It’s official: Lakers, Warriors headed to play-in; Clippers vs. Mavericks set for first round

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and Stephen Curry are headed to the Play-In.

When the Phoenix Suns beat a shorthanded Clippers team Wednesday (L.A. rested its big three), it meant the Lakers and Warriors could no longer catch Phoenix (which is currently the No. 7 seed), nor can they pass current No. 6 New Orleans, which means the two storied franchises are headed to the Play-In and will have to earn their way into the playoffs proper.

“If it weren’t for the Play-In this year, we wouldn’t be just about out of things. So I liked it before when it didn’t benefit us, but I really like it now,” Steve Kerr said before his team beat the Lakers on Tuesday night.

Both teams’ seedings for the Play-In remain up in the air, but if it started today the No. 9 seed Lakers and No. 10 seed Warriors would face off in the first game of the Play-In — the loser goes home. Season over. The winner of that first game then would have to win a second game (against the loser of Phoenix/Sacramento) to get in as the No. 8 seed (and likely face Denver in the first round, which is in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed after beating Minnesota Wednesday).

Both the Warriors and Lakers would like to move up to No. 8 — where they would have to win one of two games to reach the playoffs, and could get the No. 7 seed and avoid the Nuggets in the first round — but will need some help from the stumbling Kings. Sacramento is half a game in front of the Lakers and one game up on the Warriors, plus it owns the tiebreaker over both of them, meaning Los Angeles and Golden State need the Kings to lose at least two (if not all three) of their upcoming games. The Kings host the Pelicans and Suns (two teams also still playing for seeding), then close the season Sunday against the Trail Blazers.

If the Warriors close out with three wins — at Portland, then home to New Orleans and Utah — they will pass the Lakers as the No. 9 seed (the Warriors own the tiebreaker) and would host a 9/10 game. Golden State at least has that control over its future. The Lakers close out the season at Memphis and New Orleans.

The Lakers were in the Play-In a season ago but as the No. 7 seed, beating Minnesota in overtime to advance as the No. 7 seed. From there they beat a shorthanded Grizzlies team (no Ja Morant or Steven Adams) and then these Golden State Warriors to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

One other playoff matchup is now set: The No. 4 seed Clippers and No. 5 seed Mavericks will meet in an epic first-round showdown.

It will be the third meeting in five years between these teams in the playoffs. In 2021, Dallas took the first two games and appeared to be in control — many fans seem to remember the Mavericks winning that series for some reason. However, the Clippers came back to win four of the next five games, including a Game 7 behind 28 points from Kawhi Leonard, and it was Los Angeles who advanced. Luka Doncic averaged 35.7 points, 10.3 assists and 7.9 assists a game in that series.

In 2020, in the bubble, the Clippers beat the Mavericks in six games behind a dominant series from Leonard, who averaged 32.8 points and 10.2 rebounds a game.

If Kawhi Leonard returns healthy, this will be a must-watch first-round series.