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Lakers’ LeBron James targets return as Suns eye playoff matchups

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James dribble the ball during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, April 30, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is targeting Tuesday for a return from an ankle injury that has kept him out for all but two games since March 20, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

If not Tuesday against the New York Knicks, then James could again try to come back Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, adds Charania.

Los Angeles has those two games left, plus away matchups against Indiana and New Orleans to close the regular season.

The Lakers, after beating the Phoenix Suns 123-110 on Sunday night, are currently seventh in the Western Conference standings.

Los Angeles’ seeding, of course, is notable to the Suns as each team heads into the final week and final four games of the 2020-21 regular season. That’s because it appears Phoenix will head to the playoffs as the No. 2 seed.

According to Basketball-Reference’s playoff seeding projections, the Suns have a 90% chance of finishing the regular season with the No. 2 seed as of Monday morning. They sit two games back of the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz and three games ahead of the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

Going with the expectation that Phoenix will end up the second seed comes with the much-less certain watch for who the Suns’ first-round playoff opponent will be.

Which team ultimately earns the No. 7 seed will depend on the final week of the season plus a play-in tournament that could swing things a number of different directions. But after the message the Suns received from the reigning world champion Lakers on Sunday night, it could be a concern of Phoenix’s if Los Angeles eventually matched up with the Suns in the first round of the playoffs.

The Lakers, according to Basketball-Reference, have a 41% chance of holding the No. 7 seed after the play-in games. They have a 25% shot at avoiding the play-in tournament by jumping to the sixth seed — Los Angeles is a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers — and have an 18% shot at falling to the No. 8 seed. Falling to eighth wouldn’t change much other than play-in tournament matchups.

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