Are the Lakers scared enough of the Nuggets to tank a play-in game?

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

Now that the seeds are finalized we can start analyzing matchups and potential paths forward for playoff teams. One thing that immediately jumped out was the Nuggets getting the number two seed, which means they’ll play the winner of the first play-in game between the Pelicans and Lakers.

Normally, teams in the play-in have gone all-out to win every game, doing everything in their power to secure their spot in the playoffs and worrying about the rest later. The loser of the Lakers/Pelicans game will get another shot, but still, that would mean facing a one-game do-or-die scenario to battle for their playoff lives. 

They could potentially risk going home at the hands of the Kings or Warriors. So no matter how confident a team is, it’s hard to rule out Stephen Curry going nuclear for 48 minutes and suddenly your season is over. So this should be an easy decision, right?

So why would the Lakers consider losing?

Well, not so fast my friends. The Lakers have lost nine games in a row to the Nuggets, including getting swept this regular season and getting swept out of the playoffs last season. There’s no way to spin it; the Nuggets are just a horrible matchup for the Lakers. Their guards are toast against Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon is a solid matchup for LeBron, and Jokic and the Nuggets have the size to give AD trouble.

If the Lakers' ambition is to win a title, which it is, then they will likely have to go through Denver eventually. But there’s a case to be made for them trying to game the system and avoid the Nuggets for as long as possible. They could hope the Nuggets run into some health issues, or perhaps another team can upset them.

This might actually make sense for the Lakers

Beyond Denver, there really isn’t another team in the West that should scare the Lakers too much. They may not be favored against every other team, but I’d imagine they’d at least like their chances. But not against the Nuggets.

Furthermore, if the Lakers get the 8 seed instead of 7 they would face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. This would be a dream come true for the Lakers as they’ve owned the undersized and inexperienced Thunder. They would be as close to favorites as any 8 seed could ever be.

While it may seem like blasphemy to suggest a team would intentionally lose a play-in game, there is a compelling case to be made in this situation. They could rest LeBron and AD for a few extra days and keep them in Los Angeles to get ready for the game on Friday night which they would host. Then with a win they’d set up an ideal path for them to make a run.

Ok but do the Lakers actually have the gall to do it?

On the other hand, it would be an unprecedented amount of risk and display of fear. Would they really intentionally leave their entire season up to one game? All of this is also assuming they can beat the Pelicans in New Orleans just by choosing to do so. 

At the end of the day, I can’t imagine they’ll actually tank this game, but at the same time, I don’t think they’d be too upset with a loss. If things aren’t going their way early I could see coach Darvin Ham and company taking their foot off the gas and resting up for a shot at the 8 seed. It would certainly be a cowardly move, but if there was ever a team to do it, this would be it.