Should the Lakers rest players during seeding games?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 20: LeBron James #23 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on from the bench during the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Lakers 139-107. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Lakers and the NBA are really coming back (if coronavirus allows it)! On July 30th, we will be watching basketball, albeit basketball without fans, the arenas we have come to love, or even the Golden State Warriors. Truly unprecedented times. 

Before the Lakers dive into the playoffs, they will play eight “seeding” games that will serve as an end to the 2019-20 regular season as we know it. That term of “seeding” is important, as these games will help teams jostle throughout the standings with some possibly eyeing a preferable path to the championship. Still, the most important aspect of the seeding will be the six teams fighting for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. With that being said, do the Lakers have much to fight for?

As it stands, they hold a 5.5 game lead on the currently second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers. That leaves the Lakers’ “magic number” at three, meaning the Lakers need three wins and/or losses by the Clippers to secure the top overall seed in the West.

Ramping up for the playoffs against avoiding injury

In a normal world, having a 5.5 game lead for the first seed in your conference would constitute some much needed “load management” games for at least one or two of your superstars. We’ve learned by now though, that this is not a normal world.

Instead, coronavirus has kept these players off the hardwood and even if players have stayed in shape, you’ll always hear basketball players talk about “game shape.” You hear it many times at the beginning of seasons, as players say that there is no offseason workout plan that can simulate the 24/7 schedule of playing an NBA regular season. There’s no doubt that this is on the players’ minds, including the potential for soft tissue injuries if they push themselves too hard to start. This aspect was specifically on the mind of Lakers’ own Jared Dudley, as he Tweeted this recently.

However, what if the Lakers wrap up the 1st seed promptly within the first three-to-four games? Should they possibly get a couple of days off for LeBron James? Maybe the same would be in order for Anthony Davis, who has been battered and bruised nearly all season.

The two appear to be coming in fresh, with Anthony Davis actually confirming recently that those lingering injuries are no more, but there are freak injuries that aren’t as predictable as soft tissue injuries. It’s the exact reason that these players don’t play in a majority of preseason games. Still, you’re not going to get LeBron James and Anthony Davis to sit just because you’re scared, they’re here to play ball. They’ve emphasized that over load management time and time again this season. However, LeBron James’ statement on load management from December is sort of funny and ironic given the fact that no fans will be in attendance in Orlando.

“Why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? I don’t know how many games I got left in my career. I don’t know how many kids that may show up to a game that are there to come see me play, and if I sit out, then what?”

Trust in the Lakers’ staff

Fans don’t know what’s best for these players’ bodies, and “blog boys” like myself sure as hell don’t know what’s best for these players’ bodies. I’m just here to speculate! The people that do know what’s best are, of course, the players themselves, but also the Lakers’ medical staff. Led by the newly re-hired Dr. Judy Seto, the staff has kept any of the Lakers from suffering season-ending injuries, with no one missing extended time other than Rajon Rondo missing the first nine games of the season.

If there aren’t straight-up “load management” games for LeBron, AD, or any other Lakers players, there may be some games with limited minutes for certain players. Frank Vogel sort of confirmed games where this would be the case, saying that he intends to use the full roster while in Orlando (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll).

“The goal of these seeding games is to get us going into the playoffs, and just like it would be in the normal last eight games of a regular season, to get us going to the playoffs as healthy and as sharp as we can be.”

This would mean more playing time for J.R. Smith or Dion Waiters, who have yet to play a single minute with these Lakers, or two-way players like Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Expect these eight games to vary in intensity, as the Lakers’ coaching and medical staff will figure out the best way to secure the number one overall seed, ramping up players for playoff intensity, and ensuring that everyone enters the playoffs healthy (coronavirus aside).

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