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Pride or Playing the Percentages?

March 27, 2006 | 12:52 pm

With ten games left, those who put in for playoff tickets are breathing relatively easy. Not that the Lakers should rest on their laurels or begin starting a Devin Green-Von Wafer-Aaron McKie-Jim Jackson-Ronny Turiaf lineup (they're going really small). But barring injury or some monumental collapse, they're wading in reasonably safe waters. The team's in a pretty nice groove at the moment. And save Sacto, nobody trailing behind seems capable of back to back wins, much less a threatening win streak. No slacking allowed, because every game still counts big and bad. But assuming the Lakers treat their business as such, I have a hard time picturing a 9th seed finish.

That being said, I don't see them rising past 7, either. Never say never, especially since they could do some damage by beating their Staples roommates on April 9th. But both Memphis and the Clips are playing pretty well. The Clips are deep enough to absorb Cat Mobley's ankle injury. Pau Gasol and Mike Miller are making life without Damon Stoudamire pretty tolerable. Therefore, I wouldn't bet your metaphorical farm, much less my own, on a 6 or 5 seed (Unless I just wanted the property off my hands, since I have absolutely no interest in farming).

But I could buy L.A. and Sacto swapping the 7 and 8 spots. And that's a scenario keeping the blog abuzz, since everyone is weighing first round pros and cons. The general consensus is that Phoenix, the probable 2 seed, will run the Lakers out of the arena. I happen to be a part of said consensus. The Lakers have crapped it up against teams like Atlanta, who don't even run particularly well, but do it all game like decapitated chickens. Against the Suns, a team that actually knows what they're doing, I give the Lakers worse odds than me hooking up with Scarlett Johansson. By getting the 8 seed, they'll theoretically face the Spurs or Mavs. Both tough match ups, but better on paper. The Spurs play a slower pace. Kwame's had some nice moments against Tim Duncan. And there's always a chance "Manu Girl" will return to Staples for that series, a definite plus in my mind. The appeal of Dallas can be summed up with one number: 62. I don't care how much Dallas' D has stiffened. Getting outscored by one guy stings for a while. Neither is a cakewalk. But both are undeniably better, so many folks could live with a loss or two. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs either way, they'd view a slightly worse finish as a postseason survival mechanism.

But if you're a fan, especially during a season where a title is unlikely, would you prefer the team finish as strong as possible and let the chips fall as they may? Does the idea of a 7 seed provide more bragging rights and pride on the season? And can you stomach the idea of finishing behind the Kings? Cow Town/Cow bells? Tainted cheeseburgers? Mike Bibby's dance? You're cool lagging behind them in the "W" department? And for those "Kobe for MVP" campaigners working overtime, the lower the Lakers finish, the less likely Kobe will clear space on his mantle come May. And it's not like the Lakers are a lock to win against either Texas squad, anyway. If the same first round exit is a possibility against all three teams, does it really make a difference if it's a 4, 5, 6 or 7 game defeat? Wouldn't a better overall record provide you with a bigger sense of satisfaction when it's all said and done?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Better record and rolling the dice. Worse record and a "safer route."  Both arguments have some merit. I really don't think there is a right answer, but I'd like to know what yours is.