It’s what the NBA was hoping for and what the Lakers were most certainly not.
The reigning champions will have to defend their right to enter the postseason proper when they host the Warriors on Wednesday (7 p.m. PT, ESPN) in both teams’ first ever play-in matchup.
Golden State (39-33) earned the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with their thrilling win vs. the Grizzlies on Sunday. LA’s win over the Pelicans wasn’t enough to get them out of the No. 7 seed, losing out via tiebreaker to the Mavericks and Blazers who earned the No. 5 and 6 seeds respectively.
The winner of the Warriors vs. Lakers (42-30) matchup will earn promotion into the traditional playoff format with the No. 7 seed, and a four-game playoff series vs. No. 2 seeded Phoenix Suns. The loser will play the winner of the matchup between the No. 9 seeded Grizzlies vs. No. 10 seeded Spurs (4:30 PM PT, Wednesday, ESPN) for a chance at the No. 8 seed and a series vs. Utah.
It’s easier to understand visually using this playoff bracket via NBA.com.
The Lakers’ free fall in the standings coincided with injuries to their top three players in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schröder. James, 36, missed 26 games since March 21 with a high right-ankle sprain, and only just returned to the court for the Lakers’ final two games of the season, victories over the Pelicans and Pacers. Schröder returned for the finale after missing seven games due to COVID protocols. Anthony Davis missed 30 games from Feb. 16 to April 19 with a right calf strain. Now at full strength, the Lakers enter Wednesday’s matchup on a five-game winning streak.
The Eastern Conference play-in matchups featuring the No. 9 seeded Pacers hosting the No. 10 seeded Hornets (3:30 PM PT, TNT) and the No. 7 seeded Celtics hosting the No. 8 seeded Wizards in Boston (6 PM PT, TNT), will commence on Tuesday.