Editor’s note: This is the Sunday, April 9, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
Good morning. Amazingly, or fittingly, the Lakers’ and Clippers’ regular season goes down to the final round of games today still full of possibilities and pitfalls.
In other sports headlines:
- The Kings absorbed another telling defeat, to the Avalanche, despite Adrian Kempe’s two goals.
- Dodgers pitching got hit again, Noah Syndergaard this time, in a loss at Arizona.
- Angels home runs by Mike Trout and Hunter Renfroe led a win over the Blue Jays.
- Columnist Jim Alexander looks at the Angels’ 5-3 start and fans’ hopes.
- Denis Bouanga’s hat trick against Austin FC kept LAFC unbeaten, while getting shut out in Houston kept the Galaxy winless.
- Practical Move won his third race in a row in the Santa Anita Derby and goes to the Kentucky Derby as a contender.
- The WNBA draft is Monday and the Sparks’ aim with picks 10, 14, 26 should be looking to improve their three-point shooting.
- Our writers have the latest from spring football practice at UCLA and at USC.
- And weather continued to mess with the Masters schedule after Brooks Koepka took a four-shot lead over Jon Rahm; Tiger Woods withdrew this morning.
All of the games in the NBA’s Western Conference tip off at 12:30 p.m. today, with the Lakers at home against the Utah Jazz and the Clippers on the road against the Phoenix Suns. The results of four games will determine the postseason destinations of five teams. The Associated Press says the day will whittle down 16 different seeding scenarios for guaranteed playoff spots (for seeds 1-6) and the play-in tournament (7-10).
Say all of the favorites win today. The Clippers would remain in the No. 5 spot and open the playoffs against these same Suns. The Lakers would stay No. 7 and host a play-in game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the winner becoming the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and the loser having another play-in game.
But it might not be that easy, and why would it be after the regular season the L.A. teams have played? The Clippers could end today as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 7 in the conference. The Lakers could land as high as No. 6 and as low as No. 9.
No. 5 or 6 is the goal for two reasons: That avoids the dice roll of the play-in round. And no team seeded lower than No. 6 has ever won the NBA championship, the Houston Rockets having taken the West’s sixth-best record into the 1995 playoffs, where Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Robert Horry beat Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and the Orlando Magic.
Bookmark your Southern California News Group paper’s Clippers page and Lakers page, sign up for the Inside the Clippers and Purple and Bold newsletters, and follow Janis Carr, Elliott Teaford and columnists Jim Alexander and Mirjam Swanson on Twitter for the latest news and analysis.
The Clippers set up today’s drama by beating the Portland Trail Blazers yesterday. Coach Tyronn Lue was able to rest Kawhi Leonard and most of his other starters in the fourth quarter, which should help Leonard to play on consecutive days, Carr points out, for only the second time since 2021.
The Lakers got here by beating the Suns on Friday, Phoenix having already begun resting its stars, since it had already secured the No. 4 seed. The Lakers leaned on their depth, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reeves and Malik Beasley all scoring 20 points or more, and Rui Hachimura joining a tired LeBron James and Anthony Davis with 10-plus.
With both the Lakers and Clippers assured of some kind of postseason play, the questions are against whom, where and for how long.
Swanson wrote recently that a season of injuries and pivotal roster moves leaves both teams without the long-established chemistry of some of their playoff opponents. Chemistry has become a talking point for the Lakers themselves. Just as the challenge of opening the playoffs without injured Paul George is on the Clippers’ minds.
Alexander looked at the upside, the outcome that would be the most popular with the most L.A. basketball fans, the possibility that the Lakers go from a 2-10 start and six games under .500 in February to an underdog playoff run.
Whatever the potential and the perils ahead for both teams, at least the starting point will be clear later today.
- Lakers host the Jazz (12:30 p.m., ESPN, SPSN) already assured of their third over-.500 finish in the four years following six straight losing seasons
- Clippers visit the Suns (12:30 p.m., BSSC) having clinched their 12th consecutive over-.500 regular season.
- Angels and Reid Detmers play the rubber game against the Blue Jays (1:07 p.m., BSW). Nationals come to the Big A Monday.
- Dodgers and Michael Grove seek a split at Arizona (1:10 p.m., SNLA). They go to San Francisco Monday.
- Ducks start a season-ending three-game homestand against the playoff-bound Avalanche (5:30 p.m., TNT).
- USC’s 21st-ranked women’s lacrosse team caps its home schedule against Stanford (noon, Pac12N).
- Santa Anita takes a break after today’s 11-race card (noon, FanDuel TV), then runs its Hollywood Meet April 21 to June 18. Los Alamitos is dark tonight.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The end of the NBA Western Conference playoff race is thrilling, but bettors don’t expect most of the key games to be. The Clippers (-10 1/2), Lakers (-16) and Warriors (-17) are huge favorites over opponents with less incentive to win.
“‘Lakers in 6’ is currently trending. My reference to Laker Exceptionalism at the end of the column? This is it in a nutshell. The fan base is always convinced Banner No. 18 is coming soon. Justified optimism this time? We’re about to find out.” — Jim Alexander (@Jim_Alexander)
Almost there: Mackenzie Browne of John W. North High (Riverside) knows she’s about to win the 4×400-meter relay for her team as she nears the tape in the anchor leg during the Arcadia Invitational track and field meet at Arcadia High School yesterday. Photo is by Keith Birmingham of the Pasadena Star-News and SCNG.
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