The Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz will get the Western Conference’s final playoff spot on Wednesday night, but both the Lakers and the Houston Rockets may be motivated to win regardless of how Utah did earlier in the evening to avoid playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers (44-37) are a game ahead of Utah (43-48) for the final playoff spot, but Utah holds the tiebreaker because they won the season series. As a result, if the Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies, then they will make the playoffs as the eight seed if the Houston Rockets beat the Lakers.
If the Jazz lose to the Memphis Grizzlies (8 PM ET), the Lakers will automatically make the playoffs–and could possibly even be the seventh seed–if the Lakers beat Houston.
When the embattled Los Angeles Lakers, in their second game without Kobe Bryant, take the court at Staples Center at 10:30 PM ET after the Jazz finish playing at Memphis, they will know whether they are in the playoffs or need to beat Houston to make the franchise’s 60th playoff appearance.
Both Los Angeles and Houston, though, will have plenty of motivation to win the game regardless of the outcome in Memphis. Oklahoma City is the Western Conference’s top seed, and both Los Angeles and Houston will want to avoid playing the Thunder in the first round. A wounded San Antonio, which has the second seed, will be a more favorable opponent, and that is why Los Angeles, especially since Bryant is out for the season, and Houston will want the seventh seed.
Houston and Los Angeles may play the last regular season game as if it were the first playoff game in order to avoid Oklahoma City in the first round, which would greatly increase the odds of either team advancing to the next round.