The NBA play-in game of Adam Silver’s dreams is getting closer and closer to reality. Having LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers take on his long-time adversary in Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors is the epitome of must-see television.
But while plenty of Lakers fans are panicking at the thought of getting stuck in the seventh slot and a do-or-die date with Chef Curry himself, the scenario may be to LA’s benefit in the grand scheme of things.
Here are three (3) bold reasons why LeBron James and the Lakers are better off falling into the play-in tournament:
(1) Dodging the Los Angeles Clippers
As things stand, the Lakers’ crosstown rival Clippers are likely locked into the third seed in the Western Conference. If LA manages to win out and gets lucky with some Portland Trail Blazers losses, they’ll draw the Battle for LA in the very first round.
Despite the fact that the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz have looked downright frightening at times this season, neither of them feature a player as dynamic as Kawhi Leonard. Even though we’ve seen the Clippers themselves stumble during last year’s NBA playoff bubble, they still feel like the team with the higher ceiling among the three just by virtue of featuring Leonard, and a hot-shooting squad surrounding him and Paul George.
(2) Cinderella Magic
Basketball fans in Los Angeles can still remember the excitement that stemmed from the UCLA Bruins’ scintillating cinderella run during the NCAA Tournament just two months ago. The Bruins themselves started off their magical streak with a big-time win off a play-in game.
As corny as it sounds, the Lakers could definitely use a jolt of good energy to spur them into playoff mode once more. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the LA side have been banged up and no longer have enough games to find their rhythm and build chemistry to end the season. Showing out against Stephen Curry and the Warriors and stomping them at Staples Center could be a quick-fix remedy to remind the Lakers that they’re the best team in the league when firing at all cylinders.
One of the biggest reasons it’s so hard to repeat as a champion in any sport is because the fire just isn’t as ferocious as it was for your first. It’s a grind to stay hungry and just as determined when running things back. But as the Lakers fall down further into the standings, their pseudo role as underdog becomes more and more believable.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are no longer healthy. Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol aren’t what they once were. Kyle Kuzma isn’t a winning player. All those whispers grow louder and louder as the adversity heightens. If the Lakers can channel that energy into a unified front hell-bent on shutting up the doubters, Lakers fans won’t have anything to worry about.
And if they do somehow taste defeat at the hands of the Warriors, they’ll get another crack anyways against the winner of the 9 vs. 10 matchup. But the thing is, that’s not going to happen because of reason number three.
(3) The Lakers Won’t Lose
As fun as the scenario of Stephen Curry going en fuego against the defending champs seems, it’s not going to happen. Stephen Curry leads the league in scoring and is fresh off a historic night where he made 11 3-pointers in just three quarters of action against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s ripped every defense he’s faced to shreds all season.
That is, except for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite playing for much of the season without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, LA has kept its defensive identity intact. The Purple & Gold lead the league in defensive rating and are fourth in defending the three-point line. This isn’t a theoretical claim either.
The Warriors and Lakers have faced off three times this season. In those three contests, Curry was reduced to just 23 points per game and held to an ugly 42.3% from the field.
They even kept Curry below their opponent’s average of 35.1% from downtown, as Steph shot a measly 9/26 from deep for a pedestrian 34.6% clip. They rendered Stephen Curry an average shooter throughout all three games, blowing the Warriors out by 26 and 31 during their last two face-offs.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers can reignite the rugged defensive identity they had in the playoffs last season by stopping the biggest offensive juggernaut the NBA has to offer. What better way to start a repeat bid?