Thursday's Lakers-Warriors showdown has massive implications

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers have had an up-and-down 2023-24 season thus far but entered the All-Star Break with some momentum. Things are finally starting to click for the purple and gold, who look to carry that momentum into the second half against the Golden State Warriors.

Unfortunately, the Lakers are going to be short-manned against the Warriors on Thursday. LeBron James is out of action with an ankle injury while Christian Wood is now out for the next two weeks. In addition to the other rotation injuries, this leaves LA very short-handed.

Typically it wouldn't be that big of a deal to be short-manned in a February game. There is plenty of games left to play, so it is easier to look at the bigger picture. This game is different, though, as the circumstances around this Lakers-Warriors game make it a must-win for both parties.

Thursday's Lakers-Warriors showdown could decide a Western Conference playoff spot

The Lakers and the Warriors are in very similar positions. Both teams are led by veteran stars and had to overcome slow starts to the season. However, both Los Angeles and Golden State have started to get hot and look like two teams that nobody is going to want to play in the playoffs.

That being said, the West is packed full of talent and there are only six playoff spots to get in the regular season. Anything below that will have to go through the Play-In Tournament. Both the Lakers and Warriors are familiar with the Play-In Tournament and want to avoid it.

As it stands right now the Lakers are the ninth seed and the Warriors are the 10th seed. There is a very good chance that the two teams will be competing for the last playoff spot in the West without needing the play-in. Even if the teams cannot climb that high, there is a big difference between being the seventh or eighth seed rather than being the ninth or tenth seed.

Head-to-head records matter in these situations, which makes this game so important. Last year the Lakers had a head-to-head advantage over the Pelicans, who finished one game below LA. That head-to-head advantage gave the Lakers an extra cushion and essentially ensured that the team would be either a seventh or eighth seed.

That could very well be the case this season, with this game being 25% of that head-to-head equation. The Lakers are already 1-0 against the Warriors this season, meaning that a win against Golden State would guarantee that the Warriors cannot win the head-to-head tiebreaker. Golden State could win the next two to force different tiebreakers to come into play, but they would not be able to win the head-to-head.

All of this is extremely important, on top of the obvious fact that the Warriors could gain a game on the Lakers in the standings with a win.

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