The NBA’s decision to include a potential play-in for the final seeds in each conference added excitement to the season’s restart. While it only wound up being a factor in the Western Conference, four teams remained in contention, which directly impacted the Los Angeles Lakers for the first round of the playoffs.
Heading into penultimate day of seeding games, the bottom of the West was in flux as the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs all had hopes of qualifying for the play-in scenario.
When the Grizzlies and Suns took care of business early in the afternoon, the Spurs became mathematically eliminated, and focus shifted to Portland’s game against the Nets. While the Nets took the Trail Blazers to the wire behind 37 points from rising star Caris LeVert, late-game heroics from Carmelo Anthony secured a spot for Portland. Damian Lillard continued his hot shooting with 42 points.
With Portland and Memphis set to begin the play-in on Saturday, the Lakers continue to wait on the identity of their first-round matchup.
The buzz generated around the new format led some Lakers to express their support to implement the rule permanently.
“Love it, great idea,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. “It’s another added element. There’s a bunch of different things I think should happen, but the 8-9 game just makes the season more entertaining.
“Think about if we had fans and a play-in game. Especially every year in the West. That nine seed is always heartbroken because they’re just as deserving of a playoff spot. I think it’s great for the NBA.”
Markieff Morris agreed with Kuzma, saying, “I think it’s cool. Dame made a point before we got here that if they were going to be in the bubble at least give them a chance to try and get in the playoffs, which made a lot of sense. I think that’s a good thing to do moving forward.”
Head coach Frank Vogel was undecided in his opinion but noted that he hasn’t been able to fully enjoy the race while he prepares for the team that emerges victorious.
“I leave that in Adam Silver’s hands and the league office,” Vogel said. “They do a great job being innovative and trying to make the game better any way they can. I typically am a traditionalist, but certainly, from a fan perspective, it can be very exciting and keep a few more markets involved late in the season.
“It could be good for fan interest. But in terms of that decision, I’ll leave it in the league’s hands. I haven’t really focused on enjoying it. I’ve been studying, ‘If we play this team, these are the challenges.’ That’s how I watch each of those opponents.”
Vogel zeroing in on defense before playoffs
While the Lakers’ shooting struggles were well-documented for the majority of seeding games, the team’s issues promptly flipped. Vogel now plans to focus on defense before L.A.’s first playoff game this Tuesday.
“Our defense slipped the last two games because we’ve been focusing so much on gaining an offensive rhythm, working in new guys and whatnot, but I feel very confident we can tighten the screws on the defensive end very quickly,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of practice time between tonight’s game and the first game of the playoffs. We’ve got a lot of time to get some good work in, and I’m very confident going into the playoffs with this group.”
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