Lakers vs. Suns Preview: Battle for seeding (2023)

The Lakers missed the opportunity to climb up the Western Conference standings last night, after falling to the L.A. Clippers in a rather forgettable blowout debacle. The purple and gold, who played their fourth game in six nights, went up against a well-rested Clippers team who now have control of the fifth seed. This only means that the next and final two games — albeit circumstances they can’t control — will determine whether or not the Lakers will be in the play-in tournament or not.

At the very least though, Los Angeles has clinched a spot in the play-in tournament, so they’ll have a shot at making it to the Playoffs nonetheless. What they’re basically competing for in the last act of the regular season is their position in the standings and how that can put them in a better spot to succeed moving forward.

As of right now, the best path for the Lakers is to either regain the sixth seed (which they need a lot to go their way in order to happen) or stay put in the seventh seed so they have homecourt advantage in a single elimination game that is the play-in tournament.

For those favorable outcomes to happen, the most important thing is that the Lakers ace their next two games against the Phoenix Suns (arguably the scariest team in the Western Conference when fully healthy) and the Utah Jazz (the same team that took them to overtime last Tuesday). How crucial are these games? Well, here are the seeding implications that depend heavily on this stretch:

The six-seed dream is still alive, but tough to achieve

The price of ending up in the sixth seed of the Western Conference is likely a series date with the Sacramento Kings, who will host a Playoff game for the first time in 16 years. Yes, no opponent will want to play in what should be a loud and hostile Golden 1 Center against a Kings team that has one of the best offenses in the league this season. But the advantage of claiming the sixth seed is just too difficult to dismiss and could benefit the Lakers in the long run.

Not only will the Lakers potentially get a much-needed one-week rest — especially after approaching every game in the last month like it’s game seven — but also avoid putting their season on the line in a do-or-die play-in game scenario. For the Lakers to get the sixth seed, my colleague Jacob Rude broke it down as thoroughly as possible here:

For the Lakers to get the sixth seed:

- Lakers win out against the Suns (who could be resting) on Friday and the Jazz on Sunday

- Warriors lose either one of their two road games to the Kings on Friday or Blazers on Sunday

If Lakers split, Warriors have to lose both games.

— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) April 6, 2023

Sounds tricky, doesn’t it? The challenge in claiming the sixth seed is that the Lakers will have to hope that the Golden State Warriors (who currently have possession of the sixth seed as of right now) drop their game to the Kings on Friday — the same night when the Lakers face the Suns.

As Jacob noted above, the Suns will be on the second night of a back-to-back on Friday, so we don’t really know how they plan to approach the game until probably moments before tipoff. Regardless, this is a must-win game for the Lakers because their current position in the play-in tournament could get tricky too if they drop this one.

The seventh seed is still up for grabs

The best way for the Lakers to take control of the seventh seed — which again, is the most favorable position to be in if they’re in the play-in tournament — is to win their last two games. It’s that simple. The two teams that probably also want the seventh seed are the New Orleans Pelicans (who are currently tied with the Lakers in the standings) and Minnesota Timberwolves, who are currently one game behind the Lakers and have the tie-breaker.

The advantage for the Lakers in this battle for the seventh or eighth (if ever they lose to the Suns and either the Pelicans or Wolves win on Friday) seed is that both the Timberwolves and Pelicans will square off this coming Sunday — which means that either one of them could fall a game behind L.A. Still, these two teams remain the biggest threats to the Lakers, and the only way the purple and gold can combat them is if they win out the last act of their schedule.

The next few days for the Lakers are going to be either a nail-biter or full of excitement, depending on how you deal with this type of uncertainty as a fan. We'll see whether or not the Lakers will be in a favorable spot as they play their 81st game of the season, against the Suns on Friday.

Notes and updates

  • Before we get to the injury report, allow me to spread some good vibes since Wednesday’s lost and missed opportunity vs. the Clippers was such a downer (trust me, I need it too). The last time the Lakers faced the Suns was March 23, when they were barely in the play-in seeding territory. Led by Anthony Davis’ 27 points on that night, L.A. managed to climb up to the ninth seed to tie with the Dallas Mavericks, who have fallen to the fallen north since. Looking back, it’s definitely such a small win to witness the Lakers fight their way to be in the position they are in now — even if they’re literally just outside looking in the Playoff race.
  • Since the Suns game last March 23, the Lakers have won five out of their last seven games, which honestly is quite remarkable given how the season was going for them at the beginning of the year. They’ve won most of their games and despite the loss to the Clippers on Tuesday, have been playing their best basketball of the season.
  • The Lakers are going to face a Suns team that’s undefeated when Kevin Durant is present in their lineup (7-0). Whether or not the Suns decide to play their superstars on Friday is up in the air but nonetheless, this is a game the Lakers have to attack like it’s game 7 of the NBA Finals.
  • For the injury report, the Lakers are listing D’Angelo Russell (left foot soreness) as probable while both Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) and LeBron James (right foot soreness) are questionable.
  • The Suns have yet to release an injury report for Friday’s game as they face the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. Keep an eye out for the outcome of this game as it could impact the availability of their superstars for tomorrow.
  • For news around the league and in case you missed it, the NBA denied Marc Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks’ protest of their March. 22 loss to the Golden State Warriors after two weeks of investigation. You can read more about that here.

The Lakers and Suns will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. on Friday. The game will be televised on NBA TV nationally and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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