The Los Angeles Lakers need to start calculating how many games they still need to win to maximize their chances of making the playoffs in the 2021-22 campaign.
After the end of the regular season, the teams ranked sixth to 10th in each conference will take part in the play-in tournament, which will decide the two final spots in the respective postseason brackets. The sides with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages will battle it out for the No. 7 seed in a one-legged series.
The loser will then face whichever team won the matchup between the teams ranked ninth and tenth in the same conference.
L.A. fell outside of the Western Conference’s top-8 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Lakers currently own a 24-27 record and have a 3.0-game advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers, who occupy the 10th spot.
But even though L.A. is running out of time to improve their record, Russell Westbrook says the current standings don’t make him feel extra pressure ahead of the crucial weeks of the season.
“It doesn’t change much for me, honestly,” said Westbrook, who made the playoffs with the Washington Wizards last year after ending the season on a 15-5 run.
“Last year at this point I was 15-32 at one point and we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Your mindset, you just got to always believe that you can do something that people think you can’t and to me, once we create that mentality amongst each other, regardless of who’s in and who’s out, the spirit of our team, the spirit of the way you play the game, will be different.
“And regardless of what the record is, in the midst of having fun and playing, you kind of forget about the record. It doesn’t really matter, it just becomes a conversation that people like to have and expectations that put on us at the start of the year based on our talent, based on our team, expecting us to be at a certain level or at a certain record at this point, and for us, it’s just make sure our energy is right and we’re going in the right direction.”
Asked whether the Lakers have had any fun during the difficult 2021-22 season, Westbrook said “there’s been moments, but not entirely,” explaining NBA players can hardly find joy in losing. The 2017 NBA MVP added that once the playoffs start, each team will start with a clean slate — brushing off the significance of the distance between the Lakers and the top NBA teams in the standings.
“It’s always in reach,” Westbrook said.
“When you get to the playoffs, it’s 0-0… That’s just how I feel. I feel that when you get to the playoffs, it doesn’t really matter, whatever their record is it doesn’t really matter. You get in the playoffs it’s 0-0 and the best team wins at that particular time of the year.
“If you’re playing better than the eight seed or 1 seed, 2 seed, whatever that may be, it don’t really matter.”
Lakers might need to cope without LeBron James in few more games
The Lakers have lost three games in a row since a knee problem sidelined LeBron James last week. L.A. might need to cope without the four-time NBA champion for some more time, as the latest reports claim the 37-year-old forward will sit out Wednesday’s clash with the Trail Blazers — and possibly a few more games.
After the matchup with Portland, the Purple and Gold will face the L.A. Clippers on Thursday and the New York Knicks on Saturday.
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