Lakers Games That Will Determine 2021 NBA Playoff Seeding

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 15, 2021

Lakers Games That Will Determine 2021 NBA Playoff Seeding

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers are both the NBA champs and the biggest wild card in the Western Conference playoff race.

    Such is life for a squad that rosters LeBron James and Anthony Davis but has both men stuck on the sideline with injuries for the foreseeable future.

    Given the ailments—high-ankle sprain for James; calf and Achilles issues for Davis—the Lakers are one of the trickier teams to project when it comes to postseason seeding. They have the No. 5 seed for now, but they are almost equidistant between the third (3.5 games back) and seventh (four games up) seeds.

    This will make their stretch run a fascinating watch, and the following three games in particular will go a long way toward determining their playoff spot.

Saturday, April 24: At Dallas Mavericks

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Barring something wholly unexpected, the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks are the lowest-ranked team that has any chance of running down the Lakers. That increases the importance of this contest, which will be the second of two consecutive games in Dallas.

    The Lakers could have one major reinforcement by then, as the latest update from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has this game in Davis' potential return window. Given all of the problems the Luka Doncic-led Mavericks present at the defensive end, the Lakers will want their All-Star stopper back for this contest.

    L.A. handled Dallas in the teams' first meeting, but that 23-point victory was all the way back on Christmas Day. Notably, Kristaps Porzingis was absent from that holiday battle. The Lakers also set their season-high with 19 threes in that game. That result tells next to nothing as far as what could happen during this two-game series.

    It would take quite a tumble for the Lakers to fall all the way to the seventh seed—and into the Play-In Tournament—but if they handle their business in Dallas, they should take that possibility off the table entirely.

Thursday, May 6: At Los Angeles Clippers

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    While the Mavericks' game is about establishing the Lakers' seeding floor, the next installment of the Staples Center series could elevate their ceiling.

    L.A. probably isn't getting higher than No. 3, and it probably isn't getting to No. 3 without some signature stretch-run triumphs. This would qualify as such.

    The Clippers, seeded third with at least a two-game cushion in either direction, have knocked off the Lakers in both of their regular-season meetings. However, the first was the season-opener, and James and Davis didn't feature in the second. Again, there isn't a lot to draw from those games when projecting the next meeting.

    But the Battle for L.A. speaks for itself, especially if the Lakers have their stars back by then. With James and Davis on one side and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the other, this will put two of the NBA's premier pairings in head-to-head competition. This will be must-see basketball, and if the Lakers can claw out a victory, they might put the No. 3 seed within striking distance.

Friday, May 7: At Portland Trail Blazers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Notice anything significant about the schedule here? Yeah, this critical contest comes the night after that Clippers showdown.

    And it's on the road, so as soon as the City of Angels collision wraps, it's on a plane and off to Portland for a bout with the potent Portland Trail Blazers.

    This Damian Lillard-led offense is a handful on any night, but it could be especially hard to handle on tired legs. That's doubly true when the Blazers only play once in three nights leading up to this.

    Portland is holding down the sixth spot, but with L.A. and the Denver Nuggets both battling injuries, the Blazers might see a path to home-court advantage in the opening round. They will be up for this contest. The Lakers will need to somehow summon the spirit needed to match that energy.