Lakers’ Road to No. 1: Strategies for Securing Top Seed in NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Round

Here’s what to know about where the Lakers’ stand heading into the final week of In-Season Tournament group play.

lebron james anthony davis in season tournament lakers

With their 107-96 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers improved to 3-0 in the NBA In-Season Tournament, having previously defeated the Phoenix Suns (Nov. 10) and Memphis Grizzlies (Nov. 14).

West Group A had “Group of Death” potential, yet now features the 7-6 Lakers and four teams outside the top eight. Of course, the Lakers have more pressing issues than winning the NBA Cup, but they seem to appreciate the spice it adds to the regular season.

“I think it makes for interesting games,” said Darvin Ham. “Definitely raises the intensity on what would normally be just a normal, run-of-the-mill regular season game. … I think it’s been great thus far. But again, our top priority is try to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.”

“I think it’s an incentive, for sure,” LeBron added after dropping 35 points in Portland. “We understand what’s at stake. It’s not something — we’re putting all our eggs in one basket in the in-season tournament. But we know when the games come, every Tuesday and Friday, we know what it’s about, we know what’s at stake. So, it’s been good for us so far.”

5 Lakers thoughts after their first 5 games of NBA season

In that particular quote, LeBron isn’t referring to the $500,000 cash prize awarded to the victors of the championship in Las Vegas on Dec. 9 (sidebar: can’t you just see LeBron adding inaugural NBA Cup winner/In-Season Tournament MVP — at the site of his possible future expansion franchise — to his résumé?). That said, the Lakers certainly seem motivated by the Money in the Bank component.

Rather, LeBron is focused on — after the Houston Rockets on Sunday — securing the highest possible seed in the Knockout Round, which would give the Lakers’ home-court advantage in the quarterfinals (Dec. 4-5). The Lakers will host the Utah Jazz this week in their final group play matchup.

“We understand about how we want to protect home,” James said. “When we get to Tuesday, we look forward to that.”

Thanks to two blowout wins, the Lakers currently own the bracket’s best point differential (+42). If the Lakers defeat the Jazz, they’ll clinch West Group A. If Los Angeles loses, both teams will be 3-1, with head-to-head record breaking the tie. In that scenario, the Lakers would need point differential to advance them to the next round as the lone “wild card” selection from the Western Conference. Their single-elimination quarterfinal game would be on the road.

If the Lakers handle the Jazz, point differential will determine their seed. The 2-0 Milwaukee Bucks (+36) are the only other team with a point differential better than plus-27, though a skew of teams have two group-stage games left. The Boston Celtics (2-0, +17), Miami Heat (2-0, +13), Indiana Pacers (2-0, +11), Sacramento Kings (2-0, +16), and Minnesota Timberwolves (2-0, +10) are still in the mix to finish with undefeated records and a better point differential than the Lakers.

Bottomline for the Lakers: Take care of business against Utah and they’re safely in the Knockout Round. Regardless of the margin of victory, they’ll be a top-four seed and host a quarterfinal game. Maybe they’ll shoot the lights out again on the aggressively yellow hardwood of Crypto.com Arena.

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