After Monday night, the Western conference playoff picture sharpened into focus significantly.
If they win on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers will play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Thus, they would avoid a match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder until the Western Conference Finals, if at all.
The Phoenix Suns, who beat the Lakers twice this season, did the Lakers a massive favor by beating the Houston Rockets on Monday night. That outcome meant the Lakers not only controlled their own destiny on Wednesday night; they would automatically move up to the seventh seed with a win.
A win on Wednesday would draw the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The Spurs are the opponents the majority of fans would choose when posed with the options of Denver, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
After Monday night, the Lakers are no longer eligible for the sixth seed, but they can finish either seventh, eighth or ninth on the final day of the season.
If the Lakers lose and Utah wins on the final day of the regular season, the Lakers would finish ninth and miss the playoffs. That would be the worst case scenario, obviously.
If the Lakers lose and the Jazz lose, the Lakers would finish eighth and book flights for Oklahoma City to play Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder. Although missing the playoffs remains the worst possible outcome, drawing the Thunder is widely perceived to be a bad match up for the Lakers, and most would expect an early postseason exit.
If the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Houston Rockets in the season finale, Dwight Howard and company would level their season series with Houston but would win the tie breaker based on overall conference record.
As long as the Lakers win, they draw a first round match up against the Spurs. If that happens, James Harden and the Rockets would face the daunting task of winning in Oklahoma City.
If the Lakers win on Wednesday, the game in Utah is of no consequence.
Prior to his injury, Kobe Bryant said that the way he looked at it, if the Lakers won the first four games, there was no way they would lose the fifth game. Well, the Lakers are on a four-game winning streak, and the season finale is staring the Lakers square in the face on Wednesday.
Simply put, win on Wednesday and start the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs.
Got it? Good.