The NBA’s new play-in tournament has another prominent critic in LeBron James.
James and the Los Angeles Lakers dropped three in a row and six of their last seven after Sunday’s 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The defending champs have fallen into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers for spots 5-7 in the Western Conference. They’re now facing the possibility of falling into the play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth playoff seeds.
Even though he’s just returning from injury, James doesn’t think the Lakers’ seeding is overly important to their title hopes. But he also doesn’t appear to be a fan of the new play-in format.
“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100%, or close to 100%,” James said. “It don’t matter where we land. That’s my mindset. If it happens we end up sixth or fifth, whatever the case may be, or we end up in the playoff, whatever that thing is. Whoever came up with that (expletive) needs to be fired. But whatever.”
James returned to the Lakers lineup Friday after missing 20 games with a sprained right ankle. Sunday was his second game since returning, but he did not finish. He went to the locker room with 6:42 left after playing 28 minutes.
The Lakers went 8-12 without James. Anthony Davis also recently returned from an extended injury absence, which also contributed to the Lakers’ rough stretch. It’s left Los Angeles little time to make up lost ground.
Under the new play-in format, teams 7-10 in the standings will play to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference. Seven will play eight, with the winner getting the No. 7 seed. Nine will play ten, with the winner then playing the loser of the seven-eight game for the No. 8 seed.
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:
C’s All-Stars banged up
The Boston Celtics’ 129-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers took a potentially scary turn Sunday when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum collided with each on a late inbounds play and could not finish the game. Both were slow to get up before hobbling to the locker room with apparent leg injuries. The Celtics did not have an update on either player after the game, but any absence by the All-Stars would be a huge blow. Boston has fallen to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, with seven games left in the regular season to try to avoid the play-in tournament. Brown did not speak to reporters after the game, but Tatum said he thinks he should be fine.
“We just collided and he stepped on my foot and he fell on my leg,” Tatum said. “But I should be all right. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but should be OK. I was able to walk off the court by myself, so that should be a sign.”
Giannis outduels KD
Two of the NBA’s best put on a show Sunday afternoon as Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 49 points to overcome Kevin Durant’s 42, and the Milwaukee Bucks edged the Brooklyn Nets 117-114. Antetokounmpo was 21-of-36 from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point range with eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Durant shot 16-of-33 overall, including 7-of-13 on 3s, with 10 rebounds. Milwaukee pulled within 2½ games of Brooklyn for second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams meet again Tuesday.
“I’ve been working on this,” Antetokounmpo said. “I always believed that one day it was going to click. That’s what happened in the past and that’s what’s happening right now.”
Simmons tips in for the win
Ben Simmons only made two buckets Sunday, but one of them was the biggest of the game. Simmons tipped in Joel Embiid’s missed shot at the buzzer in overtime to give the Philadelphia 76ers a 113-111 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The first-place Sixers maintained their half-game lead on the Brooklyn Nets for the top spot in the Eastern Conference as Embiid scored 34 points. Simmons had just five points on 2-of-6 shooting but scored when Philadelphia needed it most.
“I knew Jo was going to get a good look,” Simmons said. “We trust him with those shots. I was just there to clean it up.”
Game of the night: Nuggets at Lakers
A rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals has huge significance as the teams jockey for position heading into this season’s playoffs. The Nuggets have won nine of 10 and passed the Clippers over the weekend for third place in the West. LeBron James is back from an ankle injury, but the Lakers are in need of a win after dropping three in a row and six of seven. The Lakers’ swoon has left them in a three-way tie with the Mavericks and Blazers for spots 5-7 in the West standings.
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