Staples Center faces long Sunday

Game 4 of the Western Conference playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center, would be moved to Monday if the hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes, scheduled earlier in the day at the arena, goes multiple overtime periods and delays the start of the NBA game too much, an NBA spokesman told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Staples Center is in the midst of a dizzying run of hosting six playoff games in four days. The final stage of the Amgen Tour of California is set to finish in front of the building Sunday morning, just 30 minutes before the start of the Kings game.

Organizers have warned fans to arrive as early as possible for the 12:30 p.m. hockey game, Game 4 of the Western Conference finals which the Kings lead 3-0, to avoid problems entering the arena. Many of the streets in and around downtown Los Angeles will be closed Sunday morning for the cycling event so fans are advised to take public transportation or park at the Coliseum where a free shuttle will take them to the arena.

Staples Center is offering free coffee and donuts beginning at 9 a.m. to Kings fans who want to avoid the crush and get inside the building early.

The arena has hosted 127 doubleheaders since opening in 1998. Basketball to basketball is no problem, Staples Center senior vice president and general manager Lee Zeidman said. Basketball to hockey isn't difficult, either. The problem lies in going from hockey to basketball, where it takes about twice as long to convert the playing surfaces.

"While it's not my decision about what happens to that 7:30 Clipper game if the hockey game goes into overtime, I'm concerned about it," Zeidman said. "There's going to be a drop-dead time somewhere along the way because what we can't have is the hockey game ending around 5 or 5:30.

"It takes two hours and 15 minutes (to change the floor from hockey to basketball), so now that's 7:15, and the teams need 90 minutes to warm up, so that puts you back to a 9 o'clock tipoff.

"So you're looking at potentially 20,000 Kings fans emptying the building at the same time 20,000 Clippers fans are waiting outside and we're not ready yet. That's my biggest fear."

Zeidman says he's working with officials from both leagues and their television partners to develop contingency plans for all scenarios, but acknowledges there may not be a perfect solution at the end of it.

"If I could talk to you about it in weather terms, this is the perfect storm. But if that happened, it'd be a tsunami," he said.

The good news is the staff at Staples Center, which is owned and operated by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, is probably the most experienced in the business at dealing with these sorts of challenges.

In March alone, the arena hosted 33 events in 31 days. Doubleheaders, particularly on Sunday, are common.

The ice hockey surface is always in place, while the two basketball courts can be switched in and out in about 75 minutes. It gets challenging when the 35-man crew is asked to change from hockey to basketball in a short amount of time. It gets downright nerve-racking when it's a playoff hockey game where the two teams simply play on until there's a winner and each overtime period comes with a break.

"My guys tell me it's easier to go from basketball to hockey because you're just picking everything up, versus laying everything down," Zeidman said.

That's why Zeidman insisted to both leagues early on in the planning stages that if there was going to be a hockey-basketball doubleheader, it'd be better for basketball to go first.

It didn't work out that way because NBC, which televises the NHL playoffs, didn't want to change the start time of the Kings game.

Zeidman and his staff have no choice but to roll with, plan, prepare and spread the word to the public as much as possible.

"We're trying to educate everybody," he said. "The streets in and around downtown will close from about 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. The bike race will be done about 11:50 a.m., so we're encouraging Kings fans who are coming to the game to get here early."

Kings fans are encouraged to park north of Staples Center, cycling fans are encouraged to park south of the building. Everyone is encouraged to take Metro.

And if avoiding all that hassle wasn't enough reason to get there early, there's always the treats.

"We've got Krispy Kreme coming," Zeidman joked. "We'll have thousands of donuts."