LeBron James may be one game away from the playoffs. Or he may be one game away from the play-in tournament, and a possible high-stakes showdown against Stephen Curry.
Either way, the NBA wins on Sunday – with what’s certain to be a dramatic end to the regular season.
The Lakers kept their hopes of escaping the play-in round alive Saturday by beating Indiana, a game where James played for just the third time in his team’s last 29 contests because of an ankle injury.
If the Lakers beat New Orleans on Sunday, and Portland lose to Denver, the defending champions – still the betting favorites to win the Western Conference according to many oddsmakers – are going straight to the playoffs as a top-six seed.
But if they lose to the Pelicans, or if Portland wis, James will be in a play-in game against Golden State or Memphis on Wednesday – a couple weeks after he shared his displeasure about the notion of the play-in tournament.
Through Saturday afternoon, only one top-six playoff seed had been clinched: Philadelphia will be the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Everything else – every playoff matchup, basically – remains up in the air.
A breakdown of what’s at stake Sunday:
No 1 Philadelphia have clinched.
No 2 and No 3 Brooklyn can clinch No 2 with a win on Sunday against Cleveland, or with a Milwaukee loss on Saturday night against Miami, or a Bucks loss on Sunday night against Chicago. Milwaukee need two wins and a Brooklyn loss; if all that doesn’t happen, the Bucks will be the No 3 seed.
No 4, No 5 and No 6 Atlanta would be no worse than No 5 if they beat Houston on Sunday, and Miami would be no worse than No 5 if they beat Milwaukee on Saturday night and Detroit on Sunday night. New York could beat Boston in their finale and still finish as low as No 6, depending on what the Hawks and Heat do.
No 7 Boston will be the No 7 seed for the play-in.
No 8 Sunday’s Charlotte-Washington winner will be the No 8 seed.
No 9 and No 10 Indiana will be the No 9 seed if they beat Toronto on Sunday and the Charlotte-Washington loser will be the No 10 seed. If the Pacers lose, they will be the No 10 seed and the Charlotte-Washington loser will be the No 9 seed.
Eliminated Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, Orlando, Detroit
No 1 and No 2 Phoenix, back in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, will be the No 1 seed with a win at San Antonio and a Utah loss in Sacramento. If the Spurs or Jazz win, the Jazz are the No 1 seed and the Suns will finish in the No 2 slot.
No 3 and No 4 Denver will be the No 3 seed with a win in Portland, or a Los Angeles Clippers loss at Oklahoma City. If the Clippers win and the Nuggets lose, the Clippers will be No 3, the Nuggets No 4.
No 5 Portland gets the No 5 seed with a win over Denver and a Dallas loss to Minnesota. Unless both of those things happen, Dallas will be the No 5 seed. If the Blazers win and the Mavs lose, Dallas will be the No 6 seed.
No 6 and No 7 The only way the Lakers get to No 6 is if they beat New Orleans and Portland lose to Denver. Otherwise, the Lakers finish No 7.
No 8 and No 9 The winner of the Memphis at Golden State game is the No 8 seed for the play-in, and the loser is the No 9 seed.
No 10 San Antonio are the No 10 seed for the play-in.
Eliminated New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Houston