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Are the Lakers really heading for the play-in tournament?

Los Angeles dropped another game Thursday night to the Clippers. Are we really going to see LeBron and AD in a wild card game?

LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers share a conversation during a game against the LA Clippers on December 22, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers announced on Thursday that we aren’t seeing LeBron James until at least next week. James tried to make it back from a high ankle sprain and played in two games before he aggravated the injury. LeBron isn’t expected back until at least next week, and by then it may be too late anyway. Anthony Davis left Thursday’s loss to the rival Clippers early with back spasms. If AD misses any games, well, the Lakers are kind of in trouble. Are we really about to see the defending champions fighting to get into the 2021 playoffs in the play-in tournament?

Current standings

Let’s examine the standings, shall we. The Lakers are in 6th place at 37-29 entering Friday’s game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are in 7th, also at 37-29, so this game is to see who holds down the 6-seed in the short-term. If Portland wins, it has a game on L.A. with five games remaining. This is where things get interesting.

Let’s say the Lakers lose to the Blazers and are playing the Suns and Knicks games without LeBron and/or AD. The Blazers two games after Friday are against the Spurs and Rockets: two winnable games. So if this becomes a three-game swing and the Blazers take a 3.0 game lead for 6th place, the Lakers may not be able to crawl their way out of it.

BUT NOT SO FAST!

The Blazers final three games of the regular season are brutal — the top 3 teams in the West. The Jazz, then Suns, then Nuggets. Denver is fighting with the Clippers for the 3-seed. The Jazz and Suns are both vying for the 1-seed. It doesn’t seem like any of these three teams are going to take a night off at this point. If the Lakers get LeBron and/or AD back against the Rockets, Pacers and Pelicans to end the season, L.A. could swing right back. Then it would depend on the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks are kind of a lock for the 6-seed at this point. Dallas gets a back-to-back vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers this weekend, plus ends the season against New Orleans, Toronto and Minnesota. Those five games should be relatively easy for Luka Doncic, maybe NOLA and the Raps put up a fight. If you’re the Mavericks and in must-win territory, you don’t drop 3 out of 5 of these games. All they have to do is win 3 and they should avoid the play-in tournament.

So with the Mavericks seemingly in and the Blazers an easy upcoming schedule, does that spell play-in tournament for the Lakers? If it does, we probably don’t have anything to worry about, assuming James and Davis are healthy.

Potential play-in tourney opponents

The Lakers most likely opponent would be the Golden State Warriors. If Davis is fine, there’s no way the Dubs can deal with him and LeBron. People are going to start spewing “the Warriors can beat the Lakers crap” and I’m not having any of it. The Memphis Grizzlies are the other potential opponent. If I’m LeBron and AD, the only thing I’m worried about is Ja Morant taking over. Otherwise, that’s a game (you’d think), the defending champs win easily.

Even then, the Lakers would have to lose two games not to make it into the playoffs! The most likely scenario appears to be the 7-seed for L.A. This honestly gives them a bit of an advantage. Whether it’s the Jazz or the Suns, can you imagine fighting all season for seeding only to have to face LeBron and the champs in the first round?!? The pressure is instantly taken off the Lakers, which should make things a lot easier. Again, health of James and AD is the biggest thing. If either looks off, all bets are off.

Betting analysis

The next logical question is: Are the Lakers overvalued in the betting market. At this point, the answer has to be yes. The Lakers are still favored to come out of the West at +200 and are +400 to win it all, second-best odds behind the Nets. The Lakers may need to a do-or-die game before facing a top 2 seed in the conference ... While I still think the Lakers can overcome all this, that isn’t exactly easy for anyone to accomplish. Would I be looking at teams like the Jazz (+325) or Suns (+650) to come out of the West? Whichever of those two doesn’t face the Lakers in the first round, absolutely.

The Lakers “to make the playoffs” market is also getting interesting. L.A. is now -1667 to make the postseason and +800 to miss. That number may seem huge still, but it was -3000 not too long ago. Personally, I can’t see the Lakers missing entirely. If you’re worried about the LeBron and AD injuries, there’s value in the “No” line. It’s only going to shrink as the play-in tournament becomes a reality.

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