Lakers shrug at playoff seedings, don't feel like 'underdogs'

MEMPHIS -- For just the second time in LeBron James' 16 trips to the NBA playoffs, he'll start off a first-round series on the road Sunday when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Grizzlies (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

While the Lakers are the No. 7 seed facing off against No. 2 Memphis, L.A.'s leaders don't see a major disparity between the two teams.

"I think seeding doesn't matter," Lakers big man Anthony Davis said after practice Saturday on the auxiliary court at FedEx Forum. "Once you get in, it's all about matchups and things like that. We don't look at ourselves as underdogs, obviously."

The Lakers enter the playoffs as winners of 10 of their last 12 games, and 19 of their last 29, capped by Tuesday's 108-102 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Back in 2018, when James was asked about his Cleveland Cavaliers potentially not having home court advantage in their first-round series, he said, "If I come into your building for a Game 1, it can be very challenging." On Saturday, he echoed Davis' point about the playoffs providing a blank slate.

"It's 16 teams in the postseason, and there's opportunity for all 16," James said. "Everyone's record is 0-0 now and we're playing against a very worthy opponent and we respect them a lot. So we just got to be ready for the challenge."

Memphis is paced by All-Star guard Ja Morant, whose play has only risen in two trips to the playoffs thus far, upping his regular-season averages from 22.4 points and 7.4 assists to 28.2 points and 9.2 assists per game in the postseason.

It also has a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Jaren Jackson Jr. and a budding star in Desmond Bane.

The Grizzlies ranked No. 3 in defensive rating (the Lakers were 12th), No. 11 in offensive rating (the Lakers were 19th) and second in fastbreak points per game (the Lakers were fourth).

Lakers coach Darvin Ham stressed that the Lakers' mindset will matter as much as their schemes.

"At the end of the day, if you go out with energy, effort and urgency, and you're ready to compete, usually that figures itself out," Ham said.

The Grizzlies finished with a 51-31 record, compared with L.A.'s 43-39 mark, but the Lakers went 2-1 against Memphis during the regular season, including a 122-121 win at Crypto.com Arena on Jan. 20 when the Grizzlies came in riding an 11-game win streak.

Ham also believed that the series is anybody's ballgame.

"We see playoff teams drop home games all the time, and it feels like it's a fair playing field," Ham said. "We've got a healthy team, a healthy, deep, talented roster."

The last time the Lakers made the postseason, in 2021, they were also the No. 7 seed and had a 2-1 lead over the No. 2 seeded Phoenix Suns before Davis suffered a groin injury and the Suns won in six games.

Since the NBA expanded the postseason to 16 teams in 1984, No. 7 seeds have won 5 of 78 first-round series (6%). Since 2003, when the first round went to a best-of-seven series, the only 7-seed to beat a 2-seed is the 2010 Spurs.

James stewed over the Lakers' failure to qualify for the playoffs last season, claiming to have tuned into each and every single postseason game from the outside looking in.

When asked if the postseason ever gets old, James, a 20-year veteran, replied, "No, never."

Then he was asked what he missed the most about the playoffs when the Lakers didn't make it last season.

He replied: "I'd rather play in them than watch them."