Teams around the NBA implemented some questionable strategies down the stretch as they jockeyed for seeding, some squads trying to move up, and others hoping to move down for matchup purposes.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the team most were trying to avoid in the early rounds. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers sat their starters and lost to Oklahoma City and Houston — two teams that have combined for just 39 wins this season.
By losing, the Clippers assured they would finish No. 4 in the Western Conference, avoiding a first-round matchup with the Lakers if they were able to wrangle the No. 6 seed.
Chris Paul: Can’t Duck Anybody in the West
That reality never came to fruition, with the Lakers falling to the No. 7 seed and having to take part in the play-in game against Golden State. If the defending champions win that matchup, they’ll face the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
Suns veteran guard Chris Paul has been around the block when it comes to the playoffs and knows there’s no ducking anybody if you have championship aspirations.
“I’ve been in the West my whole career,” Paul said on Saturday. “West ain’t never been easy. I don’t care who you playing, or what series it is, or what game it is. When I played in New Orleans I was in a division with Memphis, Houston with Yao and T-Mac, and Dallas when they were nice with Dirk and Stackhouse and all them. The West has always been a beast. When you try to match up with someone else, you can get it handed it you. You can’t duck nobody if you really think that you can win it all. You got it go through it.”
Dudley: Lakers Will be Vulnerable Early
Lakers veteran reserve Jared Dudley thinks trying to avoid them early is a mistake and it is early on that the defending champs will be most vulnerable.
“If I was another team, I would want to play us early,” Dudley said in his postgame press conference, per ESPN. “I would want to play when LeBron James is coming off of an ankle injury. We’re trying to find our chemistry. You think that we’re going to be better later or better now? I mean, the more chemistry and the more games, the stronger we get.”
The Lakers will need 17 wins to take home a second consecutive title and the 18th in franchise history.
“It will be the hardest challenge any team has ever had in NBA history,” Dudley said. “We’re up for it. We’re the defending champs. They’ve got to worry about us. We’re getting healthy at the right time and no one wants to see a healthy Laker team.”
Lakers Not Worried About Seeding, Play-in Tournament
As Dudley points out, the Lakers have not made their bid for a repeat easy. However, with James and Anthony Davis inching closer to full health, the team likes its chances against anyone in the league.
“I don’t look at our seeding. It doesn’t matter. Obviously we know we wanted to play a lot better this season, but the injuries took a toll on our team,” James told reporters. “But I look forward to the challenge. It’s another challenge for me in the postseason. I’m looking forward to it.”
Head coach Frank Vogel said his team has been able to keep their eyes on the prize, battling through some tough times, including eight losses in 10 games down the stretch.
“The message was: ‘Remain together, let’s not anybody overreact,'” Vogel said. “No one’s happy that we’ve lost these games but we’re going to be OK if we stay the course, keep grinding, keep having a growth mindset each day.”
The Lakers are heading into the postseason on a five-game winning streak, the latest a 110-98 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. The first task at hand is a play-in matchup against the Warriors on Wednesday.