The defending champs are not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and will have to fight tooth-and-nail to earn the sixth seed to avoid the play-in tournament.
The LA Lakers (39-30) do not hold their fate in their own hands as they trail the sixth-placed Dallas Mavericks (40-29) and fifth-placed Portland Trail Blazers (40-29) by one game. It will take a combination of losses from either one or both teams plus wins by the Lakers themselves to secure a top-six finish and automatic qualification to the playoffs.
LA Lakers 2020-21 NBA season run down
As it stands, the seventh-placed LA Lakers will have to take part in the play-in tournament. They can move up in the standings through several scenarios that need to play out almost perfectly.
To avoid the play-in tournament, the LA Lakers have to sneak into a top-six spot. That’s easier said than done, as the Lakers will have to win all three of their remaining games and hope that either one of the Mavs or Blazers loses two out of their remaining three matches.
The Blazers won the season series against both the Lakers and the Mavs, so they will rank higher than either team in the standings if they finish the regular season with the same record as one of the other two teams.
A three-way tie, however, reverses Portland’s fortunes. In this scenario, the division winner gets the nod. So the Mavericks will take the fifth spot as they are the only division leaders among the three teams. The LA Lakers will be sixth seed because they have a superior conference record than the Blazers, who will end up being the seventh seed.
Games remaining for the LA Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and Portland Trail Blazers
The LA Lakers will face the Houston Rockets in their next game at home and then go on the road to take on the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers have won three of their last five games and will fancy themselves to make it six in eight over their next three games.
The Rockets are the worst team in the league this season while the Pacers have secured their spot in the play-in tournament and do not have much to play for. The Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson, who is out for the season, and possibly Brandon Ingram as well.
The Mavericks have the easiest schedule of the three teams. They’ll face Pelicans and Toronto Raptors at home and Minnesota Timberwolves on the road. Moreover, the Mavs have rest days in between each of those games. They have won four of their last five games and 10 of their last 13 as well.
The Blazers have the most difficult path to the playoffs because they will face three title contenders in their final three regular-season matches. They’ll face the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns on back-to-back nights on the road before they return home to face the Denver Nuggets.
Nevertheless, the Blazers have won four of their last five games and eight of their last nine. They have momentum heading into this crucial stretch of games that will determine their playoff fate.
The Mavericks would likely finish with the best record among these three teams and enter the playoffs as the fifth seed. With LeBron James back for the final three games, the L.A. Lakers will probably win at least two matches and take the sixth spot in the standings. Lastly, the Blazers would probably go 1-2 in their last three games.
The LA Lakers’ play-in tournament and NBA playoffs scenarios
If the LA Lakers finish seventh, they will likely face the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies to determine the seventh seed in the playoffs.
If the LA Lakers end up losing the first game of the play-in tournament, they still have a shot to make it as the eighth seed by beating the winner of the match between the ninth and tenth-placed team in the Western Conference standings.
Considering how difficult the road will be if they end up in the play-in tournament, the LA Lakers will have to do everything they can to avoid this route to the NBA Playoffs.
Given that the top two seeds haven’t been locked up by either the Utah Jazz or Phoenix Suns, there’s no way for the LA Lakers to know who they will face if they end up as one of the bottom two seeds in the playoffs.
The Western Conference playoff picture is so fluid that with just a week left in the regular season, the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets are still battling it out for the third spot in the standings.
There’s no way to project which team the fifth seed will face in the playoffs. The only thing that the LA Lakers have to worry about is winning their final three matches.