Lakers win sets up ideal Play-In Tournament bracket, doomsday playoff scenario

The Lakers dominated the Pelicans in their regular season finale, but it set up a nightmare playoff scenario. 
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James / Tyler Kaufman/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers felt destined for the nine versus ten game after losing to the Warriors to begin the final week of the regular season, but everything broke right from there. LeBron James led them to two straight victories, and the franchise got plenty of help to finish eighth in the Western Conference. They had to win against the Pelicans on the final day of the regular season, and they dominated in New Orleans.

Moving up to eight was massive in the current Play-In Tournament format. The Lakers now have to lose two straight to be eliminated. If they win their first game, LA is the seventh seed. A loss followed by a win on Friday secures them the eighth seed. The teams in ninth and tenth must win two straight if they want to qualify for the playoffs and can only be the eighth seed.

LeBron and Anthony Davis were not letting the Lakers lose on Sunday afternoon. King James had a 28-point triple-double with five steals as AD led the way with 30 points. It was a total team effort. They raced out to a massive lead and never looked back. The victory set Los Angles up for the perfect Play-In Tournament, but the worst possible playoff matchup awaits.

Lakers get rematch against Pelicans in Play-In Tournament

LA’s win coupled with the Suns' defeating the Timberwolves on the final day of the regular season set up a second straight meeting between the Lakers and Pelicans in the seven versus eight showdown. They will square off again in the Big Easy on Tuesday night.

No franchise wants to be in the play-in, but consider this matchup a massive advantage for the Lakers. LeBron James and company dominated the Pelicans in the semifinals of the In-Season Tournament and again to close the regular season. Both contests had a bit of extra juice and neither was close. LA won three of four meetings against New Orleans this season and seems to have all the answers against Zion Williamson and company.

The winner on Tuesday advances to the playoffs as the seventh seed and sets up a matchup against the team nobody wants to face in the Western Conference.

Lakers face Nuggets in 1st round of playoffs if they defeat Pelicans in play-in

The defending champions topped the Grizzlies on the final day of the regular season, but it was the Timberwolves' loss to Phoenix that pushed Denver into second. Oklahoma City is the top seed in the Western Conference, and Minnesota slipped to third. It will be Timberwolves versus Suns in the opening round. The Nuggets will face the winner of the Lakers and Pelicans battle in the Play-In Tournament.

Denver swept LeBron James and company in the Western Conference Finals last season. The Lakers have no answers for Nikola Jokic, and the Nuggets are their worst possible matchup. LA cannot lose to the Pelicans and risk a one-off game against the winner of the Warriors versus Kings, but facing the Nuggets feels like a certain first-round playoff exit.

Can head coach Darvin Ham change the matchups this year? They have more ball handling, and Ham will shorten his playoff rotations. It would be a massive upset, but never rule out LeBron.

An early playoff exit will force changes for the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans should feel fantastic about them making the playoffs after dominating the Pelicans in two of their biggest games of the season. Anthony Davis injured his back late in Sunday's game, so fans will await word on his status. The Nuggets await if the Lakers win on Tuesday night, but LA put themselves in this position by underperforming for most of the season.