The league leader in heading to the locker room during games has to be either Anthony Davis or Kristaps Porzingis.
If it’s Davis, he only expanded his lead last night, once again leaving a game this season, and now with a new malady. Davis has only played 31 of 66 games this season, with most of his 37 absences coming in the two-month period between February 16 and April 19 with an Achilles injury. In last night’s 118-94 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Davis, unfortunately for the Lakers, left with back spasms. He didn’t play at all in the second half; but even so, the Clippers led 65-42 at the midway point. LeBron James was held out due to a re-aggravated ankle injury, and even though he’s expected to return next week, the Lakers have immediate issues to navigate in hopes of evading the Play-In, which is growing increasingly difficult.
The Lakers have six games between tonight and May 16, including two sets of back-to-backs over a six-day period to end the season. And tonight is the most critical of their games regarding playoff seeding, because the 37-29 Lakers will be in Portland facing the also 37-29 Trail Blazers, led by Damian Lillard. Luckily, Davis is expected to play through the back spasms.
“Davis said he expects to play against the Blazers in what he dubbed ‘probably the biggest game,’” notes ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
The Lakers, who are not only tied with the Blazers in terms of record, recognize the importance of tonight’s game since both teams are trying to avoid the Play-In.
“I think we’ve just got to win the game, for real... for real,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma added in the same McMenamin story.
The Lakers and Blazers are both tied for sixth in the Western Conference, 1.0 games behind the Mavericks, who gave the Brooklyn Nets their fourth-straight loss last night. The loser between tonight’s Lakers-Blazers contest would drop to seventh, and into a Play-In slot, sitting one game behind whoever wins with five games remaining. For the Lakers, that schedule is headlined by the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on May 11, followed by the Knicks and Houston Rockets also at home, then the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans on the road, each in back-to-back sets.
The Blazers also have two back-to-back sets remaining after meeting the Lakers tonight and a Saturday night home contest against the Spurs. The Blazers will then host the Rockets, have a back-to-back road swing against the Jazz and Suns, then home against the Nuggets. No doubt, the Blazers have the more challenging schedule between the two. However, without James tonight and possibly Sunday against the Suns, it’s no guarantee that the Lakers can stay ahead of Portland even with a win.
For the slightly-ahead Mavericks, they have the lightest schedule of the group. Tonight they’ll host the Cavs in the second of a back-to-back, and they’ll face the Cavs again in Cleveland on Sunday. Their May 11th-12th back-to-back will be at the Grizzlies and then home against the Pelicans, followed by a home contest opposite the Raptors, with their season-ending showdown taking place in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.
The team coming away with the worst record of their remaining six games between the Lakers, Blazers, and Mavs will sit at No. 7 in the Play-In, with a one-game scenario against the No. 8, who is currently the Steph Curry-led Golden State Warriors, and they’re just 0.5 games ahead of Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. A loss would pit the No. 7 or No. 8 against the No. 9 vs. No. 10 winner, and currently occupying those spots are the Grizzlies and Spurs. The Pelicans, 1.5 games behind the Spurs, are still vying for a shot at the postseason as well.
Davis, great as he was last year, had shown some regression — possibly due to fatigue — even before the initial February Achilles injury. Even if the Lakers get healthy, it’s fair to ask, how healthy will they actually be? To be fair, in this season, you could say the same about everyone. These playoffs are going to be a mess. An entertaining GTA 6-Star mess.