippers play Games 3 and 4 of their series against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday afternoon and Sunday night.
The Lakers and Clippers trail their respective best-of-seven series 2-0 as they return to Los Angeles, but the Kings are on an unprecedented roll, having won a franchise-record eight consecutive playoff games. The eighth-seeded team is 11-1 in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, having dispatched the NHL’s top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in Round 1 and the No. 2 seed St. Louis Blues in Round 2. The Kings are in the conference finals for the first time since 1993 — when they were led by the Great One, Wayne Gretzky – and for only second time in the franchise’s 45-year history. One more win would send them to the Stanley Cup Finals to meet either the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils.
As the only home to three major pro sports teams, doubleheaders are nothing new at Staples Center. But Sunday could be one of its longest and busiest days. Because of the bike-race activity and numerous street closures to accommodate it, the arena will open its doors at 9 a.m. for hockey ticketholders. The Kings game starts at noon, and the Clippers are set to tip off at 7:30 p.m. It takes two hours-plus to convert the playing surface from ice to hardwood, but there’s on wild card: overtime.
In the NHL, teams play sudden-death overtime until someone scores, and each extra period takes about an hour, including ice resurfacing in between. There already has been one triple-overtime game in this year’s playoffs, and things could get dodgy if the Kings game runs super-long.
But it’ll be a marathon day regardless.
After the Staples doors open Sunday, free coffee and doughnuts will be served until 10:30 a.m., and there will be autograph booths with former Kings including Ian Laperriere and Marty McSorley. Ticketholders also can visit a specially created Fun Zone inside Staples, featuring games, interactive activities, meet-and-greets with Kings mascot Bailey and the Ice Crew, face painting and other activities. The scoreboard video screens will replay great games in Kings history, including clips from the current run throughout the morning.
“It is an exciting time for everybody associated with the Kings, AEG and our fans, and it is an exciting and busy time for Staples Center and L.A. Live,” said Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille, an NHL Hall of Famer who spent much of his playing career in Los Angeles. “At the same time, we want all of our fans to get to the arena in a safe manner, and we are taking this opportunity to provide as much information as we can leading up to Sunday morning in particular.”
There’s one more little event that will add to the hubbub: Roger Waters is in concert Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – about three miles south of Staples Center.
Let the games begin.
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