Friday was an important night for the Lakers and LeBron James.
LA (48-13) ended the longest playoff drought in franchise history (six seasons) and became the first team in the Western Conference this year to clinch a berth with its 113-103 victory over the Bucks. James outdueled reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and became the third player in league history to score 34,000 points in a career.
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It also expanded its lead in the conference to 5 1/2 games over the Clippers ahead of the LA teams' nationally televised showdown Sunday.
Though James and the Lakers can officially look ahead to the postseason now, there are some short-term goals they can pursue. Here are three important ones:
Finally beat the Clippers
The Lakers are 0-2 on the court against their Staples co-tenant, including a five-point loss on Christmas night, and they've also taken an L in trying to build better head-to-head depth.
In recent weeks, the Lakers have added Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters from the buyout market while the Clippers have brought on Marcus Morris at the trade deadline, added Reggie Jackson after a buyout and reportedly pulled Joakim Noah off the scrap heap.
Advantage, Clippers, because of the Marcus Morris pickup. Morris hasn't added a lot of scoring (10.1 points per game in 10 contests), but the Clips have won their last six and are 7-3 with him on the court.
Watching these teams' second units could be as intriguing as eyeing the starters.
Rise to another challenge
James is facing Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard on the same weekend. He handled the first showdown just fine (37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists).
"For me, it's never about an individual challenge or individual game; it's about the team," James told ESPN's Lisa Salters when asked about facing Antetokounmpo.
"Now, you do take the challenge anytime you're going against anybody, the level of Giannis or anyone else that's on the floor, but you've also got to have your mind in the game, too, and not make it personal," he continued. "Taking the challenge, making sure your mind is in the right frame and just trying to make plays for your teammates to be successful."
James' most important teammate, Anthony Davis, led LA with 14 points in the fourth quarter to help hold off Milwaukee.
Get a lot better from 3
The Lakers were awful from deep against the Bucks: 6 for 32, or 18.8 percent. It was their second-worst performance this season behind the arc: They were 5 for 31 (16.1 percent) against the Hawks in December.
In the Christmas loss to the Clippers, they shot 26.7 percent from distance (12 for 45) and still lost by just five. Waiters, who was 8 for 17 on 3s in his three games with the Heat this season, could help improve that if he's ready to go after signing this week. The Clippers are third in the league in 3-point defense (34.2 percent), however.