Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki collides with Nuggets forward Kenneth… (John Leyba / Associated…)
Lakers fans might have forgotten with all the concern and criticism surrrounding Metta World Peace's ejection for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden in the head that the Lakers' 114-106 victory Sunday over the Thunder made it very likely they will secure the Western Conference's No. 3 seeding into the playoffs.
Unless, of course, the Lakers (41-24) lose their season-finale Thursday to Sacramento, while the Clippers (40-24) win their remaining two games Tuesday at Atlanta and Wednesday at New York.
That's the only scenario for the Lakers drop to the No. 4 seeding. That's highly unlikely for two reasons. First, the Lakers can wait to determine if they neet to beat Sacramento to ensure the third spot or if the Clippers' games will take care of that for them. Secondly, even if the Lakers rest their starters significant minutes and/or not try, it's going to be pretty hard losing to the Kings (21-43), whio have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Because of the Lakers' virtual lock on third place, they likely will play either the Denver Nuggets or Dallas Mavericks in the first round. That's far from settled, though. The Nuggets (36-28) have a half-game lead over the Mavericks (36-29), but the Mavericks own the tiebreaker if they finish with the same record. Denver has two games left to play, Tuesday against Oklahoma City and Thursday against Minnesota, while the Mavericks play one more game Thursday against Atlanta. So it's likely the seeding between Dallas and Denver won't be settled until Thursday.
At least the Lakers avoid Memphis, which one assistant coach has told me would've given them fits in the first round because of the Grizzlies' inside presence, their league-leading 17.9 steals a game and teir deep bench. Lakers Coach Mike Brown insisted he sees otherwise.
"Trying to avoid this team or that team, it's really hard to worry about something that's not in your control all the time," Brown said. "But more importantly, if you expect to be a champion, I feel like you have to beat the best."