Lakers fans likely did a bit of a victory lap on Wednesday after watching the New Orleans Pelicans fall at home in the play-in game, sealing their spot in the draft lottery and further ensuring they will not be swapping picks with the Lakers this year.
Considering that at one point this season, the Pelicans were scouting Victor Wembanyama because of how high the Lakers were in the lottery standings and that, on New Year’s Eve the Pelicans were tied atop the Western Conference and the Lakers had the sixth-worst record in the league, there should be some celebration that a pick swap won’t occur.
While that aspect of the Lakers’ draft fate is known, their final spot in the draft is not yet official. The play-in does not only impact the playoffs but the draft lottery as well. And because the Heat didn’t take care of business in their play-in game, the Lakers don’t yet know their spot in the draft.
Miami came into the play-in with a better record than the Lakers by one game. So long as they make the playoffs, regardless if it’s as the seventh or eighth seed, they will have the 18th pick and the Lakers will have the 17th pick. Ultimately, the draft order is dictated purely by regular season record with the separation being whether or not a team made the playoffs.
For example, if the Thunder make the playoffs, despite currently sitting 11th in the lottery standings, they would jump to the 15th pick as the team with the worst record in the playoffs. Likewise, if the Heat, who have the best record of any team in the play-in, fail to make the playoffs, they drop to the 14th and in the draft lottery.
In short, the Lakers should be rooting for the Heat to make the playoffs on Friday. If Miami bounces back and wins the play-in game, they’ll stay at No. 18 in the draft while the Lakers will have pick No. 17. If Miami, as the seventh seed, loses both play-in games, the Lakers will move up to the 18th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
So, sit back, enjoy not having a second play-in game and root against Patrick Beverley and the Bulls on Friday not just because it’s fun, but because it helps the Lakers as well.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.