Lakers will host Timberwolves in the Play-In Game

The Lakers finish the regular season at 43-39 and will host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night for a playoff berth.

LOS ANGELES — After all of the twists, turns, and tiebreakers, the Lakers pretty much stayed where they were entering Sunday: the 7th seed in the Western Conference.

They did their part by defeating the Utah Jazz, 128-117. And it was the very definition of a game the Lakers wanted to be done with.

The Lakers got off to a blazing start as LeBron James started off firing. Three immediate threes helped the Lakers get off to a 13-3 start.

But from there, the Lakers’ focus went away again. The Jazz would cut the deficit to four before the Lakers went on another run to grow the lead back to 11.

And that was pretty much the entire game. The Lakers would switch it on whenever they felt the Jazz got too close. At some point in the first half, the Jazz even led, 40-39. But that was immediately washed away by an Austin Reaves three. A 12-2 run near the end of the half gave the Lakers a double-digit lead again. Kelly Olynyk’s lay-up, however, made it a 65-56 Laker halftime lead.

The Lakers built a 14-point lead in the third before the Jazz stormed back again. It was like the Lakers were letting Utah waltz into the paint. Udoka Azubuike would cut the deficit to 83-79. Lakers would keep Utah at bay once again before Simone Fontecchio made a three to cut it to a precarious 94-93 deficit.

Utah had cut it to 115-113 and we looked destined for another close finish. But LeBron James decided he had enough and rained threes on Utah. He made one to put the lead back to five points. And then in the last minute, he sank back-to-back threes to take it home and give us the final tally. Lakers ended the season by winning 9 of their last 11 games.

The Lakers will be in the play-in as the #7 seed due to the Clippers defeating the Suns, the Warriors winning (by 56!), and the Wolves beating the Pelicans. Los Angeles will be at home against the Wolves (who are presently reeling; more on this on Tuesday’s preview) for the first play-in game. They win and they’re officially in the playoffs as the 7th seed and a date with the Memphis Grizzlies.

As for the game itself, there’s not much to talk about. The Jazz had their second unit in and their usual rotation players like Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler, and Talen Horton-Tucker sat out. Still, the Jazz pretty much walked into the paint and played like the Lakers had no interior defense. Utah scored 76 points in the paint; the Lakers had 50.

It’s pretty funny because the Lakers are the ones usually controlling the paint while the other team outguns them from outside. The exact opposite happened. The Lakers made 18 threes while Utah made 10. If the Lakers can get that combination working, that would be lethal for the playoffs.

And another funny thing? 117 points is the least points the Jazz have scored on the Lakers this season.

LeBron James made 8 three-pointers on his way to 36. D’Angelo Russell had 17 points while Anthony Davis had 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks, and three steals. Davis did a lot even though it felt like a long day in the office for the Lakers.

The Jazz were led by former lottery pick Kris Dunn with 26-10-8. I hope he sticks in the league next year. Kelly Olynyk scored 23 and Simone Fontecchio came off the bench with 20 points.

The Lakers (43-39) ended with 10 more wins this season than last year’s disaster. They’re mostly healthy going into the playoffs. And in such a wild conference, I feel the West is up for grabs. The teams all have flaws and we’ll see which teams can withstand them for the next couple of months.

But first, the play-in. It all starts against the Wolves. Let’s see if this is a real quest to a championship.

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