Last season, when the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th championship, they finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed with 3.5 games separating them from the No. 2 seed, the LA Clippers. In fact, once the Lakers took hold of the No. 1 seed on Nov. 1, 2019, they never lost it again.
This season, their place in the Western Conference isn’t nearly as certain. With 12 games left on their regular season schedule, the Lakers are seeded at the No. 5 spot in the West and they’re closer to the No. 8 seed than they are the No. 4 seed.
Additionally, if the Lakers end their regular season with the same record as the No. 6 seed, the Dallas Mavericks — who are currently 1.5 games behind them — they’ll take the lower of the two seeds because they lost the tiebreaker on Saturday. They have zero margin for error if they want to finish as the No. 5 seed or higher, and it’s safe to assume they do.
However, they also don’t seem all that concerned about potentially falling to a lower seed. After the Lakers’ loss to the Mavericks on Saturday, Kuzma reiterated that playoff seeding is the least of his worries.
“I think seeding matters for a lot of other teams in the league; I don’t think it matters much for us,” Kuzma said. “Obviously we’re declining (in the standings) and we’ve got to just figure it out ... We’ve only got 12 games left and we’ve just got to keep pushing and keep figuring it out. Get AD’s legs under him and get wins.”
Kuzma said his confidence stems from the expectation that his team will be fully healthy when the playoffs start in less than a month.
“We haven’t had our two best players and two players that this team is built around, so you add those guys to the mix and we can all go back to our programmed role,” Kuzma said. “I think we’ll be all right as you saw in the first half of the season... We’ll get back there, we’ve just got to get healthy.”
Given the amount of proven talent the Lakers have on their roster this year, Kuzma has every right to feel the way he does. He also saw firsthand how much James and Davis can elevate their games in the postseason.
But there’s no denying that a first-round matchup with the Jamal Murray-less Denver Nuggets would be easier for them than a first-round matchup with one of the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns or LA Clippers — and if giving James and Davis ample time to ramp up is the No. 1 priority for this team, they should want an easier first-round matchup.
If seeding isn’t the most important thing for the Lakers, that’s fine; it shouldn’t be. To say that seeding doesn’t mean anything is a little naive, though. The top-three seeds in the Western Conference are all really good and have fewer things working against them than the Lakers currently do, so hopefully the Lakers can accomplish exactly what Kuzma wants them to in these last 12 games: Get AD’s legs under him and win games.