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The Los Angeles Lakers are in position to mount a challenge to land a top-six seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Co. moved up to the No. 7 seed in the West on Friday night with a road win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers have five games remaining to surge out of the four-team play-in zone and gain some extra rest of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Lakers only have to catch one of the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors to move into the top six. They are 1.5 games back of both teams.
The April 5 battle between the two Los Angeles sides could play a massive role in determining the final automatic qualification spot into the first round.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls were the only team in the four play-in positions to win on Friday night.
The Brooklyn Nets opened up a two-game gap on the seventh-place Miami Heat with a win over the Atlanta Hawks. The Toronto Raptors could not gain any ground in their matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Chicago owns a three-game gap on the Washington Wizards for 10th place, so all of the competition in the East will be about seeding in the play-in round rather than which teams get into the field.
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1. Milwaukee (55-22)
2. Boston (54-24)
3. Philadelphia (51-26)
4. Cleveland (48-30)
5. New York (45-33)
6. Brooklyn (42-35)
7. Miami (40-37)
8. Atlanta (38-39)
9. Toronto (38-39)
10. Chicago (37-40)
11. Washington (34-43)
12. Indiana (34-44)
13. Orlando (33-44)
Brooklyn and Chicago were Friday’s biggest winners in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets picked up their third win in four games over Atlanta. They are in a somewhat comfortable position to avoid the play-in round.
Brooklyn finishes the regular season with four games out of five at home, and the one road game is at the Detroit Pistons. The Nets should be able to wrap up the No. 6 seed with a winning record in that stretch.
Miami is the only Eastern Conference team in action on Saturday, as it hosts the desperate Dallas Mavericks.
A loss to the Mavericks may doom the Heat to the play-in round because of Brooklyn’s upcoming schedule.
Jimmy Butler and Co. should win at least three of its next five versus Detroit, Washington and the Orlando Magic. They also face the 76ers, who may still be fighting for the No. 2 seed.
Miami can’t afford to match Brooklyn’s end-of-season production, and that could make the No. 7 seed its ceiling.
The Heat hold a two-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hawks for the No. 7 seed.
Atlanta visits Chicago on Tuesday in a game that could flip the play-in spots around. The Hawks also host Dallas on the back end of consecutive games on Sunday.
The Bulls are not in the clear with a win over Atlanta because it visits the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas before ending the season at home versus Detroit. Milwaukee may still be playing for the No. 1 overall seed in the East on Wednesday, which would hamper Chicago’s chances of winning.
Toronto has two road games each against Charlotte and Boston before concluding the regular season with the Bucks at home. The Raptors could go 3-2 at best in that run with Boston still chasing Milwaukee for the top seed.
Play-In Position Predictions: 7. Miami, 8. Atlanta, 9. Chicago, 10. Toronto.
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1. Denver (51-26)
2. Memphis (49-28)
3. Sacramento (47-30)
4. Phoenix (42-35)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (41-37)
6. Golden State (41-37)
7. Los Angeles Lakers (39-38)
8. New Orleans (39-38)
9. Minnesota (39-39)
10. Oklahoma City (38-40)
11. Dallas (37-40)
12. Utah (36-41)
The Lakers won the latest edition of “As The West Turns”.
James, Davis and Co. will put the pressure on the Clippers and Warriors for the next eight days.
The Lakers have road games upcoming in Houston and Utah before they return home to be the road team against the Clippers on April 5. Phoenix and Utah visit the Lakers to end the season.
Darvin Ham’s team could go 4-1 in that stretch since the Clippers are still figuring out how to play without Paul George. The Clippers only scored 94 points in their loss to Memphis on Friday night.
The Clippers have one fewer game on their schedule compared to the Lakers, and they could fall closer to the play-in spots with a loss in New Orleans on Saturday.
Kawhi Leonard and Co. have four days off after Saturday, and there could be a scenario in which they are playing to stay in the top six if the Lakers make up the 1.5-game difference by Wednesday.
New Orleans needs wins as bad as the Lakers do right now. The Pelicans play their next four games at home, but they all come against playoff contenders in the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks.
The Pelicans must beat the Clippers first to then get into the possibilities of the next two games in which Memphis and Sacramento could rest some starters since they already clinched playoff berths. They could catch a break against New York too with Julius Randle out for two weeks.
Minnesota needs to stay within one game of New Orleans heading into next Sunday so that it can potentially jump the Pelicans with a head-to-head win. The Wolves-Pelicans clash could be the most meaningful game on the final day of the regular season.
The final play-in spot appears to be down to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas. Utah is still in the picture, but it needs to make up a 1.5-game deficit to OKC.
OKC lost to the Indiana Pacers on Friday and it has not won consecutive games in two weeks. The Thunder close with Phoenix, Golden State, Utah and Memphis. The Grizzlies may not play their starters on April 9, so the Thunder could beat the Jazz and Grizzlies and win one other contest to get into the No. 10 slot.
Dallas is 1-5 in its last six games and there is no guarantee it will beat Miami or Atlanta to conclude that trip. The Mavs finish with the Kings, Bulls and Spurs at home. A 5-0 finish would be ideal for the Mavs, but that feels like asking a ton for a team trending in the wrong direction.
Play-In Position Projections: 7. Los Angeles Clippers, 8. New Orleans, 9. Minnesota, 10. Oklahoma City
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