The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with the 7th spot in the Western Conference, something utterly unthinkable at the beginning of the season.
Injuries and inconsistency played a significant role in the Lakers dropping to the play-in tournament months after fighting for the top spots in the conference. However, this doesn't mean that they will be an easy rival to face in the postseason.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis fully healthy, the purple and gold are a threat for anybody in the West, and teams used different strategies to avoid them until later in the playoffs. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers rested their players in recent games, which affected their position in the standings. The Denver Nuggets did the same, setting the alarms around the league.
While NBA fans think this was a move to avoid the Lakers in the first stages of the postseason, Jared Dudley believes this is only a strategy, and he understands where this comes from (5:41).
“Some people are avoiding,” he said after the Lakers beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. “For Denver, I’d say it was smart. For them to win this game and play Portland instead of us. You don’t want to play the champs. It’s not avoiding. You want to wait to play the best teams later on. Give themselves the best possible chance. I don’t call it avoiding, I just call it good strategy.”
The Lakers couldn't avoid the play-in tournament and now will have to face the Golden State Warriors to make it to the playoffs. If they win the first game, they will go against the Phoenix Suns that shocked everybody this season. If they make it to the postseason as the 8th seed, then the Utah Jazz will have to see the team that everybody tried to avoid.
As for the Clippers, they will go against the Dallas Mavericks, while the Nuggets will face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.