Lakers fates: Champions to be chosen during Western Gathering play-in.

Lakers fates: Champions to be chosen during Western Gathering play-in competition?

The futures of Lakers, Warriors to be decided during Western Conference play-in tournament.

When the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th championship in team history to cap off the 2019-20 season, many wondered just how many titles the powerful duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis would bring back to Hollywood.

So far, the answer has remained just one. Under 400 miles and roughly six hours up I-5 in California, the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry continue to set high championship aspirations, seeing as they have won four titles since 2015.

The problem for the Lakers and Warriors is that their championship journeys seem to be a thing of the past given their position in the NBA standings, which is setting them up for a collision course with the Western Conference play-in tournament.

Both teams’ struggles to this point in the season have shifted the balance of power in the league.

The age of James and Curry dominating the race to the playoffs is no more, but the hope for both players is to give their organizations one last shot to win a championship while they are still around.

LeBron is 39 years old, while Steph is 35 and set to turn 36 in March. Greatness always finds a way to persevere, hence why these future first-ballot Hall of Famers are still among the league’s best.

However, the same cannot be said about their teams.

For once, the Lakers have had Davis available and on the court virtually every single night, despite his recent injury-riddled seasons. Even James has been available for the vast majority of the season despite dealing with a lingering ankle problem.

This has not translated to significant success for the Lakers, who currently occupy the 9-seed in the Western Conference with only 19 games remaining on their schedule.

A lot can happen in 19 games with the team playing better, but Los Angeles dug itself into a hole that other teams in the conference will need to pull them out of in order to avoid the play-in tournament.

In San Francisco, drama continues to cloud the Warriors since their recent championship in 2022. Draymond Green has been suspended multiple times this season and Klay Thompson has transitioned into a bench role.

Golden State as a whole just doesn’t have that same edge they had a few years back, where they were always feared by every other team in the league.

With 22 games left on their schedule, limited time remains for the Warriors to rise up and become the same championship team they were all of the years prior.

Anything can happen during the final month of the season. There are always those teams that collapse ahead of the playoffs, and there are also those that go on a hot streak at just the right time. Just last season, the 8-seeded Miami Heat made it all the way to the NBA Finals before they were defeated by the Denver Nuggets.

One may end up making it.

The fact of the matter is that no team in the league is going to want to run into the Lakers or the Warriors come playoff time, regardless of what seed they may end up with. But given the position of both teams right now, only one of them may end up making it to the actual playoffs.

Lakers, Warriors play-in tournament destiny

Warriors fans only want one thing this season: to be better than the Lakers.

On the flip side of things, Lakers fans have the Warriors at the very top of their hit list. These two rivals always hold high title aspirations, yet we really don’t know anything about them with limited time remaining this season.

Going back and forth in the standings over the last few weeks, the Lakers and Warriors might as well just be penciled into the play-in tournament, which is pretty poetic for numerous reasons.

Obviously, the biggest thing that sticks out is what LeBron stated in 2021 before the Lakers went on to defeat the Warriors in the 7-seed game. “Whoever came up with that s**t needs to be fired,” James said, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

Of course, this was really the first full season in which the play-in tournament was utilized.

Flash-forward three years, and James may have a different view on the play-in tournament. If it didn’t exist, LeBron and the Lakers would be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trying to find ways to surpass the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans with limited time remaining.

A chance to make up for early-season woes.

The NBA’s play-in tournament gives teams a chance to make up for early-season woes, or simply prove that they are better than their record shows.

For the Lakers and James, these extra games give them a chance to keep their title hopes alive, especially since there are a lot of unknowns at the top of the Western Conference.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder have been two of the best teams in the league over the course of the regular season. But neither team truly instills fear come playoff time.

In addition, both the Timberwolves and Thunder would probably like to avoid having to run into James and Davis in the first round.

The same can be said about the Warriors, who may just be the most unpredictable and lethal team in the Western Conference as they inch closer to the postseason.

The Warriors still have their championship pedigree.

Despite their 32-28 record to this point in the season, the Warriors still have their championship pedigree. Curry, Thompson, and Green have won four titles together.

Kevon Looney remains a wild card that can be unleashed in the frontcourt in any matchup.

Gary Payton II and Andrew Wiggins are two sparks that really helped the Warriors claim their recent championship in 2022.

Throw in Jonathan Kuminga’s production, as well as Chris Paul’s leadership, and all of a sudden, Golden State looks like a team that will have a shot to win any seven-game series.

The Lakers and Warriors just can’t seem to separate themselves from one another, which is why their futures are linked.

The play-in tournament may just be each organization’s last hope to preserve their title hopes. Should these two teams meet in the 9-seed vs. 10-seed game next month, this will mark the end of an era for either the Lakers or the Warriors, seeing as only one of them would be able to make the playoffs.

Lakers’ postseason success to influence LeBron James

LeBron is in the midst of Year 21. After recently surpassing 40,000 career points, there is truly nothing left for him to achieve other than competing for more championships and playing with his son.

The day James decides to call it quits and retire is getting closer, yet the Lakers have not gone all out to try and maximize the last few years they have with arguably the best player of all time.

Although general manager Rob Pelinka and this front office have tried to bring in All-Star-level talents through the years, such as Russell Westbrook and D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles has failed to replicate the success they found during their pandemic championship.

Perhaps this is more of a philosophy problem for the Lakers at this point than a personnel problem, as they have shuffled through a total of 69 different players on their active roster next to James and Davis since their championship in 2020.

When you have Davis, who is one of the best two-way players in the league, as well as James, it’s tough to come to the conclusion that there was no combination involving these 69 players that was good enough to compete for a title.

One of the most historic sports franchises.

James wants to win, hence why he left Cleveland to go to the Lakers, one of the most historic sports franchises in the world. LeBron has also made it clear that he wants to play with his son, Bronny, if and when he enters the league.

Rumors are just rumors, and there is never any certainty until something actually happens. However, failure to reach the playoffs or advance past the first round in the postseason is going to result in James truly thinking about his future in Los Angeles.

The one caveat that works in the Lakers’ favor is that they can offer James the most money out of any other team in the league, regardless if he opts into or out of his $51 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

Money almost always plays a role in what players decide to do contractually, but this season may just be the Lakers’ final chance to prove to LeBron they want to maximize his final few years in the NBA.

The inability to get out of the play-in tournament, especially if they go up against the Warriors, may be enough for James to look at playing his last few years elsewhere.

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