When the Los Angeles Lakers are thought about by even the most casual onlooker, it is difficult to not consider the following. The team’s culture has always been centered around winning, and that mentality is not going to waver anytime soon.
The Lakers reclaimed their seat on the NBA throne last year by winning their 17th world championship. In doing so, they tied their archrival Boston Celtics for the most chips in league history.
Granted, the 2019-20 campaign was trimmed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles still managed to win over 50 games and earn the top seed in their respective conference. It was the first time the squad earned the No. 1 seed in a decade, which was coincidentally when they won their 16th title.
Certainly, possessing the best record in the conference can provide an excellent morale boost. Furthermore, it enables for there to be a degree of bragging rights as well.
Of course, earning the top spot has deeper implications than just the good feeling it gives off, though. The team with that alpha dog status also has the luxury of having home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The latter benefit speaks for itself, and, under most circumstances, would be a goal the Lakers would hope to achieve again. However, the purple and gold are not quite as concerned about their conference ranking this time around.
Fourth-year player Kyle Kuzma recently commented on this subject matter and argued their seed “doesn’t really matter” as much as it previously did. Christian Rivas of Silver Screen & Roll provided a full transcription of Kuzma’s remarks.
“I don’t really know that it’s as imperative as past years,” Kyle Kuzma said on Saturday. “There’s not really a home court advantage and regardless, before you get to the Finals, you’re going to play the Clippers or the Jazz, or you’re going to play somebody that’s up there. It doesn’t really matter too much.
“Bron was a four seed his last year in Cleveland and went to the Finals. It doesn’t matter.”
Kuzma does raise a valid point regarding the home-court advantage. Unlike traditional seasons, fans are either not allowed in the stands, period, or only to a certain capacity because of the ongoing health crisis. Consequently, teams will not have that same high-octane energy on their side, and a lot of the motivation will have to be self-created.
For the sake of addressing the rest of what Kuzma said, there is certainly a strong probability the Lakers could end up playing the Clippers or Jazz in the playoffs. It is very possible, indeed, given where both opponents are at in the standings.
In fact, as of when this was written, the Clippers are only a half-game behind their locker room tenants in the West. On the other hand, the Jazz currently occupy the No. 1 spot and are 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers.
That being said, it is reasonable to assume the Lakers will have to get through one of those two teams if they hope to reach the Finals again. If they end up facing the Clippers, the team would still be playing at Staples Center the entirety of the series. Thus, the home-court advantage portion would hardly carry any weight in this case.
Conversely, it is fair to contend it might matter more if the team squares off against Utah. For starters, the Lakers would obviously have to play away from the City of Angels in this case.
Moreover, it is worth pointing out that the Jazz have been cooking so far this season. They have the league’s second-best defensive rating at 107.3 (per NBA.com). Utah also holds ownership of the league’s fourth-best offensive rating (116.3), and the league’s best net rating (9.0).
At the same time, it is worth bringing up the discrepancy in the Lakers’ home record versus their road record. The Lakers are currently sitting pretty on the road with a 13-3 record so far, whereas at home they are worse at 9-6. While that is a bit of an oddity, it shows that the Lakers are more than capable of getting the job done away from Los Angeles.
Speaking of capabilities, Kuzma’s comments are very telling. It is hard to not decipher that he is very confident in what the Lakers can do no matter where they end up in the rankings.
Albeit Kuzma’s confidence is great to hear, there is another reason the Lakers’ overall seed is not as important this season. It boils down to health at this point for the defending champs.
Given that Anthony Davis will be sidelined for multiple weeks due to a calf strain, ensuring that he is good to go for another run at the title is paramount. Davis is the Lakers’ defensive anchor, so rushing him back just to win a couple of extra regular-season games is not necessarily smart. Doing so could cause his calf to become reaggravated, and/or lead to something even more devastating.
On that note, it is reasonable to argue that the Los Angeles Lakers earning the top seed is not an absolute must.
Health is of the utmost importance if they hope to repeat as champions.
Unfortunately, because of health and safety protocols, the Lakers have needed to have a couple of players sit out as well. The most recent case of this is floor general Dennis Schröder, who is still going to need to be out another couple of contests before returning to action.
One can only hope that the team does not have to have any other players miss time due to the persistent nature of the pandemic. Let alone that element, though, AD’s status right now is truly the primary reason L.A. does not need to worry about overtaking a team like Utah.
Based on last year’s results, what the Lakers are capable of when Davis is healthy speaks for itself. Accordingly, the Lakers should prioritize in terms of thinking ahead to the playoffs above all else.
Winning it all is the goal at the end of the day. That is the bottom line. Therefore, despite it being nice to have that glitzy status as the No. 1 seed, the Lakers must keep in mind the bigger picture.