Los Angeles Lakers Playoff Scenarios and Potential Matchups
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers are one step closer to avoiding the dreaded Play-In tournament after their 121-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Despite the win being unimpressive sometimes, it keeps the Lakers’ postseason hopes to avoid a play-in alive.

With a record of 42-39, the Lakers have won eight of their last ten games and are currently sitting in the seventh seed in the West. However, their fate is uncertain, and they could finish anywhere between the fifth and eighth seed. The Lakers can only avoid the Play-In tournament if the Golden State Warriors lose on Sunday and/or the Los Angeles Clippers lose their last two games and they win their remaining games.

As the Lakers continue to prepare for their postseason scenarios, they are not picking favorites among their potential opponents. Lakers head coach Darvin Ham stated that the team is not favoring a particular opponent or outcome, except for avoiding the Play-In tournament.

Following their win over the Suns, the Lakers’ locker room buzzed with hypotheticals and potential scenarios. Players discussed tiebreakers, potential Play-In dates, and other unknowns amid the uncertainty.

If the Lakers make the playoffs, they will face one of four possible first-round opponents: the Denver Nuggets, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Sacramento Kings, or the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers’ most favorable matchup is against the Suns, ranked as the fourth seed, and the least favorable is against the first-seeded Denver Nuggets.

Current Basketball Odds

Sports odds makers have had their work cut out for them this season as the NBA trade deadline changed the landscape of basketball betting. According to UltraSportsBet, the Lakers are currently +700 odds to win the Western Conference, which has them behind the favorite Suns at +200, the Nuggets at +350, the Warriors at +500, and Grizzlies at +600, but oddly ahead of the Clippers at +1600 and Kings at +1800, two teams that finished ahead of them.

As the Lakers prepare for their potential opponents, they hope to avoid the Play-In tournament and secure their spot in the playoffs. With their recent winning streak, the Lakers want to continue their momentum and make a deep run in the postseason.

Denver Nuggets

If the Los Angeles Lakers have to play against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, it would mean that they lost their first Play-In game and were forced to play in the second matchup on Friday. This scenario would add two extra games to their schedule, further draining an exhausted team and possibly affecting their recent momentum.

The Lakers and Nuggets have a playoff history dating back to the 2020 Western Conference Finals. Denver has gotten much better since then, with Nikola Jokić being a top-five player in the league. The Lakers don’t have a player who can hang with Jokić in the post, but Davis can trouble him. James will relentlessly target Jokić and Michael Porter Jr. in pick-and-rolls. The Nuggets are a legitimate contender, and the Lakers would be heavy underdogs.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to finish with the No. 7 seed in the playoffs, with the Lakers-Grizzlies matchup touted as the most exciting first-round series. The two teams have a simmering history culminating in an infamous near-altercation that derailed the Grizzlies’ season. Each game between the two teams is expected to be filled with histrionics and drama.

While the Grizzlies have the best defense among the four teams in contention, they also have the worst offense, primarily below-average 3-point shooting. There is also uncertainty surrounding the return of Steven Adams and the absence of Brandon Clarke, putting their interior defense and rebounding in flux.

Although the Grizzlies are young, athletic, and tough, the Nuggets are seen as the tougher opponent due to Nikola Jokić’s greatness and the Grizzlies’ interior holes. Ultimately, whichever team the Lakers face, they will need to bring their A-game to make it past the first round of the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns

Following the Lakers’ loss to the Clippers, their chances of securing the No. 5 seed are slim as they require multiple scenarios to occur, including winning against the Jazz, the Clippers losing their final two games, and the Warriors losing to the Trail Blazers. However, losing to the Clippers may have a silver lining as the Suns are currently projected as the best team in the Western Conference with two top-15 players, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The Suns have dominated the Lakers since their first-round series win in 2021.

The Suns are currently 8-0 with Durant, with an impressive offensive and defensive rating. Although the Lakers may prefer this matchup due to the Suns’ vulnerabilities, such as being inexperienced and over-aggressive, the Suns possess a strong core with excellent 3-point shooting skills, making them the most formidable possible first-round opponent, with Durant being the best player in the series.

Sacramento Kings

The Lakers are hoping to land the No. 6 seed, which would pit them against the No. 3 Kings in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers believe that no first-round series will be easy without home-court advantage, but they consider the Kings to be their preferred opponent. However, other Western Conference teams in the bottom half of the bracket are also eyeing the Kings as their preferred opponent.

The Lakers have several reasons for wanting to face the Kings. Sacramento lacks playoff experience, both as a team and individually. They also lack the same level of continuity as other playoff contenders. Although Sabonis and Fox are potential All-NBA players this season, they don’t inspire the same fear in opponents as other star players. Additionally, the Kings’ defense is weak, which would allow the Lakers’ superstar duo of Davis and James to dominate in the paint. James scored over 31 points in three of the four regular-season matchups against the Kings, and the Lakers can deploy Davis on Sabonis while having a lockdown wing defender on Fox.

However, the Kings are not to be underestimated. They have the best offensive rating in NBA history, take care of the ball, have elite shooters, and get to the free-throw line. Kings head coach Mike Brown has familiarity with effective schemes and strategies against James. Sabonis and Fox are also formidable opponents.

Overall, the Kings would be the most favorable first-round matchup for the Lakers compared to the other three opponents, but they are not guaranteed any easy wins.

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