After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers on Saturday afternoon, they were left with one very important game to end the 2020-21 regular season.
Despite head coach Frank Vogel saying the team was unafraid of the Play-In Tournament, the Lakers now have the chance to avoid it altogether.
To do so, they’ll first need to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans. However, since the Portland Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker between the two teams, they’ll need some help from the Denver Nuggets. If the Nuggets defeat the Trail Blazers and the Lakers defeat the Pelicans, the Lakers will move up to No. 6 and face the Nuggets in the first round.
Vogel spoke about the uncertainty surrounding their final seeding but kept the focus on the Lakers and what they need to accomplish still regardless of who their opponent is.
“The assistant coaches are doing the work on potential playoff opponents, but for us, obviously we’re monitoring what the matchups could look like, but really controlling what we can control to come out and play a great basketball game today.”
“Get some minutes with our guys that haven’t had a lot of time to build cohesion and try to win a basketball game today. You win as many games as you can in the regular season and wherever the standings end up, that’s where they end up and we’ll be prepared to play anyone.”
The Lakers head coach also spoke about the unprecedented nature of the final day of the regular season having so many playoff implications. “Every team has different scenarios. I do think on the plane ride out there we were observing that not a single seed had been locked in either conference. Obviously you have to go back to the stats and research, but I don’t know if that’s every happened this late into the season with only three days remaining to not have a single seed locked up.
“Obviously, Philly locked up the one seed last night. Might’ve been a couple other chips to fall, but before yesterday’s game, I don’t think anybody had locked anything up and that’s very unusual, but it doesn’t mean that the Lakers are preparing for eight different teams. We still have a handful of ways that we can fall into the standings and I think that applies for each team.”
If the Lakers can avoid the Play-In with a win and a Trail Blazers loss, the only team they could face in the first round is the Nuggets. If they do end uo in the Play-In Tournament, they’ll play the winner of Sunday’s Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors game. A win in the first play-in game would likely pit them against the No. 2-seeded Phoenix Suns.
So as the Lakers gear up for the final day of the regular season, they are likely scouting the Nuggets, Warriors, Grizzlies, Suns and — to a lesser extent — the Utah Jazz. The Lakers match up well against each of these teams at full strength, which explains some of the team’s more nonchalant behavior surrounding the play-in.
Vogel talks belief in basketball gods
When asked if he believes in the basketball gods, Vogel said there’s no reason to tempt fate by intentionally winning or losing certain games as other teams have done over the last few games.
“My opinion is win as many games as you can and let the seeds fall where they may and be unafraid of any matchup. So yeah, I would say I do believe in the basketball Gods.”
The Nuggets are expected to rest a number of their key players on Sunday, so they obviously have a different opinion on the matter in hopes of avoiding the Lakers in the first round.
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