Alex Caruso Confident In Lakers’ Chances If Forced To Be In Play-In Tournament
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Alex Caruso played one of his best offensive games for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Originally questionable prior to the game with a foot injury, he put up 18 points and six rebounds on 8-for-16 from the field in 35 minutes of play.

Despite that, the Lakers were unable to get a victory in Portland. The loss not only represented the eighth in their last 10 games, but it also dropped them to the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, putting them in position to be in the play-in game.

It also gave the Trail Blazers — now sixth — the tiebreaker over L.A., putting them in a very difficult situation for the final five games.

Caruso spoke after the loss about the team’s mindset for the play-in game and what they can do moving forward. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I really have an answer for it. … I’m really just focused on the next game. At this point, fairly confident we’ll be in some type of playoff whatever it is,” Caruso said.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to play in the play-in because we want a couple of these games down the stretch and that’s the goal and that’s the plan. I’m confident. I said this after last game, too. I’m naive in the fact that I think we can win any game that I play in. I thought we could’ve won tonight, I thought we should’ve won tonight. Made a couple errors throughout the game. Like we said, we got to be better if were going to win in the playoffs, but I don’t really know if I have an opinion on play-in game versus not play-in game.”

Even though Caruso did not have an opinion on the play-in tournament, he did say that the team was not happy with the result of the Trail Blazers game. “I’m not overreacting when I say gutted. We’re disappointed. Maybe that’s a better word for it. Gutted makes it sound like all hope is lost and we just missed the playoffs because we lost this game to Portland.

We’re just disappointed. We play to win, played hard. … That’s always a little disappointing. Everybody knows the stakes, everybody knows what this game was standing wise and how it would’ve been a great win for us to stay in sixth and whatever. We’re just a competitive bunch. That’s why we won a championship last year because we’re competitive. Nothing has changed this year just because we have guys out and we’re deeper in the standing than we were last year.”

The Lakers will now likely need to use that competitive mindset to win a one-game playoff against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. If the season ended today, that’s who they would play in game one of the play-in tourney. A win against them would make them the No. 7 seed, while a loss would force them to play in another one-game playoff for the eighth and final spot.

Avoiding the play-in was something the team had been talking about for a couple of weeks now. However, due to injuries and other factors, they may be unable to do so. Now, it sets them up for one of the most difficult playoff runs in NBA history.

Kuzma says play-in tournament is simply another obstacle

The Lakers have dealt with a lot during the 2020-21 season that was unexpected. For Kyle Kuzma, the play-in is just another one of those things. “Well, those are just the cards we’re dealt. We’ve dealt with a lot this year, a lot of unfortunate things. But those things, the players on the court, we just haven’t gotten enough wins.”

“This predicament that we’re in right now, whether we’re still trying to fight for that six [seed] or be in the play-in, we just got to keep in mind that it’s all about trying to get healthy and competing right now. Just try to win games every time we’re out there and if the chips fall where they fall and we’re in the play-ins and we have to play a No. 1 or 2 seed, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how it goes.”

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