Play-in or playoffs? Lakers won’t know until the final day

Sports

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up high to dunk the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

LeBron James may be one game away from the playoffs. Or he may be one game away from the play-in tournament, and a possible high-stakes showdown against Stephen Curry.

Either way, the NBA wins Sunday — with what’s certain to be a dramatic end to the regular season.

The Lakers kept their hopes of escaping the play-in round alive Saturday by beating Indiana, a game where James played for just the third time in his team’s last 29 contests because of an ankle injury.

If the Lakers beat New Orleans on Sunday, and Portland loses to Denver, the defending champions — still the favorites to win the Western Conference, according to FanDuel — are going straight to the playoffs as a top-six seed.

“Let the chips fall where they may. Simple as that,” James said. “We’re ready to go.”

Added Lakers forward Anthony Davis: “We don’t really care. We control what we control.”

But if they lose to the Pelicans, or if Portland wins, James will be in a play-in game against Golden State or Memphis on Wednesday — a couple weeks after he shared his displeasure about the notion of the play-in tournament.

Through Saturday afternoon, only one top-six playoff seed had been clinched: Philadelphia will be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Everything else — every playoff matchup, basically — remains up in the air.

A breakdown of what’s at stake Sunday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1: Philadelphia has clinched.

No. 2 and No. 3: Brooklyn can clinch No. 2 with a win Sunday against Cleveland, or a Milwaukee loss on Sunday night against Chicago. Milwaukee can reach No. 2 with a win and a Brooklyn loss; otherwise, the Bucks will be the No. 3 seed.

No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6: If New York beats Boston, the Knicks will be the No. 4 seed, Atlanta the No. 5 seed and Miami the No. 6 seed, regardless of other results. It would also finish that way if the Knicks, Hawks (against Houston) and Miami (against Detroit) all lose. The order would be Atlanta 4th, Miami 5th and New York 6th if the Celtics and Heat both win. If the Celtics, Pistons and Hawks all win, Atlanta is No. 4, New York No. 5 and Miami No. 6.

No. 7: Boston will be the No. 7 seed for the play-in.

No. 8: Sunday’s Charlotte-Washington winner will be the No. 8 seed.

No. 9 and No. 10: Indiana will be the No. 9 seed if it beats Toronto on Sunday and the Charlotte-Washington loser will be the No. 10 seed. If the Pacers lose, they will be the No. 10 seed and the Charlotte-Washington loser will be the No. 9 seed.

Eliminated: Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, Orlando, Detroit.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 and No. 2: Phoenix will be the No. 1 seed with a win at San Antonio and a Utah loss in Sacramento. If the Spurs or Jazz win, the Jazz are the No. 1 seed and the Suns will finish in the No. 2 slot.

No. 3 and No. 4: Denver will be the No. 3 seed with a win in Portland, or a Los Angeles Clippers loss at Oklahoma City. If the Clippers win and the Nuggets lose, the Clippers will be No. 3, the Nuggets No. 4.

No. 5: Portland gets the No. 5 seed with a win over Denver and a Dallas loss to Minnesota. Unless both of those things happen, Dallas will be the No. 5 seed. If the Blazers win and the Mavs lose, Dallas will be the No. 6 seed.

No. 6 and No. 7: The only way the Lakers get to No. 6 is if they beat New Orleans and Portland loses to Denver. Otherwise, the Lakers finish No. 7.

No. 8 and No. 9: The winner of the Memphis at Golden State game is the No. 8 seed for the play-in, and the loser is the No. 9 seed.

No. 10: San Antonio is the No. 10 seed for the play-in.

Eliminated: New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Houston.

SCORING RACE

Golden State’s Stephen Curry is on the cusp of his second scoring championship.

If Bradley Beal — who has missed Washington’s last three games with a hamstring injury, but is listed as questionable for Sunday — does not play, then Curry needs to score at least 10 points against Memphis to clinch the scoring title, assuming he plays in the game that will decide the No. 8 seed for the West play-in tournament.

Curry is averaging 31.8 points per game; Beal 31.4.

If Beal plays Sunday and Curry doesn’t, a very unlikely scenario, Beal needs 53 points for the scoring crown. If both play and Curry was to score only 20 points, Beal would still need 42 to overtake him.

Curry won the scoring title in 2015-16. If he wins this year, he would become the second player to capture a scoring crown after turning 33 — the other player on that list being Michael Jordan.

A Curry win would also mark the eighth consecutive season that a Western Conference player takes the scoring title. James Harden — then of Houston — won it in each of the last three seasons, preceded by Russell Westbrook (then of Oklahoma City), Curry, Westbrook, and Kevin Durant (also then of Oklahoma City). The last East scoring champion was Carmelo Anthony for New York in 2012-13.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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