Play-In berth will massively benefit the Lakers

LA's appearance in the Play-In will give them an unexpected opportunity.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the final day of the NBA regular season on Sunday, much uncertainty still loomed regarding the Los Angeles Lakers and their fate. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company were already locked into a Play-In spot, but it was undecided whether they would be playing at home or away, or whether they would need one win or two to make the playoffs.

Now, after beating the New Orleans Pelicans on the road, the Lakers will hang around town for a few more days to take them on again in the seven-eight matchup on Tuesday evening. Should LA emerge victorious once again, they will earn the seven seed and be matched up with the defending champion Denver Nuggets in round one.

We have seen the team's somewhat lackadaisical approach to the Play-In for weeks now, which was enough to cause anxiety for much of the Lakers fanbase. But now, LA will need just a single win to be assured a spot in the eight-team Western Conference playoff field. Avoiding the nine and ten seeds for the Play-In was a massive win for the Lakers.

Lakers will benefit greatly from earning the eight seed

But there is an even bigger advantage that LA gained with the results from around the league on Sunday. Now that the Nuggets dropped to the two seed and the Oklahoma City Thunder rose to the top spot, the Lakers will have a choice to make.

Obviously, the winner of Tuesday's Pelicans-Lakers game will advance to play the two seed in Denver. But considering that would be a significantly harder matchup for LA, would the Lakers dare try to lose that game on purpose? Doing so would ensure that if they did win their next Play-In game and advance to the playoffs, they would be matched up with the Thunder as the eight seed.

The Lakers match up much better with Oklahoma City than they do with Denver, and we saw LA dominate contests against the young Thunder squad multiple times this season. It would certainly be a more favorable draw for the Lakers, but losing on purpose of course presents a massive risk.

If LA were to let the Pelicans have the win to give them the matchup with the Nuggets, the Lakers would have to be absolutely positive they would win the final Play-In game against either the Kings or Warriors. That decision would certainly be questionable at best just off the fact that Sacramento and Golden State have both been wildly successful against the Lake Show this season, owning a combined 7-1 record against LA.

Still, with the Timberwolves' loss that bumped them down to third and moved the Thunder up to first in the standings, the Lakers now have more freedom to choose what happens to them. If they do want to take the risky strategy and avoid Denver at all costs, they can absolutely go for it. If the pieces all fall into place for them, it could lead to a second consecutive improbable playoff run.