Lakers have perfect blueprint to reach NBA Finals thanks to team legend

The Lakers should follow the Heat’s path from 2023 to have their best shot at winning the West.
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James, Darvin Ham
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James, Darvin Ham / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the Play-In Tournament for the second straight year. They secured eighth with a win in their finale against the Pelicans and will remain in New Orleans for a rematch to begin the play-in. LeBron James and company will be significant favorites to get the seventh seed, but can they make a deep playoff run?

LeBron led his team on one last year. They defeated the Timberwolves to secure the seventh seed before defeating the Grizzlies and Warriors to reach the conference finals. The Lakers were swept by the eventual champion Nuggets, but it was still an impressive and improbable run.

If the Lakers take the same path, Denver awaits in the first round of the playoffs. LA has zero answers for Nikola Jokic and would be massive underdogs in that series. The Lakers must steal a page out of Pat Riley and the Miami Heat’s playbook, and it could lead to an ever-deeper run.

Lakers should follow the 2023 Heat’s plan to maximize their playoff odds

The Heat were seventh in the Eastern Conference standings last season and lost to the Hawks in the Play-In Tournament. It pushed them into a win-or-go-home contest against the Bulls. Miami needed a fourth-quarter comeback to grab the eighth seed before upsetting the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics on their way to the NBA Finals. Jimmy Butler and his team were no match for the Nuggets, but they set the blueprint.

The Lakers do not want to tangle with the Nuggets in round one, so losing their first Play-In game could be advantageous. They would host the winner of Warriors versus Kings, which is scary. Both teams have proven capable of beating LA, but winning that contest sets LeBron James and company up with a favorable path.

The top-seeded Thunder lack playoff experience and struggle against size. Anthony Davis and LeBron could feast as the Lakers pull the upset. The winner of Dallas versus the Clippers would await in the conference semifinals with the Nuggets looming on the other half of the bracket.

There is no telling who would be healthy by that stage. The Heat took advantage of injuries to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum to reach the NBA Finals. It takes a lot of skill and some luck to make a deep playoff run. The Lakers got some to finish eighth and need more to go deep into the postseason.

2024 Lakers and 2023 Heat share several similarities

This season’s Lakers and last year’s Heat were coming off conference finals appearances and underperformed expectations to be in the Play-In Tournament. Both finished 27th or below in 3-point percentage and had offensive issues.

Jimmy Butler raised his game in the playoffs to lift his team to the NBA Finals. The Lakers will need LeBron James to do the same. King James has won four rings and is no stranger to deep playoff runs. Both have All-Star big man and pieces around their top options. LA has the talent, but it won’t be easy. Can they follow the Heat’s plan and make a deep playoff run? Expect the Lakers to try.

There will be changes this summer if the Los Angeles Lakers make a quick postseason exit. LeBron James turns 40 this year and has zero time to wait. The franchise could pull off a blockbuster trade this summer, so stay tuned.