Blessing in disguise: How the play-in format can be beneficial for the Lakers championship chase

What if I told you not every negative event results in a negative outcome?

The Los Angeles Lakers have fallen out of the playoffs and into the play in tournament. Things could change by the end of the season, but the injured Lakers seem to be destined for the play in.

But for a team that has been in shambles trying to rebuild chemistry after devastating injuries, this might not be the worst case scenario. Anthony Davis touched on that notion after the Lakers loss to the rival Clippers.

“We don’t look at it as something bad. To be honest, we need a lot of games. We need games to get back accustomed to each other,” Davis said. “Obviously we don’t want to go that route.”

After the Lakers lost 106-101 to the Trail Blazers to fall into sole occupation of the seventh seed, a loss that Alex Caruso said left the Lakers locker room “a little gutted,” the question becomes: Which one is it?

Is the play-in, which the Lakers now seem destined for, something that could ultimately be a blessing in disguise? Or an added hurdle in the Lakers repeat bid that should be avoided at all costs?

Do you want the extra time and games to get right for the playoff run, or do you want to guarantee yourself a playoff series?

It’s a slippery slope to navigate, but if done right the Lakers could get the best of both worlds.

Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel touched on the possibility of being in the play-in tournament.

“For me I’m unafraid of the play-in tournament with this team. I feel like we can beat anybody, but we definitely want to finish in the top six. There’s just too many things that can happen in a one-game series: foul trouble, roll of an ankle, anything like that could pop up. So we definitely want to finish in the top six, it’s a high priority for us.”

Any advantage to be gained from extra games with LeBron James (if his ankle is healthy) and Dennis Schröder (if he’s back from the health and safety protocols) in a play-in, Vogel said, would be “marginal.”

Perhaps it’s more of a philosophical question than one that players and coaches in the thick of the fight should be burdened with.

But with Friday’s loss to the Blazers, the team directly in competition with them for the 6th seed, it seems more likely the Lakers are in the play-in. So maybe plan for it?

The Lakers only have five games remaining to find a way out of the play-in. James has only played in two of the Lakers last 25 games and the team has not said when he will return. Davis put his best outing of the season against the Blazers but it wasn’t enough.

Given the current state of the roster it’s hard to see how the Lakers can make up two games on Portland (or three on fifth-place Dallas) in just five games, regardless of when James returns. That would mean a likely matchup with Golden State to determine the seventh seed, with the loser playing the winner of the 9-10 matchup to sort out the eighth.

“This is the predicament that we’re in right now,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Whether we’re still trying to fight for that sixth or be in the play-in, we just got to keep in mind it’s all about trying to get healthy and compete right now, try to win games every time we’re out there. (If) the chips fall where they fall and we’re in the play-in, we have to play a No. 1 or 2 seed, then we’ll see how it goes.”

Like coach Vogel said this team when healthy can beat anyone in a 7 game series. Their track record speaks for itself. But the key is their health. Whether it is via the play-in or the 6th seed, the Lakers are going as far as James and Davis take them. If either of them are injured, the season ends.

So that is why I think the play-in format could help the Lakers. Sure it means risking a Steph Curry expulsion one night and two bad games against one of the 9/10 seeds and the Lakers become the laughing stock of the league. But the upside is time and chemistry building.

Oh let’s not forget, if the Lakers make the playoffs via the play in, they’ll be playing the inexperienced Phoenix Suns or the Utah Jazz who scare nobody in a playoff series. You get to avoid the Clippers and Nuggets in round 1 while you get back to 100% and in rhythm.

Only time will tell if this in fact is the Lakers year, or if the injury bug will derail their hopes of repeating. Either way the next few weeks of Lakers basketball should set the NBA world on fire.

Leave a Reply