To win, or not to win. That is the question. 

Admittedly, these are not the exact words that William Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago in Hamlet. And as much as I'd like to pretend that the overall sentiment is the same, Shakespeare was writing about Hamlet contemplating the unfairness of life and whether it would be better to die than continue living, and I'm writing about the Los Angeles Lakers potentially tanking a game in the NBA Play-In Tournament. But in the spirit of this piece, how about we just go with it and pretend that it all makes perfect sense? Deal?


So, once again, the question for the Los Angeles Lakers is, to win, or not to win? And while it may seem downright nutty that the Lakers would even consider throwing a game of this magnitude, where a win ensures a postseason berth, it's been arguably the most discussed topic in NBA circles over the course of the last 24 hours, with two camps forming on either side of the aisle. In today's episode of The Hoop Collective, ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk made the case as for why the Lakers taking an L in their upcoming win-and-in game versus the New Orleans Pelicans wouldn't necessarily be a tough break.

“Is it the worst thing in the world if the Lakers lose this game in New Orleans?” Youngmisuk asked. “Then they get to play for the 8 seed and they get a much better match-up, and I kind of am here for the chaos if the Lakers play Oklahoma City, or even Golden State, and that veteran team pulls off a Game 1 against Oklahoma City and now Golden State’s back, the Lakers are back, I’m here for that chaos. But I’m just saying, it’s not the worst thing in the world if the Lakers lose this game.”

Now, in theory, I do understand this line of thinking. If the Los Angeles Lakers simply had their choice of 1st Round opponent between the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and the 2-seed (and defending NBA Champions) Denver Nuggets, the Lakers would pick OKC without thinking twice. This incredibly young team in Oklahoma City has very little playoff experience, and the Lakers have beaten the Thunder in three of their four meetings this year. The Thunder are thin up front, both in terms of physical stature and depth, and it's possible, if not likely, that the Lakers would be favored in a hypothetical series against the Thunder despite OKC having home court advantage.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are battle-tested and they proved last year in a four-game sweep, they have the Lakers number. The best player in the world plays in the Mile High City, and the Nuggets are playing without pressure in the postseason for the first time in half a decade. There's no team in the Western Conference that would, or should, be favored over the Denver Nuggets. The Boston Celtics are likely the only team in the league that would potentially be the consensus pick over the defending NBA Champions.

However, with all of that said, I'm one of those folks who is on the other side of the aisle. To me, the idea of throwing a Play-In Game is not only an act of defiance in the face of the basketball Gods, it's a borderline reckless act that has more downside (missing the Playoffs altogether) than upside (not having to play Denver until at least the Conference Finals). If it were as simple as “If the Lakers lose, they're the 8 seed” then I would fundamentally understand the decision to tank the game, even if it's potentially in poor taste. But it's not that cut and dry. The Lakers put themselves in danger of losing a do-or-die game for the 8 seed, and then this entire plan looks like an absolute abomination.

If the Lakers truly believe they have title aspirations, then why not take a shot at Denver right now? I'd rather suffer the slings and arrows now than potentially not even having a chance to later on. The Lakers have had remarkable health luck throughout the season, and there's no way to tell if that will continue into the Western Conference Finals, when a matchup with Denver would be expected anyway. I'd like my shot of beating the Nuggets in the 1st Round better than I would in the Conference Finals, but hey, I'm certainly not an expert on the matter. As my bio says, I'm just a sports fan who cares way too much.

If the Lakers find themselves in an early hole against the Pelicans on Tuesday night, maybe Darvin Ham decides to sit his key players a little longer than expected in order to be fresher when they host either the Kings or Warriors on Friday night at Arena. But beyond that, I think it's extremely risky business to actively try to lose a basketball game in a spot like this one.