As things currently stand, the Los Angeles Lakers are slated to face the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the Play-In Tournament. While things can still change in the final weeks of the season, the likeliest scenario is L.A. taking on the Pelicans in the first step towards securing the No. 8 seed.
As we near this potential Play-In Tournament matchup, both teams are still dealing with significant uncertainty surrounding one of their star players. For the Lakers, it’s Anthony Davis, who has missed over a month with his second major injury of the season. He’s played in 37 of the Lakers’ 73 games.
For the Pelicans, Zion Williamson has missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season and only recently was cleared to resume one-on-one basketball activity. Davis is more likely to return this season than Williamson, but both have some significant hurdles to overcome.
But even if Davis gets healthy and Williamson doesn’t, some still believe the Pelicans would have the upper hand against the Lakers in a one-game playoff. Jay Williams of ESPN proclaimed this via Get Up when he said he would take New Orleans over L.A.:
“I still think the Pelicans, in a Play-In scenario, could beat the Los Angeles Lakers without Zion [Williamson]… We’re all of a sudden expecting the Lakers to just turn it on down the stretch? I know LeBron James can turn it on. I don’t know if everybody else can turn it on around him to beat the Pelicans.”
With the way the Lakers have played this season, it would be foolish to guarantee any result in any single game. L.A. has beaten some of the league’s best teams and has lost to some of the worst teams. Consistency has been a major game-to-game issue, meaning a one-game playoff would be wildly unpredictable.
The Lakers play the Pelicans two more times before the end of the season. In their only matchup so far, the Pelicans stomped the Lakers in L.A., 123-95.
If the two teams were to meet in the Play-In Tournament, either team could walk away with the victory. Of course, LeBron James can reach a level that no one on the Pelicans — and very few people in the NBA — can reach, giving L.A. that advantage.
But even if James is at his very best, the Lakers are a vulnerable team. Only time will tell if L.A. can beat the Pelicans without Williamson and get through the Play-In Tournament.
Russell Westbrook believes Lakers are sliding into roles
In their last four games, the Lakers have started to look more cohesive as a basketball team, going 2-2 in that stretch. Lakers guard Russell Westbrook believes this can be attributed to players finding more specific roles. “I think the most important part is guys are kind of sliding into their roles a little bit better and learning,” Westbrook said.
“I know it’s the end of the year, but I think guys are doing a better job of having some confidence and keeping it and being able to make mistakes and play through them and keep a positive energy, which I thought was good tonight. A lot of guys collectively left it all out on the floor against a really good team at full strength, and we had a chance to win the game.”