Lakers Tanking Play-In Tournament Against Pelicans To Avoid Matchup With Nuggets Would Be Dangerous & Cowardly
LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Lakers, Nuggets
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA regular season has come and gone and the seedings are set going into the Play-In Tournament and postseason. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, things didn’t exactly didn’t turn out ideal for them when it comes to seeding.

The Lakers finished eighth in the West, putting themselves in the Play-In Tournament for the third time in the last four years. They are set to take on the New Orleans Pelicans in a rematch of the regular season finale with the winner earning the seventh seed in the West playoffs.

While being in the Play-In Tournament is never ideal, at least the Lakers moved to eighth so they only have to win one game to make the playoffs as opposed to having to win two straight from the ninth or 10th spot. But here is where the unfortunate part comes in.

Because of a surprising loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the final week of the regular season, the Denver Nuggets dropped to the second seed in the West, which means the winner of the Lakers’ matchup with the Pelicans will go on to face the defending champs in round one.

It’s no secret that the Nuggets have had the Lakers’ number over the last year. They have won eight straight over L.A., including a sweep in last year’s Western Conference Finals.

With that being the case, some media members and fans have suggested that the Lakers should tank their Play-In game against the Pelicans in order to drop to the eighth seed, where they would take on the young Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round if they advance. Even though the Thunder are the one seed, the Lakers beat them three times in four chances this season and have a clear size and experience advantage.

Sure, playing the Thunder in the first round and avoiding the Nuggets until potentially the Western Conference Finals would be ideal. And if wasn’t for Adam Silver and the NBA implementing the Play-In Tournament in 2021, that would be the scenario the Lakers would be looking at right now as the eighth seed.

But let me be loud and clear when I say this: The Lakers tanking their Play-In Tournament matchup with the Pelicans in order to avoid the Nuggets would be dangerous and cowardly.

Let’s first start with the fact that if the Lakers did indeed lose to the Pelicans, they would be putting themselves in a do-or-die scenario against either the Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors.

The Lakers are a combined 1-7 against those two teams this season, losing to the Kings all four times. It’s worth noting that LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed some of those Warriors games, but I still don’t think you want to sign up for a one-game playoff against the Warriors where Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or anyone else can go nuclear and end L.A.’s season. It was less than two weeks ago that the Lakers watched the Warriors shoot 26-for-41 from beyond the arc at Crypto.com Arena, which was literally the best 3-point shooting performance in NBA history.

If the Lakers were to purposely lose a winnable game against the Pelicans and then see their season come to an end by losing at home to the Kings or Warriors, that would be an embarrassing and unforgivable mistake, especially when you consider that James is in his 21st season and doesn’t have many of these opportunities left.

Now let’s get to the Denver side of things here. If the goal is to win a championship, and that is always the goal for the purple and gold, then you are likely going to have to go through the Nuggets either way.

If you think the Lakers should tank the Pelicans game to avoid the Nuggets, then you are clearly very well aware of how good that Nuggets team is. Praying that someone else is going to take them out for you is as cowardly as it gets. Not to mention that if a team was indeed good enough to beat the Nuggets in a seven-game series, that’s not just gonna be some team the Lakers can walk over on their way to a championship.

The bottom line here is that there are no easy paths to a championship, there never has been for any team.

And guess what? If you have to go through the Nuggets, the best path for the Lakers to do that may very well be in round one.

If the Lakers are able to beat the Pelicans on Tuesday, that means they will have off until Saturday. Plus, in the first round, there are more off days between games than the every-other-day schedule of the Western Conference Finals.

James recently spoke about how he is feeling healthier and fresher going into the playoffs this year than he did a year ago. The only way for the Lakers to beat the Nuggets is to have both James and Davis healthy and playing at an extremely high level. And the only way to guarantee that will be the case is to play Denver right now.

For those who don’t remember what happened last season, all four Western Conference Finals games came down to the last few minutes, where the Nuggets thrived and the Lakers seemingly ran out of gas.

A big reason for that was the Nuggets being able to coast their way through the second half of the regular season, avoid the Play-In Tournament and take care of business early in the first two rounds, getting themselves into a groove and allowing for proper rest leading up to the Western Conference Finals.

On the other hand, similar to this year, the Lakers had to fight to make the Play-In Tournament in the second half of the regular season, win the Play-In Tournament and first two rounds, just to face a well-rested Denver squad.

If the Lakers do lose on Tuesday, then they will have to play again on Friday. If they win that game and make the playoffs, they will have a short turnaround before opening up their first series on Sunday. By the time they get to the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, if they make it there, it could end up being a similar scenario as last year where James and Davis’ tanks are close to empty while the Nuggets are as fresh as can be.

The one downside of playing the Nuggets earlier is that the Lakers potentially would not have Jarred Vanderbilt back in time. Let’s be real though, with how slow Vanderbilt has been progressing, he may not even be back for the Western Conference Finals.

And even if he is, throwing him into the fire against the Nuggets doesn’t guarantee good results. His impact in last year’s Western Conference Finals was very minimal, playing in just 13.5 minutes per game with that decreasing as the series went on to the point where he did not even get into the fourth and final game. That’s when he was fully healthy, not coming back from a foot injury that kept him out a majority of the second half of the season.

Lakers would never tank Play-In Tournament game

The good news here is that this is only a topic to debate online and not something the Lakers are seriously considering. After Sunday’s game, D’Angelo Russell notably spoke about how the Lakers want to take care of business on Tuesday so they don’t have to play in a do-or-die game on Sunday. Finally, some common sense!

The players and organization have constantly stressed that they will play whoever is in front of them and won’t worry about seeding, even if that means an early matchup with the Nuggets.

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