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The Lakers want to avoid the play-in game, but are more concerned with playing their best basketball

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The Lakers are confident they can repeat as champions, no matter where they end up in the Western Conference playoff bracket.

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New York Knickerbokers vs. the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Even before the Lakers scratched and clawed their way to an overtime win against the Knicks with just one healthy point guard, Frank Vogel made it clear what the team’s intentions were down the stretch of the regular season. Fans and pundits like yours truly can make the case that the team ending up in the play-in game could be a blessing in disguise, but the Lakers themselves are still trying to do whatever they can to avoid it.

“We’re still competing each game to give ourselves a chance. I don’t really like to get into must-wins and whatnot, but we have an opportunity to win a game tonight to give ourselves a chance to finish in the top six,” Vogel told reporters pregame. “That’s our goal. That’s our hope.”

The Lakers accomplished that short-term goal on Tuesday night, keeping their chances of finishing in sixth place alive with their victory over New York. They still need to be nearly perfect in their last three games to have a chance, but they are still in the hunt to pass the Portland Trail Blazers or Dallas Mavericks in the standings, allowing them to avoid the play-in.

But while Lakers point guard Alex Caruso says the team is more concerned with their health than where they end up in the standings, he told Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet that they still would like to avoid the play-in, even if they aren’t afraid of it.

“We’re trying to win games now. We would like to not play in the play-in game. I think anybody who is trying to make the playoffs doesn’t want to play in the play-in game,” Caruso said. “But we’re not afraid of it.”

Why not? Because Caruso says the Lakers are “confident that when we play our best we’re the best team in the world.” He says they’ve showed that in “spurts” throughout the year, and believes they can channel that quality when the games matter most.

“I mean, we’re a good-ass team, Mike,” Caruso told Trudell. “We’re locking in, we’re getting ready for the long road ahead.”

And as long as the Lakers are healthy for that road, Caruso says the team likes their chances, play-in game or no play-in game.

“AD is starting to get healthy, Bron is getting back to his normal self, and we’ll get Dennis back and we’ll get rolling again,” Caruso said. “For us it’s just about getting to the point where we’re playing our best basketball a couple weeks from now.”

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.