The Los Angeles Lakers will be officially eliminated from playoff contention soon. It could happen Friday ngiht at the hand of the Brooklyn Nets.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t quite down to counting their magic number for clinching the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2015 (but that number is seven, if anyone was curious), but Friday night’s game at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers presents an interesting opportunity for the Nets.
The Lakers enter play Friday with a tragic number of just one and a loss to the Nets would officially eliminate Los Angeles from playoff contention for a franchise-record sixth straight season.
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In 70 seasons in the NBA and its predecessor, the Basketball Association of America, the Lakers have been to the postseason 60 times and before the franchise’s current string of futility had only failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons once — in 1975 and 1976.
The narratives may not support this, but Brooklyn has been to the playoffs more recently than the iconic Lakers, who last played in the postseason in 2013, whereas Brooklyn’s last visit was in 2015.
But make no mistake: Los Angeles is still one of the NBA’s crown jewels, with the franchise’s 16 NBA titles and 31 NBA Finals appearances — 10 more than any other franchise and the same total as the next two teams on the list combined (the Boston Celtics with 21 and the Warriors’ various iterations as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Golden State with 10).
With a victory, the Nets can officially send the Lakers to the NBA Draft Lottery for the sixth straight year, something that was unfathomable to consider the last time the two teams met in Brooklyn on Dec. 18.
Brooklyn won that game 115-110, getting 22 points and 13 assists — as well as a huge late-game 3-pointer — from former Laker D’Angelo Russell, while the Nets bench outscored the Laker reserves 48-18.
Russell has been in the spotlight of late and deservedly so after scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday as the Nets roared back from 25 points down entering the fourth to beat the Sacramento Kings.
This will be Russell’s second visit to Staples Center against the Lakers since he was jettisoned by new Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson before the 2017 NBA Draft.
Russell, now an All-Star and poised to strike it rich in free agency this summer after a breakout seaason, isn’t having any part of driving a revenge narrative entering Friday’s game. As he told Brian Lewis of the New York Post, he’s going to let other do the talking on that subject.
Instead, Russell sees it as an opportunity to make life a little easier for his teammates entering what is a very important game for Brooklyn as it tries to chase down a playoff berth.
"“I’ve come here last year and when we played we were in a different situation: We weren’t in a playoff push or the pressure wasn’t as high. So with all the pressure that they’re making and building for me coming back, it’s good.“It takes the pressure off our team because we’re coming trying to win. We’re not worried about what I’ve got going on or if it’s going to rain in L.A. or if the beach is nice. We’re really worried about trying to get a win and take our asses back the East Coast. That’s our business approach.“It’s way bigger than what I have [going on].”"
The Nets enter Friday a game in back of the sixth-place Detroit Pistons in the East after the Pistons hammered the Phoenix Suns 118-98 in Phoenix Thursday night.
The Miami Heat, currently eighth, pulled back to within a game of the Nets with their 110-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs on the road Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the Orlando Magic got back to within 2½ games of Brooklyn with their 119-96 clubbing of the New Orleans Pelicans in Orlando, while the Charlotte Hornets are four games behind the Nets after a 113-106 home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday night.
The Lakers are just 31-40, 10½ games behind the four teams currently tied for fifth through eighth in the West — the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio, Utah Jazz and LA Clippers.
Young point guard Lonzo Ball is done for the season with an ankle injury. Young wing Brandon Ingram is likely out the rest of the way with a blood clot in his arm. Superstar LeBron James has been in and out of the lineup of late as he still deals with the groin he injured on Christmas Day.
Missing the playoffs would be a big thing for James, who hasn’t done so since his second NBA season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004-05. Throw in that James has played in the last eight NBA Finals and the prospect of missing the postseason party entirely is a foreign one indeed.
Would D’Angelo Russell take some satisfaction from being the guy to officially knock Magic and the Lakers out of the playoffs? Probably.
But he’s got his eyes on the bigger picture, which is getting his Brooklyn Nets into those playoffs.