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Tank Watch: The Lakers' lottery run rolls to the finish line

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The season is (mercifully) almost at a close. Here's what to watch for down the stretch.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers' tank has rolled right along since the last edition of Tank Watch, with the team going 1-3 over that four-game stretch. After showing signs of life to start to the post-All-Star break home stretch, the Lakers' offense and defense has completely flatlined and it doesn't look like anyone can bring them back. The team has scored just 99.5 points per 100 possessions in the last four games while giving up 105.6, both of which are slight improvements over the team's season averages but still abysmal marks overall.

That's not great for a team that is still trying to win games, but on the bright side, it is the best possible outcome for those who hope the Lakers can lock in the second-best possible odds to retain their top-three protected first round pick. Here are the contributors that made those extra ping pong balls possible.

Tank Play of the Week: Ryan Kelly's offensive goaltending against the Phoenix Suns

The Lakers were in the middle of a run, trying to get back into the game after trailing for most of the night to the Phoenix Suns. The score was 88-89 and the Lakers needed a basket to take the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter, and the White Raven swooped into deliver. However, he also flew too close to the sun rim, because the referees waived off his basket for offensive goaltending:

The Suns would then go on a 6-2 run ot close out the game and hand the Lakers a loss in a crucial game from a draft positioning standpoint.

An honorable mention goes to the play below from the Lakers' second game against the Suns this week. It wasn't as crucial of a possession as the play above, but the off-target pass from Marcelo Huertas to Larry Nance, Jr. leading to a Metta World Peace corner three airball was one of the worst sequences I've seen in an NBA game this year.

Tank Commander: Roy Hibbert

To be fair to Hibbert, by all accounts he has been an invaluable presence in the locker room this season. Everyone around the team raves about his professionalism, and he's taken as visible of an interest as any player on the team in helping the Lakers' gaggle of young players become solid pros. Hibbert's presence has likely been crucial in keeping the locker room from fracturing in a season full of so many losses.

All that said, holy crap has he been a trainwreck on the court this year. Hibbert seemingly can't stay on his feet for more than two consecutive minutes, he's shooting 45.8 percent from the field despite 54.7 percent of his shots coming in the restricted area, and he's posted the worst net rating of any Lakers player. The team is outscored by 16.8 points per 100 possessions when Hibbert plays as compared to -3.6 when he sits, and the defense he was brought in to fix is 6.4 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the bench.

Those numbers have been even worse over the Lakers' last four games, in which the team has posted a net rating of -18.9 while Hibbert is on the floor, still the worst on the team. The five starters are the bottom five players in that stat, but Hibbert's offensive rating over that period is 86.1, eight full points per 100 possessions worse than the next lowest player (Julius Randle).

Not all of this is Hibbert's fault, the team all-too-often asks him to do far too much defensively and he plays most of his minutes with some of the Lakers' worst defenders. Very few, if any, players could have done what Hibbert would have needed to do to make the Lakers' defense passable this year.

Still, Hibbert's skillset has proved to be a poorer fit on the court than almost anyone thought possible headed into the season. It's probably time to curtail his minutes even further as the year winds down in order to get more of a look at Tarik Black and Larry Nance, Jr. at the five with Julius Randle so the Lakers can see what the ceiling of that rotation looks like moving forward.

Anti-Tank Mine: The Brooklyn Nets

Other than the Nets' early April two-game stretch against the New Orleans Pelicans (who shut Anthony Davis down for the season and are essentially a D-League team at this point) and the New York Knicks (who willingly employ Kurt Rambis as their head coach) it's hard to find many games where the Nets would be favored (although they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers last night so what do I know?).

In fact, it's entirely possible the Nets lose out the season, especially with news (per the excellent Devin Kharpertian) that the team could shut down or restrict the minutes of Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez down the stretch.

The Nets "trail" the Lakers by five games in the standings, and while it's unlikely they could catch the purple and gold painted tank, they remain the biggest threat because of this weeks tank reinforcements.

Tank Reinforcements: The Phoenix Suns

For the second week in a row, the Suns snatch this honor. This week it's for winning both of their matchups against the Lakers to put them a full five games behind the purple and gold in the race for lottery position with winnable games against Sacramento (twice), Minnesota, and New Orleans. With just 11 games left in the 2015-16 season for both teams, Los Angeles looks to have in all likelihood been crappy enough to lock up the league's second-worst record. So good work guys!

Their reward, if the current standings hold, is a 55.8 percent chance to keep their top-three protected draft pick, essentially a slightly weighted coin flip. Should the Lakers fall out of the top-three, their pick will be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers. With less than ideal odds like that, the draft lottery may be Lakers fans' most stressful minutes in May since the 2010 playoffs.

Top-Five Today (courtesy of Tankathon):

Weekly Lottery Simulation:

Three sims, three lost picks. The Lakers should not put me up on the podium on lottery night, that much is certain at this point. Barring a last minute change in the way the team's record is trending, this will be the last Tank Watch of the season. Here is one last commemorative tank, courtesy of the uber-talented Craig Freeman, and thanks for reading along this season. Happy tanking.

All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.