The Lakers, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers all consider themselves solid playoff teams and potential contenders, but at least one of them will end up in the Western Conference’s play-in tournament in two weeks. With the Jazz, Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets in total control of the West’s top four seeds, the Lakers, Mavs, and Blazers find themselves vying for the fifth and sixth spots — the No. 7 finisher will host the first play-in game against the No. 8 seed.
After a bad loss at home vs. Toronto on Sunday, the Lakers (37-28) bounced back on Monday, pulling out a tight win over Denver and reclaiming the No. 5 seed for the time being. The Blazers (36-29), on the other hand, dropped into seventh place in the West with a loss in Atlanta, while the Mavs (36-28) had the night off.
With the three teams still separated by a single game, every night the rest of the way will have major postseason implications. Here are their remaining schedules:
- Lakers: at LAC, at POR, vs. PHX, vs. NYK, vs. HOU, at IND, at NOP (three back-to-backs)
- Mavs: at MIA, vs. BKN, vs. CLE, at CLE, at MEM, vs. NOP, vs. TOR, at MIN (two back-to-backs)
- Blazers: at CLE, vs. LAL, vs. SAS, vs. HOU, at UTA, at PHX, vs. DEN (two back-to-backs)
On paper, the Mavericks may have the cleanest path to a top-six seed. After their games against the Heat and Nets this week, they won’t face another team in the top eight of either conference. They also have the advantage of holding the tiebreaker if the three teams finished tied in the standings, since they’ll be the Southwest division winner. If they finish tied with just the Lakers, they’d hold that tiebreaker as well, having gone 2-1 vs. L.A. this season.
The Lakers, currently in control of the No. 5 seed, have a huge week coming up, with games on tap against the Clippers, Blazers, Suns, and Knicks. That contest in Portland, on the second night of a back-to-back, will be particularly important — if the Lakers lose that one, they won’t own the tiebreaker against either the Mavs or the Blazers. Still, if they can at least split their next four games, the Lakers should be in reasonably good shape, as they finish their season against three sub-.500 opponents.
The Blazers, meanwhile, have the opportunity to make a run over the next week, especially if they can beat the Lakers at home. They’ll likely need to win at least three of their next four games to have a decent chance to avoid the play-in, since their season ends with a brutal three-game stretch — in Utah, in Phoenix, and at home vs. Denver. Maybe Portland lucks out and faces a couple of those teams when they’re resting players in advance of the playoffs, but given how close the standings are in the upper half of the West, there’s definitely no guarantee that’ll happen.
What do you think? Which team do you expect to end up with the seventh seed, taking part in the play-in? And do you think that team will be in any danger of losing two consecutive games against the likes of the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Spurs, or should they take care of business relatively quickly?
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