The Los Angeles Lakers have done nearly everything they could to avoid the play-in tournament over the last calendar week, short of beating the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday in their final game of the year. However, as a result of their close loss to the Portland Trail Blazers a week ago, their fate isn’t just up to them. It also rests in the hands of the Denver Nuggets.
You see, the Blazers are tied with the Lakers in the standings at 41-30, and play the Nuggets in their final game of the season. If the Nuggets win AND the Lakers beat the Pelicans on Sunday, the Lakers would be the sixth seed and face the Nuggets (the No. 3 seed) in the first round. If the Nuggets lose to the Blazers, however, they could guarantee they avoid the Lakers in the first round and ensure they face the Blazers instead.
If that sounds confusing, let my friend Mike Trudell of Lakers.com try to explain:
With today’s win, LAL scenarios:— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) May 15, 2021
- Win vs. NOP + POR loss vs. DEN, LAL get 6 seed. They’d play DEN in Round 1 if so.
- Lose vs. NOP or POR beats DEN, LAL are in play-in. If they win play-in, they’d play PHX (if Utah wins at SAC) or Utah (if Utah loses and PHX wins at SAS).
Or, to put it even more simply, replace “the 3 seed” with “the Lakers” in this tweet and you should have an idea of what tomorrow’s game between Portland and Denver may look like.
Clippers and Nuggets tanking to avoid the 3 seed pic.twitter.com/GeLNrXZakA— Play-in Game Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 15, 2021
Still, for those who do hope the Lakers can avoid the play-in, there is hope. For one thing, the Nuggets appear to not be resting anyone as of Saturday, judging off their injury report:
The only three players on Denver’s injury report for tomorrow’s game are Will Barton, PJ Dozier, and of course Jamal Murray.— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) May 15, 2021
All three are OUT.
No one else is on the report.
And in terms of what the Lakers have in front of them, this does not appear to be a very threatening Pelicans team:
Pelicans say Adams, Hart, Lonzo, Ingram and Zion are all OUT for tomorrow's finale against the Lakers.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) May 15, 2021
Wes Iwundu (left shoulder sprain) and James Johnson (left knee contusion) are questionable.
But even if the already-eliminated and organically building Pelicans don’t seem particularly motivated to win this game, the Lakers still have to go out there and take it. Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis both said they felt good after Saturday’s win against the Pacers, but that it will be up to the training staff if they play or not on the second night of a back-to-back with the play-in tournament nearly inevitable regardless of this result.
But both James and Davis said they’re not focused on that. They are taking things a game at a time, and just looking at what’s in front of them, not what other teams are doing.
“Let the chips fall where they may, simple as that. I’m ready to go,” James said.
“We’re ready to play whatever game it is,” added Davis. “It’s not going to stop us one way or the other. We’re not going to take our mind off our goal. It’s not going to give us discouragement because we’re not in the top six. We control what we can control, and that’s winning this last game.”
The Lakers and Pelicans — and Blazers and Nuggets — will tip off at 6 p.m. PT on Sunday. Get your dual monitors ready.