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Can Portland Avoid the Play-In?

The Blazers hold the tiebreaker, but the Lakers lurk not far behind, and other teams may do their best to avoid the Lakers.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

The Portland Trail Blazers have been performing well of late, but due to their performance earlier in the season, they need to win at least three of their remaining games to avoid the play-in tournament and retain the sixth seed. Brad Botkin of CBS Sports outlines how the Los Angeles Lakers can possibly spoil the Blazers chances.

The playoff cut line is the No. 6 seed this season. Fall to No. 7 or 8, and you have to earn your way into the eight-team field by winning a play-in game, or two play-in games if you fall to No. 9 or 10.

As it stands entering play on Monday, the Lakers are the No. 7 seed in the West, one game back of the No. 6 Trail Blazers. But Portland owns the tiebreaker, making that an effective two-game gap. Both Portland and L.A. have four games remaining. If the Blazers go 4-0 or 3-1, they seal the 6-seed. If the Blazers go 2-2 or 1-3, the Lakers can go 4-0 or 3-1 and jump Portland.

It’s not out of the question that Portland falls. The Blazers have three tough games remaining against the Jazz, Suns and Nuggets, all of which still have something to play for. The Lakers, on the other hand, have four pretty winnable games against the Knicks, Rockets, Pacers and Pelicans.

Botkin also outlines how teams around the Western Conference may jockey for positioning in order to avoid the Lakers.

If we look at this race through the lens of avoiding the Lakers as long as possible, it would, as things currently stand, be best to end up No. 4. The Lakers are currently No. 7, and if they win their first play-in game and “upset” Phoenix in the first round, they would get the winner of the 3-6 matchup in the second round. Do the Nuggets really want to move up? Might the Clippers look to quietly, shall we say, down-seed themselves accordingly?

Now, nobody’s saying for sure that the Clippers would actually want to put off a potential Lakers series. An argument could be made that the sooner you play the Lakers the better, while LeBron James is still working his way back into shape and rhythm. Also, it’s not a given that the Lakers will end up at No. 7. They could lose their first play-in game and sneak in at No. 8, which would reverse their bracket and set up a 4-8 conference semifinal if the Lakers were to “upset” the Utah Jazz.

It’s going to be a white-knuckle ending to an eventful season, but if the Blazers can keep winning, the postseason will be that much sweeter.