Lakers eye shot at guaranteed playoff spot, host Jazz in finale

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After starting the season 2-10 and dealing with a variety of injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers still have a chance to earn a guaranteed spot in the playoffs on the final day of the 2023 regular season.

Regardless of the Lakers’ result against the visiting Utah Jazz on Sunday, Los Angeles will enter postseason play with a winning record.

LeBron James smiled when asked about that. He told reporters he’d just had a similar conversation with teammate Anthony Davis.

“I was just telling, AD, man, can you believe that we’re going to finish this season above .500 after everything that’s gone on this season?” James said.

The Lakers (42-39) kept themselves in contention for a spot in the top six of the Western Conference standings with a 121-107 win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday. They have won eight of their past 10 games to put themselves in a much better position.

“We turned this thing around,” James said. “It’s regular season, obviously, so there’s more basketball to be played, but to know that we’re going to finish a few games above .500, it’s pretty cool.”

Los Angeles’ postseason fate won’t be determined until after action has been completed on Sunday. Heading into the season finale, the Lakers are in the seventh spot in the Western Conference — a game behind the Clippers (43-38) and Golden State Warriors (43-38). The New Orleans Pelicans (42-39) have the same record as the Lakers.

In case of head-to-head ties, the Lakers have tiebreakers over the Warriors and Pelicans but not against the Clippers or Timberwolves, who are locked into a play-in position at 41-40 but could end up tied with L.A.

“At the end of the day, we’ll be ready,” James said. “I mean, we got a game Sunday first. Let’s control what’s in front of us and then we’ll worry about what happens after that.”

Two losses during the Lakers’ rough start were against the Jazz (37-44), although Los Angeles gained a measure of revenge with a 135-133 overtime victory in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.

Utah snapped a four-game losing streak and won for only the second time in 10 games with a 118-114 victory against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. The Jazz, who are eliminated from the postseason, sat seven regular players — including their usual starters.

Rookie Ochai Agbaji scored a career-high 28 in the win in Salt Lake City.

“It was really special,” Agbaji said. “Special for the fans, special for us, special for everybody. I’m glad we got the win.”

Luka Samanic also had a career-high with 23 points and eight rebounds, while Kris Dunn registered 19 points, a season-high 14 assists and eight boards.

“So proud of our guys,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said after beating the top-seeded Nuggets. “We were down a lot of people, but their approach didn’t change. The game means something to them, they’re trying to make a name for themselves.

“We’re trying to make a name for our program and Utah.”

–Field Level Media

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