Los Angeles Lakers

Is the play-in round the best path for the Los Angeles Lakers?

May 15

Sometimes, you have to lose in order to win. 

The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have found themselves in a peculiar spot as the regular season winds down. 

They will enter the 2020-21 NBA postseason as either the 6-seed or the 7-seed in the Western Conference playoffs, meaning regardless of where they land, they will be on the road in the first round.

With one game left the Lakers are 41-30, which might seem uninspiring for the defending champions until you factor In LeBron James missing 27 games due to a right ankle sprain and Anthony Davis missing 36 games due to a calf strain and other ailments.

On Saturday they showed what they can do with their full complement of players, handing the Indiana Pacers a 122-115 defeat. Davis had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and James added 24 points, seven rebounds and eight assists against the Pacers, as the Lakers looked like the team that went 16-5 last postseason.

The victory put the Lakers in a position to earn the No. 6 seed if they beat the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers lose to Denver on Sunday.

But, what path would the Lakers prefer – the play-in round, meaning they would be the 7-seed, or win and aim to land sixth in the West standings?

The pundits are split.

According to Nick Wright, with James' shaky past in Game 1s of a playoff series, the play-in might not be the most ideal scenario for the Lakers, as he explained on "First Things First."

Here is how the play-in round works: the 7-seed will play the 8-seed, while the 9-seed plays the 10-seed in each conference. The winner of the 7/8 game is the 7-seed. The winner of the 9/10 game plays the loser of the 7/8 game, with the winner of that game becoming the 8-seed. 

Get it?

Last postseason, the Lakers lost Game 1 of each of their first two playoff series on their way to winning the Finals. In fact, James-led teams are 3-5 in Game 1s of a series across the last two postseasons.

The recent history alone makes the play-in scenario a risky proposition for the Lakers if their first playoff game were to be in a "win and you're in" type of environment, followed by another "win and you're in" game if the Lakers potentially lose their first contest.

And, things become even dicier when the opponent is set to be the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry.

Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 31.8 PPG and has scored at least 30 points in 19 of his last 22 games, on top of being a three-time champion himself.

And while starting the playoffs from the 7-seed in the play-in round isn't the scenario the Lakers probably envisioned themselves being in heading into this season, Chris Broussard still believes they should feel confident and comfortable against nearly any opponent they would see in the Western Conference playoffs.

He detailed why on "First Things First."

"I get it. You don't want to be in the play-in because it is a March Madness, one and done format, and anything can happen… The Lakers, when they get through the play-in, which they will, they will then face either Utah or Phoenix in the first round. 

"If I'm the Lakers, you don't fear anybody."

The Lakers might have caught a break with the LA Clippers losing to the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

The Clippers have long been seen as the biggest threat to the Lakers making it out of the Western Conference playoff bracket, and now the two teams aren't capable of matching up against one another until the second round at the earliest.

The Lakers have struggled with injury and continuity this season but if there is one thing they aren't lacking, it's confidence.

That bravado was exuded by James during the Lakers championship banner ceremony prior to their Wednesday night win over the Rockets, where he spoke on gearing up to defend their crown as the champions this postseason.

They will still be operating as the hunted, and not the hunter, regardless of what seed they get in the playoffs and where they start their journey to a repeat.

In the end, it might not matter what route they take – the target on their back will be just at large.

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