The Lakers have done exceedingly well in the In-Season Tournament so far. In fact, they could hardly do better, going 3-0 with the best point differential in the whole tournament.
And yet, Tuesday’s contest against the Jazz could end with the Lakers out of the In-Season Tournament.
Due to tiebreakers and the Jazz going 2-1 themselves, Tuesday’s game is a sort-of defacto knockout game itself. Win and the Lakers both move on and are almost certainly the No. 1 seed in the conference. Lose and things could get hairy.
Here’s a look at the scenarios at play.
If the Lakers win...
Then everything is fine and they move on to the knockout rounds of the In-Season Tournament. And, most importantly, they’ll be one step closer to that prize money they can’t stop talking about. With their unbeaten record and a point differential that will almost assuredly rank them at the top of the conference, the Lakers will likely be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
As will be the case for most tiebreakers, point differential will be the first non-head-to-head tiebreaker and the Lakers routing the Grizzlies will be important in that regard. In the event of another win tonight, that would all but seal them being the No. 1 seed.
The Kings and Timberwolves are the only two teams still unbeaten in group play and both have a significantly worse point differential than the Lakers. Barring one of them winning in a massive blowout, the Lakers will be safe in that top spot.
If the Lakers lose...
Then things get interesting. For one, the Lakers would not win the group and automatically advance. The Jazz and Lakers would have matching 3-1 records and with head-to-head record being the first tiebreaker, Utah would move above the Lakers. Even if the Suns win the remainder of their games and also finish 3-1, their loss to Utah means there’s no rout for anyone but Utah to win the group if they win tonight.
Then, the focus turns to earning the Wild Card spot. That spot goes to the team with the best record of those remaining and the Lakers would be in a good spot if that happens.
At 3-1, that puts them in the conversation. The next tiebreaker would then be point differential which, as which mentioned earlier, the Lakers are sitting pretty with right now at +42. The next closest teams are with one loss or fewer are the two teams in Group B in the Pelicans (2-1, +23) and Nuggets (2-1, +9) and the two teams in Group C in the Kings (2-0, +16) and the Wolves (2-0, +10).
The Pelicans and Nuggets have already played one another while the Kings and Wolves, obviously, have not. The key for the Lakers if they lose on Tuesday is to not lose by bunch. Then, fans should cheer for a big loss for the likes of the Pelicans, Kings and Wolves and/or a Nuggets win that isn’t big on Tuesday and Friday.
Ultimately, though, the Lakers are positioned well to advance to the next round as long as they aren’t blown out by Utah. And really, if they are, whether they advance in the In-Season Tournament is probably low on the list of concerns.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.