The play-in tournament is on, and not a few observers have seen fit to wonder how the Lakers will approach their match against the Pelicans today. It bears noting that a win would get them a first-round appointment with the Nuggets, over whom they have not prevailed in nine straight meetings. Not counting regular season set-tos, there remains the 0-4 ignominy they were subjected to in last year’s Western Conference Finals by the eventual National Basketball Association (NBA) champions. Which, in a nutshell, is why talk of them avoiding an early series versus their foils has gained momentum.

Admittedly, there is cause for the Lakers to think about maneuvering for the West’s eighth spot instead of a guaranteed seventh in order to gain a better matchup. After all, their strengths are accentuated vis-a-vis the top-draw Thunder’s inexperience and lack of size and speed. That said, the idea of taking one step back to subsequently move two steps forward is not without risk. Even without considering all the negatives arising from deliberately folding, they may well be going out of the frying pan and into the fire — what with a dangerous do-or-die battle awaiting them next.

Indeed, staking the start of a hopefully deep postseason run on a knockout encounter, where anything can happen, is tantamount to flirting with disaster. And that’s not even taking into account the winning records the competition has against the Lakers this season. Nothing is certain in the league, and the fickleness of fate is highlighted with either the Warriors or the Kings standing between them and advancement. Their situation isn’t like, say, the Cavaliers, who put up such a sterling tank job versus the supposedly hapless Hornets on the last day of the regular season just to fall to fourth in the East and avoid facing either the Sixers or the Heat with a higher seeding.

All signs point to the Lakers aiming to triumph today, their prospective date with the Nuggets notwithstanding. They didn’t hold practice on the eve of the game, opting instead to rest their legs. And while presumptive All-NBA Second Team selection Anthony Davis has been downgraded from “probable” to “questionable” due to a back ailment, he did say “there’s no doubt that I’m going to play … Get some massages, get some treatment, just keep it loose.” In other words, they fully understand the stakes involved, and they’re ready for whatever challenge comes their way.

Are the Lakers being foolhardy? The answer depends on perspective. The bottom line is that they know all roads go through the Nuggets, and it’s fair to contend that they’ll be better equipped for the seemingly Sisyphean endeavor when they’re relatively fresher. They’re confident in any case, and, if nothing else, they believe in themselves.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.