Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors in the Play-In-Tournament? Yes Please!
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
No offense intended toward the Los Angeles Lakers, but here’s hoping they lose at least a couple of times over their remaining three regular-season games.
As for the Golden State Warriors, let’s hope the opposite, that they continue their current tear and keep on winning until Sunday’s end to the campaign.
For that might be what is needed to preserve things the way they are and the way they look to be heading – namely, a Lakers vs. Warriors play-in tournament showdown that would be all-too perfect.
The NBA’s postseason innovation of allowing the No. 9 and 10 seeds in each conference a last-ditch attempt at getting into the playoff field has not been met with universal approval. Some have described it as a gimmick, others have claimed its unfair. LeBron James went a step further and called for the firing of whoever came up with "whatever that thing is."
Whether you love it, loathe it, or merely see the money-spinning sense behind the league decision to add some extra do-or-die action, no one can be immune to the delicious prospect that a clash between James’ Lakers and Steph Curry’s Warriors would conjure.
When asked if he felt such a matchup would be received favorably at league headquarters, Curry answered with a series of comic head nods. It was an obvious question. His response became an instant meme. The implication was clear. Yes, it would be a bonanza and those counting the dollars and cents in the NBA offices must be licking their lips.
So should we.
No disrespect intended to the Dallas Mavericks or the Portland Trail Blazers, who could still fall into the No. 7 spot, or the Memphis Grizzlies, who are playing fine basketball and could rise into position No. 8, but Los Angeles vs. Golden State offers a collection of star power and historical nostalgia that can’t be beaten.
Neither team has had a particularly easy season. The Warriors have been without Klay Thompson throughout the season and were still four games below .500 five weeks ago, while L.A. has had James and Anthony Davis out for long stretches. Yet the thought of what might come next has perked everyone up.
"We turned into the hunted for five, six years, whatever it was," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "And now we're hunting again. That's always a fun position to be in, when you're hunting, going after everybody else. That's fun."
From 2015 to 2018, the Warriors and James’ Cavaliers met in four straight NBA Finals. If not for Curry and his crew, James would probably have matched or overtaken Michael Jordan’s haul of six championships. If not for James, Curry and Golden State could have racked up four consecutive titles.
They’re no longer all-conquering, but they’re also a pair of teams no opponent would relish facing in the postseason. During James’ layoff with a high-ankle sprain, the defending champion Lakers slipped behind Dallas and Portland. The Warriors, spurred by Curry’s ongoing streak of form, are facing their own battle in staving off the hard-charging Grizzlies. The dream matchup still needs a bit of help to actually happen, though.
Both teams won Tuesday. The Lakers bested the New York Knicks in overtime, and the Warriors outlasted the Phoenix Suns, the presumptive No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
If things do fall into place, both the Lakers and Warriors would love to get some bragging rights over the other, while also sending the loser of the game to the brink of elimination from the season. Whoever is defeated, the 7-8 game must play the winner of the 9-10 matchup, with the final playoff position as the prize.
"The Lakers are not worried about playing the Warriors," FS1’s Nick Wright said on "First Things First." "It is the other way. No, the Lakers shouldn’t be worried about playing Steph and the Warriors in a potential play in."
FOX Bet has the Lakers (+450) as one of the favorites for the title, sharing the belief that as long as L.A. gets into the postseason, they are well set up to do some damage there. The Warriors, meanwhile, are a whopping +25000. No team seeded lower than sixth has ever won a championship.
If the play-in scenario feels a little weird and unfamiliar right now, there is every chance the league’s fan base gets used to it very quickly. By its very nature it can’t help but be exciting, offering the imminent threat of immediate elimination in four of the six games that will be played across the two conferences.
Playoff games are special, but when it comes to a Game 7, that holds a unique place in our hearts, with drama guaranteed no matter what shakes out. We will get the feel of several Game 7s this year, before the real playoff duels even formally start.
No one truly wants to be in the play-in-tournament. As a player, it is an extra game or two at the end of a compacted season.
"Hopefully, we don’t have to play in the play-in," Lakers guard Alex Caruso told reporters.
Selfishly, as a neutral, hopefully they do. And hopefully , when it happens, they get matched with the perfect opponent.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.