This year's Eastern Conference is so deep, talented, and clogged that you can really differentiate the top teams and say that being in the #1 seed is the best position, especially with someone like the Brooklyn Nets in a play-in spot. Obviously, some teams could be jockeying and even losing on purpose, so they get a more favorable matchup in the first round, and it's not the first time teams are doing it. In the early 2000s, the Lakers, who are considered to be some of the best teams in history, used this tactic, as Shaquille O'Neal revealed.
Phil would rest Shaq
The TNT Tuesday crew were sharing their opinion on the tight playoff race in the East this year, as they naturally came to the topic of teams getting strategic, throwing games, and eyeing who they would like to face in the playoffs. Wade doesn't like that move, while Shaq approved, as he even shared how Phil would do that with the championship Lakers by resting Shaq:
"I played with a guy in Phil Jackson that did that. He knows how we won all our championships, we never had to play Utah. But when we first got there, he told the team as well. He told me, he pulled me aside, said 'Shaq take these two games off… And then when you come back I need you to get 40'… The man had a great resume so I listened. For me, it was like getting rest."
Shaquille O'Neal, NBA On TNT
Who would have known that a team so dominant, with guys like Shaq, Kobe, Fox, Fisher, and Horry, wanted to avoid someone in the postseason? But even the best have their Achillies heel, and for that Lakers team, it was the Utah Jazz led by Karl Malone and John Stockton.
While the Lakers were still forming their team and building their championship pedigree, the experienced Jazz would destroy them in the playoffs in 1997 and 1998. The pick and roll of Stockton and Malone, with some nice side pieces like Russell, Ostertag, Carr, and Hornacek, presented a tough matchup for these Lakers.
So from 2000 to 2002, the Lakers and the Jazz would never be on the same side of the bracket until at least the WCF, and to the Lakers' luck, they never managed to get back there after the 1998 Finals. Even though Malone and Stockton were at the very end of their careers, they were still keeping the Jazz at a high level and competitive. Still, it's hard to believe they could have taken down the powerhouse Lakers in the 2000s.
But the "Zen Master" Phil Jackson didn't want to take any risks, and it paid off. He would rest his big man and get him fresh for the playoffs while manipulating where they would land in the standings. Some would call it strategic genius, while others would call it a bit cowardly, but hey, if it gives results, you can't bash it.