The Los Angeles Lakers begin life as a lottery team when they start a three-game stretch of meaningless games to close out their 2021-22 season by visiting the playoff-bound Golden State Warriors on Thursday night in San Francisco.
Playing a second straight time without LeBron James, the Lakers (31-48) were eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 2018-19 when they fell 121-110 at Phoenix on Tuesday night.
Generally ineffective Russell Westbrook (28 points) and oft-injured Anthony Davis (21), who have shared much more of the blame for the underachieving season than James, paced the club in the must-win contest.
Dealing with a sprained left ankle, James could finish the season on the sidelines. But he does have one incentive to play — at 30.3 points per game, he has fallen percentage points behind Joel Embiid (30.4) in his pursuit of a second career scoring title.
Davis, who missed 18 straight games with a sprained right foot before returning for the last three contests, seemed resigned to taking the rest of the year off himself after Tuesday’s dream-crusher.
“Our goal was to win a championship,” he said. “Feel like we had the pieces, but injuries got in the way of that. And that was the difference in the season.”
Injuries have gotten in Golden State’s way as well, yet the Warriors (50-29) not only have assured themselves of playing next week, but also have clinched a home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series.
The questions now become: Will they enter the playoffs in their current position (No. 3 in the West, entering Wednesday) or perhaps fall behind the Dallas Mavericks and into the fourth spot? And who will they draw in the first round, with the Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves remaining as possible opponents?
Golden State has plowed ahead despite the absence of Stephen Curry, currently out with a foot injury. But Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, both of whom missed large chunks of the season, have returned to team with Jordan Poole in leading the way of late.
Thompson ignited a stirring comeback in a 111-107 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday, hitting four 3-pointers in an 18-0 fourth-quarter flurry that flipped the score. He finished with 36 points, then sat out Sunday’s second night of a back-to-back at Sacramento, a game Golden State won, 109-90.
Green has averaged 8.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the last two wins, but his biggest contribution was a block on a Rudy Gobert point-blank attempt that could have given Utah a late lead.
The Warriors, who wrap up their home schedule Thursday, can assure themselves of the No. 3 seed by sweeping their final three games. They finish the regular season Saturday at San Antonio and Sunday at New Orleans.
Then it becomes a waiting game to see if Curry is able to return for the playoff opener.
Thompson is confident his sidekick is doing everything in his power to assure he’ll be back on the Chase Center court for Game 1, regardless of the opponent.
“He’s just doing what he’s always done: Working as hard as he can,” Thompson said. “The great thing about Steph is you don’t have to worry about him getting the work in.”
The Warriors have taken two of three from the Lakers this season, but came up short in the most recent meeting when James exploded for 56 points in a 124-116 home win last month.
–Field Level Media