LOS ANGELES- In case their 98-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night didn’t make it clear enough, the Los Angeles Lakers’ players and coaching staff doesn’t really care about their odds to keep their top-three protected lottery pick.
“Tanking? We don’t believe in that,” said Lakers forward Julius Randle. “It’ll come back to haunt you.”
Whether or not the Basketball Gods would punish the Lakers for tanking will remain unknowable, but what can be shown is that the Lakers did hurt their chances to hold on to their first-round pick in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft, which will be sent to Philadelphia if it falls outside of the top-three selections.
The Lakers’ (24-55) victory over the Kings essentially locked them into finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA, “trailing” the Phoenix Suns (23-57) by 1.5 games with three games left to play.
Los Angeles probably would have finished with the second-worst record, but a 3-7 stretch while Phoenix went 1-9 has all but sealed their fate, meaning the Lakers will head into a gut-wrenching lottery with just a 46.9 percent chance to remain in the top-three selections, as opposed to the 55.8 percent chance a second-worst finish would give them.
The Lakers’ players say they aren’t thinking about that, no matter how loud the fan chatter gets.
"We can't listen to anyone else. We come in, we compete as a unit, we listen to the coaches, we listen to everybody that's around us,” said Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram. “We can't listen to no one else, we've just got to come in here and do our job."
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who reinserted his starters down the stretch to secure victory over the Kings, made it sound like he’s not so sure Lakers fans aren’t hoping for wins too.
“I think the fans have been great. They were going nuts out there tonight,” Walton said. “This is obviously a unique situation we’re in, but the fans are behind the guys, at least here at the arena.”
Social media has been a different story, with Twitter users recently showing their displeasure at forward Thomas Robinson after the Lakers’ win over the San Antonio Spurs. They might be doing the same to Ingram, but he didn’t make it sound like he checks his mentions.
"I wouldn't know, to be honest,” Ingram said. “I wouldn't know."
Walton said lottery odds aren’t something his players should be thinking about anyway.
“It’s our players’ responsibility to play like that every night and try to win no matter what,” Walton said.
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell is happy to listen to his coach.
“We want to go just go out and compete,” Russell said. “Whatever the end result is, that’s what it is, and you can’t really control that.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.