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Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Clippers lose in Atlanta, Lakers earn Pacific Division, No. 3 seed

By Brian Kamenetzky

The day has been dominated by bad news for the Lakers, starting with an ankle injury for Matt Barnes and moving on to a seven-game suspension for Metta World Peace. At least they can end it with something positive.

Tuesday night in Atlanta, the Hawks knocked off the Clippers 109-102, giving the Lakers the Pacific Division title, locking them into the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and making Thursday's game in Sacramento irrelevant to anyone not in a Las Vegas sportsbook or calculating draft lottery odds for the Kings.

This is a good thing, removing any need for starters to play big, or even little, minutes. Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol should have early nights, if they dress at all. Perhaps coach Mike Brown will elect to give key starters a little bit of burn, allowing him to see different floor combinations that might be needed in the playoffs with Barnes potentially hobbled and World Peace out. Either way, not actually having to win the game is a great luxury.

As for a first-round opponent, it will either be Dallas or Denver. The Nuggets control their own destiny, but either team remains a legitimate possibility.