As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m not really thinking about the Lakers game vs. the Pelicans tonight. Yes, that’s an important game and one the Lakers need to win if they have any hope of climbing up to the 6th seed and avoiding the play-in game vs. the Warriors (who clinched the 8th spot with a win over the Grizzlies earlier on Sunday). But, the game that also matters for the Lakers hopes is tonight’s matchup between the Nuggets and the Blazers. If the Nuggets somehow win that game, they’ll clinch the 3rd seed for themselves and, if the Lakers also beat the Pelicans, Denver will knock the Blazers down to 7th and a date with the Warriors.
It’s not yet known how the Nuggets will play this game. Will they rest players? Will their top guys (Jokic, Porter Jr., Gordon) get a shift or two and then sit out the rest? Will they go all out and try to win? I’m skeptical of the latter, honestly. The Nuggets can still get to the 3rd seed if the Clippers somehow out-tank the Thunder, but if the Blazers win, the Nuggets can guarantee that even if they do finish 3rd, the Lakers will not finish 6th and end up meeting them in the 1st round. No team is exempt from wanting to manipulate the standings when it comes to who they’d rather face in the playoffs, so I wouldn’t blame the Nuggets for doing just that. After all, would you rather face a full Lakers team (even if they’re not 100% healthy) or the Blazers?
I know what my choice would be if I were the Nuggets. So, we’ll see how that plays out.
As for the Lakers matchup with the Pelicans, New Orleans is basically holding out all of their top players. Zion is already out with a broken finger, but the Pelicans have gone the extra step of sitting out Ingram, Lonzo, and Steven Adams too. It’s not yet clear if LeBron will play tonight, but assuming he gets some run on the 2nd night of a back to back, the Lakers will be (deservedly) heavily favored to win. I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but I would like to assume the Lakers come in with a certain amount of focus and motivation to get this win. And, if they do that, they should be fine.
Which brings me back to the Blazers vs. the Nuggets. That is the game that Lakers fans will have a real interest in tonight. Because how that game plays out will be just as, if not more, meaningful as what the Lakers do in their own game. Buckle up everyone, it should be one interesting night.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.