The Los Angeles Lakers may be saying that seeding isn’t that important to them, but if they want to stay where they are in the Western Conference, then their Saturday rematch against the Dallas Mavericks will be important.
After their loss in Dallas on Thursday, the fifth-place Lakers only have a 2.5-game lead on the seventh-place Mavericks, a lead that would dwindle to just 1.5 games with a loss on Saturday. They may not think their spot heading into the playoffs is all that important, but if they really want to keep their guarantee that they won’t be in the play-in tournament, a win in their final matchup against the Mavericks this season would essentially guarantee it.
Getting that victory won’t be easy. LeBron James is still out, and starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right ankle sprain) is now questionable to play in Dallas. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis (right calf strain), Andre Drummond (right big toe contusion), Markieff Morris (left ankle sprain) and Dennis Schröder (infection, right foot) are also all still on the injury report, although they’re listed as probable to play. Marc Gasol (volar plate fracture, left pinkie finger) is also questionable, but he was probably not going to play anyway with Drummond, Davis and Montrezl Harrell all likely to be available.
Still, the Lakers are clearly banged up, and while Davis actually looked as light and springy as he has all season on Thursday — which is a good sign — his offense is also still understandably rusty, and he still has a ways to go to get on the same page defensively as Drummond. There is no reason to believe that those two can’t figure it out just yet, but it may take a bit more time, so depending on how long his minutes restriction is (he only played in the first half on Thursday), Saturday may be rough.
The Mavericks are also as motivated to win a regular season game as any team can be, given their desperation to avoid a play-in and already losing the tiebreaker against the Portland Trail Blazers. If they also lose the tiebreaker to the Lakers, they’ll be nearly locked in to a potential double-elimination scenario as the seventh seed.
But all that noted, the Lakers have played admirably hard for the majority of the season, and if they come out determined to prove they should have beaten Dallas the other night, this game could tilt their way. They only lost by five in a game in which Davis was a -11 in 17 minutes. If he can just hit a few shots and start to get more back up to speed with his teammates defensively, this rematch could swing in Los Angeles’ favor.
The Lakers and Mavericks will tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT, and the game will be shown nationally on ABC, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.