Despite being eliminated from playoff contention on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers decided to go out and win a basketball game on Sunday. Why? It’s tough to say.
Luckily for them, they’ve lost enough games this month to stay in the bottom-10 for another night. With a 32-41 record, the Lakers have the 10th-worst record in the NBA, which coincidentally gives them the 10th-best odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery on May 14.
Granted, the chances of that happening are low, but a three precent chance of landing Zion Williamson is better than a zero percent chance (Editor’s Note: The math checks out).
In fact, if the Lakers play their cards right — or wrong, depending on where you stand in the tanking debate — that percentage can go up drastically over the last nine games.
As it stands, the Lakers are three games back in the losses column from being the sixth-worst team in the league, a title currently being held by both the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. While it’s not mathematically impossible for them to finish with a bottom-five record, it would require the Atlanta Hawks going on an eight-game winning streak and the Lakers losing all but one game for the rest of the season.
In the likely event that doesn’t happen, the sixth-worst record is the best-case scenario for Los Angeles. However, in order for Lakers to fall that low in the standings, they’re going to have to lose all of the games they’re supposed to lose and drop a pair that they probably could win.
Over their last nine games, the Lakers will see the Washington Wizards, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers. With the exception of the Wizards and Pelicans, every team Los Angeles will see for the rest of the way is still in playoff contention, meaning the Lakers are expected to see most of these teams at their best down the stretch.
That’s good news for #TeamTank. The only teams that could potentially throw a wrench in the Lakers’ lottery odds are the Pelicans and Wizards, who have the ninth and eighth-worst records in the league respectively.
Wins against Washington and New Orleans would guarantee that the Lakers finish with at least 34 wins. 34 wins is likely enough for Los Angeles to stay in the bottom-10, but it’s hard to imagine it gets them any lower than the 10th spot.
Meanwhile, losses to the Pelicans and Wizards could feasibly result in the Lakers going winless for the remainder of the season, capping their win total at 32. At that point, their final place in the standings would depend on how the teams below them do, but luckily for L.A., the four teams they’re chasing are ranked in the bottom-10 in terms of schedule strength going forward, according to Tankathon. The Lakers are ranked fifth.
To be honest, the gap in talent between the sixth pick and 10th pick isn’t as big as it has been in years past, but the sixth selection in the draft sounds a lot better than the 10th in a trade. For example, it would probably be a lot easier to sell the New Orleans Pelicans on a 19-year-old Cam Reddish than a 22-year-old Brandon Clarke, even if the latter is arguably better than the former.
Being at the sixth slot also gives L.A. an 8.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, as opposed to just a three percent chance, according to Tankathon. That may still seem like an off chance, but just last year, the Kings moved from the sixth spot to the second spot, so it’s possible.
Tanking might not be the best look for an organization trying to build a winning culture, but it’s the Lakers’ best chance of setting the team up for success both in both the present and future.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.