There are exactly 20 games left in the Lakers’ regular season. That’s 20 games to shore up any issues that they have and go into the post-season playing as well as they can be.
That’s also 20 games to either rise or fall in the playoff standings as the jockeying for seeding comes down to the home stretch. And with that in mind, I ask, how important is playoff seeding to the Lakers?
First, some facts in where the Lakers stand as of today in terms of the West standings:
- Currently the Lakers are the 3rd seed out West.
- The Lakers trail the 2nd seeded Mavericks by 2 games (and 3 in the loss column)
- The Lakers trail the 1st seeded Spurs by 7.5 games (and 8 in the loss column)
- The Lakers are 4.5 games up on the Thunder (but only 3 up in the loss column)
- The Lakers hold the tie-breaker over the Thunder.
- The bottom three seeds in the West (Blazers, Hornets, Grizzlies) are only separated by a half game total.
Now, some general assumptions I’m making based off the current standings and what I stated above.
- The Lakers aren’t catching the Spurs for the #1 seed out West. (No one is. The Spurs played the role of the Lakers from the past two seasons by building a lead and running away from everyone else.)
- The Thunder are unlikely to catch the Lakers for the #3 seed as they’d have to finish with a better record than LA based off the tie-breaker. With only 20 games left, making up 4 games in the loss column will be very difficult.
- There is no sense in worrying who the #6-8 seeds will be in the West as the standings are too close. Fighting for the #2 seed should not be influenced by who a potential 1st round opponent would be.
So, again, I ask how important is the #2 seed for the Lakers?
First and foremost, it matters in the sense that should both the Lakers and the Mavericks advance, the #2 seed will have homecourt advantage in the series. If the current standings hold up the Mavs would have that advantage. However, I’d argue that the Lakers don’t need HCA to beat the Mavericks in a series. While Dallas will be a tough out, I think the Lakers are quite capable of winning on the road one or more times when facing that team. Not to disparage the Mavs, but the Lakers match up well with them and I’ve never thought that Dallas has such a big advantage at home that it impacts who wins or loses. Not to mention that the Lakers have proven they can win games on the road in the playoffs, with no further evidence needed than the past two seasons where they’ve clinched series in both the Conference Finals and Finals as a visiting team.
Based off this alone, I’d say that the 2nd seed doesn’t matter as much. For what it’s worth, this is a bit of a shift for me in the past month. But after realizing that the Lakers won’t catch the Spurs and that LA would just need to hold off the Thunder, the fact is that a collision course with the Mavs (should the Lakers advance) looks more and more likely. And, in that match up, what matters most is that the Lakers play well and bring their best effort. If those things happen the Lakers have a good chance of winning in any arena, home or away.
One positive offshoot of all this is that if the Lakers do end up finishing 3rd (or even 2nd), they’d be locked into a side of the bracket where fewer threats exist. On its face, today, I’d say the Lakers biggest threat towards earning another trip to the Finals are the Thunder and Spurs. Well, if things hold up and the standings don’t change, the Lakers would only have to play one of those teams and wouldn’t face either until the Conference Finals. (Of course winning a 7 game series on the road against the Spurs will be a tough task for any team, but I’ll worry about that when it’s time to.)
So in the end, I think the Lakers are just fine where they are. Sure, I’d like that the team pass the Mavs for the 2nd seed and I’d like to face the easiest possible team in the 1st round as well (which, as of today, I’d say is New Orleans). But, if those things don’t happen I can honestly say I’m fine with it. In the past week the Lakers have shown me that they’re rounding into form and are getting closer to being the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. And that means a lot more to me than what seed the team ends up with.