Lakers newsletter: Regular season could prove to be relatively meaningless

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James dribbles during the first half of an NBA basketball game.
LeBron James
(Associated Press)

Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times. Happy early weekend everyone. I know I’m a little later than usual with this delivery of the Lakers newsletter — the one L.A. Times story where no one cares if I reference a Leon Bridges song that certainly has nothing to do with basketball.

So a couple of reasons for this week’s delay:

1) The Lakers were BUSY. Games early this week on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday as we watched and waited for the latest on LeBron James’ ankle. The games were all super fun, sometimes a little weird, and they kept us occupied.

2) I was BUSY. As I write this, I’m flying across all the states us coastal elites scoff at, en route to Connecticut for Hall of Fame inductions this week. It’s a sign that nature is healing. I’m back on the road, excited to attend this event and privately complaining that it’s not being held at a Marriott-related property.

Oh, and I was almost late to the airport, which was way more crowded than I anticipated.

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But anyway, we’re up in the air, so let’s get to it.

The Lakers are ruining the NBA

Get your attention?

OK, so they’re not actually ruining the NBA. They, alongside the Brooklyn Nets, just have an opportunity to shape the perceived value of the league’s regular season with how they perform in the upcoming weeks.

While the playoffs are of supreme importance compared to the regular season — the reward for winning earlier in the season are advantages to help you win later. The Lakers’ bizarre season (and the Nets’ sorta weird year too) threaten to disrupt the idea that the regular season matters.

The Lakers have had their preferred starting lineup together for just one game — on April 30 against Sacramento. Talk of on-court chemistry and building continuity has given way to the team just trying to get as many players healthy by next week as possible.

Wesley Matthews high-fives LeBron James.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“It’s been on-the-job training for almost everybody in this organization this season,” Wesley Matthews said this week.

He’s not lying. And those mistakes that coaches and players try to iron out during the season and practices? They’re probably going to show up at some unfortunate times, whether during the play-in tournament or during the playoffs themselves.

But talent is talent, and with maybe the exception of the Clippers, the Lakers are going to be more talented than any team they’ll play in the West. If that talent prevails and if the Lakers look, say, fresher than the competition, there’s going to be a lot of talk about whether their lost regular season was actually beneficial.

The Nets have had the benefit of winning despite their injuries, their top-line talent unmatched in the NBA. But still, Brooklyn’s trio of stars — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — have started only eight games together this season.

If the two teams meet in the NBA Finals, a popular bet earlier in the season, it’ll be because those teams also used the postseason to aid in their quest for continuity. The road for the Lakers is going to be tougher — there won’t be a lot of time for experimentation against the likes of the Utah Jazz or Phoenix Suns.

Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
(Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

But it’ll be hard to pick against the Lakers because of James and Anthony Davis despite the other unknowns — like how they truly fit with Andre Drummond and how Dennis Schroder is going to look once he returns from the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols.

Normally, the regular season provides us with some answers heading into the playoffs, but if you’re a believer in the Lakers, it’s because of what you think this team can be — not what this team has shown .

Playoff primer

OK, so here’s how things stand heading into the weekend.

The Lakers are in seventh place, needing to move up one spot to avoid the NBA’s play-in tournament. They trail Portland and Dallas by one game each, but that’s kind of irrelevant because the Lakers lose tie-breaker scenarios to both teams after losing three-game series to each team this year.

It’s simple from there.

If Portland loses both their remaining games and the Lakers win both of theirs, they move up. Same goes for Dallas. The Mavericks play the Raptors and the Timberwolves. Losing both seems unlikely. Portland’s road is tougher —they play at Phoenix and then host Denver. But, again, with the way they’re playing, losing both seems unlikely, though not impossible.

It’s why the play-in tournament is a probability.

A quick word on the format: the seventh-place team will host the eighth-place team, the winning team becoming the No. 7 seed. The ninth-place team will play the 10th-place team, the winner of that game playing the loser of the seven-eight contest. Whoever wins that game becomes the No. 8 seed.


Kobe coverage

Kobe Bryant watches a tribute video at Staples Center before the final game of his career.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Be sure to keep checking this page for all of our coverage in the lead up to and following Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction.

Song of the Week

Across the Room – ODESZA (feat. Leon Bridges)

As I fly across the country, I popped on this mellow jam from electronic artist ODESZA with Leon Bridges on vocals (I love a good Leon Bridges song). I don’t veer out of my “dad rock” lane too often these days, but when I do, it’s for stuff like this.

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Until next time...

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