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The answers from many NBA players to questions from the media personnel are usually of the form:

...yeah...we just gotta stay locked in for 48 minutes and get it done.

What does 'stay locked in' refer to?

  • Note that the definitions of lock in that most dictionaries provide do not include a suitable meaning for the expression as used in sports-related examples like the one that the poster asks about. – Sven Yargs Jun 2 '17 at 22:05
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Lock in -- TFD

verb 5. To bind in close struggle or battle. Used chiefly in the passive: 

The wrestlers were locked in combat.
The two sides were locked in a heated debate.

Here, it means they have to focus on winning the game, and the games usually last 48 minutes for NBA.

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Here is the entry for lock in from American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013):

lock in 1. Enclose, surround, as in The ship was completely locked in ice. 2. Also lock into. Fix firmly in position, commit to something. This phrase often occurs as be locked in or into, as in She felt she was locked in a binding agreement or Many of the stockholders are locked into their present positions. {Mid=1900s}

In the sporting context, however, locked in has a somewhat different meaning. As NVZ's answer (with its emphasis on focus) suggests, it describes being fully attuned to or in synch with the game or other activity that one is engaged in—and as a result, playing superbly and committing no mental errors. A basketball player who shoots 6-for-6 from three-point distance during a crucial quarter of a game qualifies as being locked in, because every shooting decision that the player makes seems to have been the right one. Locked in also implies that the player's muscle memory and on-court awareness are working in perfect concert, enabling the player to function at optimum effectiveness.

Baseball players are said to be locked in when they swing only at strikes and hit every strike squarely (if they are hitters) or if they breeze through the opposing lineup with sharp control and the opponents manage no hard hits against them (if they are pitchers). So the term applies to different types of performance in different sports, but it always implies great concentration and effectiveness by the locked-in player in whatever the game or event may be.

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