NBA Playoff Picture: How Lakers Can Avoid 2021 Play-in Tournament

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVMay 12, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 11: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a layup between Julius Randle #30 and Reggie Bullock #25 of the New York Knicks during the first quarter at Staples Center on May 11, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Harry How

The defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers are doing what they can to avoid the play-in tournament, but it remains an uphill battle with three games remaining.

Even after back-to-back wins against the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, the Lakers still don't control their own destiny to earn a spot in the top six in the Western Conference. The team entered Wednesday in seventh place in the conference, trailing the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers by one game.


Standings As of 5/12 (Remaining Opponents)

5. Portland Trail Blazers: 40-29 (at UTA, at PHO, vs. DEN)

6. Dallas Mavericks: 40-29 (vs. NOP, vs. TOR, at MIN)

7. Los Angeles Lakers: 39-30 (vs. HOU, at IND, at NOP)


The key for each team is getting at least the No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in tournament reserved for the 7-10 seeds. Finishing seventh means it will take another win to reach the first round of the playoffs, while two losses ends the season.

Los Angeles finds itself in an especially tough spot considering it does not own the tiebreaker against either Portland or Dallas. The Trail Blazers and Mavericks each won two of three games against the Lakers this season.

That means the Lakers need to win all three of their remaining games while either the Trail Blazers or Mavericks lose at least two. If Los Angeles drops one game, its only chance to move up will be for Portland or Dallas to lose all three.

Counting on more losses may not be a strong plan, though. The Mavs have won seven of their past nine while the Blazers are 8-1 in the past nine.

The Lakers won't be able to avoid the play-in tournament should they lose two or more of their final three games.

This path will be even tougher with LeBron James still unavailable due to his right ankle injury. He announced on Twitter he won't be in the lineup Wednesday against the Rockets.

It puts more pressure on Anthony Davis to once again carry the team to victory.