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Lakers vs. Clippers Preview: Battle for seeding

This game was supposed to be about Russell Westbrook and the Lakers and how both parties are meeting for the first time since their ugly divorce. But truth be told, that’s likely not on everyone’s mind right now as the seeding implications for both teams hold a lot more weight.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Lakers faced their Cypto co-tenants, the L.A. Clippers, was back in January when the purple and gold got beaten pretty badly. Despite 46 points and nine made three-pointers from LeBron James, the Lakers lost their 10th straight game to the Clippers and — at that time — it seemed as if all hope was lost for the Lakers’ season. They were hard to watch.

The team was sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference, in the same territory as the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. And oh, the 18-month-long Russell Westbrook experiment — which the Lakers never really figured out — was still in full swing. It was very much clear at that time that the Lakers were nowhere close to the Clippers’ level.

But then the trade deadline happened exactly a month after, and suffice it to say that the Lakers have done a complete 180 since. Oh, and Westbrook now plays for the Clippers, which just sums up how bizarre the turn of events has been in the last two months for both teams.

Since the trade deadline, the Lakers have won 16 out of their last 23 games, have the league’s best defense and are somehow in the race to claim not just the sixth seed but also even the fifth in the Western Conference. They’ve really worked their way up to be in this position, and considering how their season was going at the beginning, it’s a miracle that Los Angeles now has control of their own postseason destiny.

Now, all the Lakers have to do in order to be in a favorable position is to win all the games ahead of them. There’s a lot of dialogue about why the Lakers should avoid the 5th seed (and a possible series with the Phoenix Suns) but at this point, it seems like the team just wants to clinch a playoff berth — whether that’s the fifth or sixth seed.

If that’s the case, Wednesday’s game against the Clippers will feature a lot on the line.

What’s at stake

This game was initially supposed to be about Westbrook and the Lakers, and how both parties are meeting for the first time since their ugly divorce. But truth be told, that’s likely not on everyone’s mind right now as the seeding implications for both teams hold a lot more weight. The reward for this game is quite simple: whoever wins has a higher chance of claiming the fifth or sixth seed and avoiding falling into the play-in tournament.

With their Tuesday night win vs. the Utah Jazz, the Lakers (41-38) clinched a play-in spot and are now tied with the Clippers in the standings. If the Lakers win their remaining games, including Wednesday’s against the Clippers, the fifth seed is theirs. However, if they lose to the Clippers, it gets tricky on their part, as they’ll have to win all three of their remaining games and hope that the Golden State Warriors (who are also vying for the sixth seed) lose theirs.

That said, if the Lakers want to clinch a spot in the playoffs, they might want to avoid playing the way they did against the Jazz. What could’ve been an opportunity to finish off an opponent (who has lost seven out of their last 10 games) early in the game turned into an overtime near-disaster, which Los Angeles had no business being in on the first night of a back-to-back. Now, they have no choice but to play an important game against the Clippers (who haven’t played a game in 3 nights) on not-so-fresh legs, less than 24 hours later.

Wednesday’s game against the Clippers will likely determine the direction of the Lakers moving forward and how important their remaining games will be for them. We’ll see how they approach this game, and whether or not they can capitalize on the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot.

Notes and updates

  • After playing in overtime against the Jazz on Tuesday, Darvin Ham stated that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell (the latter of whom missed tonight’s game) will be reevaluated before Wednesday’s game against the Clippers. Their statuses are up in the air, especially after James and Davis played significant minutes in overtime on Tuesday.
  • Aside from Davis, James and Russell, Mo Bamba was upgraded to doubtful prior to the game against the Jazz. While his status for tomorrow remains up in the air as well, it seems like Bamba (who has been out due to an ankle sprain since March 5) is nearing a return.
  • As for the Clippers, Paul George (right knee sprain) will not suit up on Wednesday, while Eric Gordon (right hip tightness) and Marcus Morris Sr. (low back spasms) are questionable.
  • On the Clippers’ side of things, it seems like they’re considering Wednesday's game against the Lakers as a must-win game, and rightfully so. As Ty Lue, Norman Powell and Ivicia Zubac reiterated, this for them is the most meaningful Lakers-Clippers showdown in recent memory. Note that the Lakers have lost 10 (!) straight games to the Clippers and have the opportunity to break that streak and give themselves a chance at the fifth seed.
  • For news around the league, nothing is most interesting right now (in terms of the battle for playoff positioning) than the middle of the Western Conference standings. The Lakers jumped to the sixth seed tonight (for 30 minutes at least) after a win against the Jazz but the Warriors leapfrogged them after defeating the OKC Thunder. The next few days will determine the outcome of this race.

The Lakers and Clippers will tip off at 7 p.m. PT. on Wednesday. The game will be televised on ESPN nationally, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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