If the NBA decides to cap the regular season at 70 games upon its return, the Lakers would likely hold onto that top spot, setting them up for a first-round matchup with the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies, or at least that’s what would happen under normal circumstances. However, given the fact that circumstances have been anything but normal for everyone this season, that may no longer be the case for the Lakers.
According to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Wednesday, the NBA is discussing a playoff scenario where the top eight teams from each conference advance to the postseason, as usual, but they’d be joined by four additional teams from the Western Conference: the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs. So, in total, there would be 20 teams, as opposed to the usual 16.
Whether the rumored 20 teams play in the “World Cup style” tournament with a group stage or a traditional play-in style tournament, there’s a good chance the Lakers will play a team they wouldn’t have otherwise played as a result of the four teams being added. Let’s use the Portland Trail Blazers as an example.
Of the four teams that could possibly be added to the postseason, the Trail Blazers are the only team that has a player ranked in the top five in points per game: Damian Lillard. Last time the Lakers played the Trail Blazers, Lillard put up 48 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds and 2 steals, and Portland won 127-119.
To be clear, one player doesn’t make up for an entire team, as we saw in the Lakers’ two matchups with the Blazers before that game, but Portland is expected to have Jusuf Nurkic in the starting lineup next time they take the court. Nurkic, the team’s third-leading scorer from last season, hasn’t played this season due to a gruesome injury he suffered last season. Zach Collins is also expected to return and bolster their front court depth.
Is that enough to get past the Lakers in a first-round playoff matchup? Probably not, but they’re arguably a bigger threat than the young Grizzlies. The same could be said of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have two legitimate stars on their roster in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.
The games would probably be more fun, but as a Lakers fan, the last thing you want to see is a close first-round series, especially with a 35-year-old LeBron James. Let’s hope that a revamped playoff format doesn’t make things too hard for the Lakers in the front end of their title race.