Will the Lakers' Recent Win Streak Cost Them Their First-Round Pick?
As much as we all may hate to say it, some NBA teams need to lose games.
Some squads just aren't built to contend and need to land at the top of the draft lottery. We can all make jokes about the Philadelphia 76ers' "process" and groan at the thought of a mid-March game between two cellar-dwelling teams, but until the draft process changes, this is the way it will work for some teams.
The Los Angeles Lakers either haven't gotten the memo or don't care.
The Lakers possess a 25-55 record, third-worst in the NBA.
They can't catch the Brooklyn Nets (20-60) for the worst record, but their four-game win streak is coming at a bad time. And it's especially difficult when you're winning games that end like this.
Fans usually cheer a little louder after such dramatic victories.
The Phoenix Suns, who have won two straight games, sit 24-57, 1.5 games "ahead" of the Lakers in the race for ping pong balls in the draft lottery. While the Suns have won two straight of their own, they're just 2-8 in their past 10 and had reeled off 13 straight losses before taking down the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks.
Phoenix has just one final game left on the docket and play the Sacramento Kings (31-49). A loss would push them to 24-58, guaranteeing a lower finish than the Lakers, who already have 25 victories.
Even if the Lakers win their final two contests, they'd move to 27-55, still "besting" the 76ers and Magic, who are both 28-52 with two games apiece left.
The difference between the third-worst record and the second-worst record matters when trying to stick inside the top three. The worst record has a 64.2% to stay in the top three of the draft lottery. The second-worst team has a 55.8% chance, and the third-worst team has a 46.9% chance.
The top pick odds (25.0% for worst record, 19.9% for second-worst, and 15.6% for third-worst) also tilt in Phoenix's favor now.
As it stands now, our algorithms project the Suns to finish with 24.40 wins and the Lakers to net 25.64 wins.
Before the Lakers' winning streak, however, it was razor thin. Prior to April 2nd, the start of the win streak, we projected the Suns for 23.59 wins and the Lakers for 23.76 wins. The race for the second-worst record could have gone either way, especially with Phoenix notching back-to-back wins.
What it all comes down to is the Lakers were roughly a coin flip to earn 55.8% odds to stick inside the top three before winning four in a row. Now? They need two straight losses and a Suns win to get there, and they're more likely than not (53.1%) to miss out on a top-three pick as a result.