The Los Angeles Lakers were not supposed to make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season. For most of the 2022-23 season, it did not look like Los Angeles even had a chance of sniffing the playoffs, let alone making a deep run.
It all changed when the front office reinvented the roster at the trade deadline, getting rid of Russell Westbrook and bringing in a new young core. The results spoke for themselves and now the Lakers enter the 2023-24 season with a similar core that is ready to make a deeper run.
While the first half of the season was a disappointment, there were still some very important games from that stretch that helped the team get as far as it did. The most important arguably came all the way back in November when Matt Ryan, who was recently driving for DoorDash before being signed to the Lakers, nailed a clutch three to send the game into overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans. Los Angeles would eventually win.
Ryan did not last the entire season in Los Angeles but he did spend time with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite his strong shooting efforts last season, Ryan did not land a deal with an NBA team during the initial wave of free agency. That all changed on Tuesday, as Ryan finally agreed to a two-way deal with Minnesota to stay in the NBA.
Matt Ryan had a significant impact on the Lakers’ playoff run last season
Ryan’s clutch three-pointer in November is a firm reminder to fans that every game matters in an NBA season. If Ryan had clanked that three off the back iron then there would have been big changes to the seeding for the NBA Play-In Tournament, assuming everything else that season went the same.
Los Angeles ended the regular season as the seventh seed and got to host the Timberwolves (ironically) in the first Play-In Tournament game. The Lakers were one game better than both the Timberwolves and Pelicans, who both finished with a 42-40 record.
If Ryan missed that three then New Orleans would have been the seventh seed with a 43-39 record and the Lakers would have been tied with Minnesota. The Timberwolves actually owned the tiebreaker over the Lakers as they won two of the three matchups between the two teams last season.
Thus, if Ryan doesn’t make that shot then the Lakers would have been the ninth seed in the Western Conference. LA would have had to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder at home in the first play-in game and then would have had to play the loser of the Pelicans and Timberwolves on the road to make the playoffs as the eighth seed.
And even if they won that, they would have gone into the playoffs and played the Denver Nuggets in the first round. It is safe to say that Denver would have won that first-round playoff series considering the team swept Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers not only wouldn’t have made the Western Conference Finals without Matt Ryan last season, the team may not have even won a playoff game. Lakers fans should be thankful and should be happy that he is sticking around in the NBA.