If the NBA were to end its regular season Monday afternoon (that’s a thing now because of COVID-19 protocols), then the reigning champion Lakers would be the sixth seed in the West for the 2021 playoffs.
But the league is pressing forward and the final two weeks are a go for now. LA may have trouble holding onto that spot as a result.
LeBron James is working his way back from an ankle sprain and the team is relearning how to play with he and Anthony Davis. The Lakers lost 121-114 to the Raptors at home on Sunday night to fall to 0-2 since James’ return, and they’ll host the Nuggets on Monday.
They’re dangerously close to falling into a 7-8 game in the NBA’s play-in tournament. LA (36-28) is tied with the Trail Blazers for sixth and the teams will meet Friday in Portland. The winner will gain the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Lakers hold the tiebreaker at the moment with a better conference record.
James told reporters Sunday that it won’t matter where the Lakers are seeded if he isn’t at least close to full strength for the postseason, but he’s not thrilled that there are play-in games in general.
“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent, close to 100 percent, it (doesn’t) matter where we land. That’s my mindset,” he said. “If it happens that we end up at sixth or fifth or whatever the case may be, or if we end up in the playoff, whatever that . . . thing is — whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired, but whatever.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was talking up a play-in tournament in 2019 and team owners were reviewing proposals as far back as 2018. James was against the idea of a play-in when it was first floated.
He also suggested in March 2020, in the early days of the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus, that the teams battling for the final spot in the West should play a round-robin to decide it. The league ultimately held an 8-9 game in the Orlando bubble last summer. The Blazers beat the Grizzlies in that game and then lost to the Lakers in five games in the first round.
Now James’ team might have to play its way into this year’s playoffs under a similar format. You can understand why he’d want someone to lose their job over that.