Since rattling off three straight wins in early December against the Kings, Spurs, and Timberwolves, the Lakers have lost six of seven — their lone win coming against the Warriors with Kobe out of the lineup. They enter tonight’s game losers of three in a row, the latest being Sunday’s loss to the Suns — a close game throughout that had the superior Suns pull away in the 2nd half. All of this has the Lakers with only nine wins through their first 31 games, the fifth worst record in the association.
That number should mean something to Lakers’ fans due to the draft pick ramifications of what a poor record could mean come June. It’s been mentioned ad nauseum, but commenter RR had a nice summary of the Lakers’ picks owed and owed out to the Suns (and Magic) in the comments:
1. The 2015 pick they got from Houston with Lin is lottery-protected. But if it is 15 or later, a near-lock, they will get it.
2. Phoenix pick:
The PHX pick, the last one from the Nash trade, works as follows:
1-5 protected in 2015, as everyone knows.
1-3 protected in 2016.
1-3 protected in 2017.
Unprotected in 2018.
3. Orlando picks:
The 2015 2nd-round pick owed to Orlando is protected 31-40. If the Lakers keep it, they don’t owe another one.
If the Lakers have given a pick to PHX by 2017, then the whole thing starts over again, this time with Orlando. The first rounders in 2017 and 2018 are again Top-5 protected–but this time with Orlando. That pick is unprotected in 2019. If the Lakers have not given a pick to PHX by 2017, then the Lakers’ 2017 and 2018 2nd-rounders both go to Orlando, and recall that also in this case, the Lakers’ 2018 first-rounder is unprotected and goes to Phoenix.
Also important to note is that the Lakers are not guaranteed a top five pick simply by having one of the league’s worst five records. Due to the lottery, teams can jump up in the draft and if/when that happens the teams they leapfrog move down. The Lakers, then, have much better odds of retaining their pick with the third or fourth worst record in the league than if they sit in the fifth spot. If they fall outside the worst five records, they will need to be one of those teams with lottery luck and leapfrog others to get into the top five. If you’re wondering why some fans “root” for losses, this is the math that drives those interests.
Getting back on track to tonight’s game, the Lakers are in Denver facing a Nuggets team who is better than them, but not by so much that the game isn’t winnable. Yes, the Nuggets are only five games under .500 and have a nice roster of talented players who, even without Danilo Gallinari, Randy Foye, and JaVale McGee, are deeper than the Lakers. But the last time these two teams played the game went to overtime and that was with the Nuggets having their full complement of players available.
In other words, this game is quite winnable even though it is on the road and the Lakers are still likely adjusting to how they will need to play with Kobe on a reduced workload and playing a different style than he was before he took those three games off — at least if Sunday’s game was any indication. Yes, the Lakers will need to slow Ty Lawson, Aron Aflalo, and Wilson Chandler (who always seems to kill the Lakers). They will need to keep Timofey Mozgov from getting deep position in the paint, keep JJ Hickson off the boards, and try to keep Nate Robinson from getting hot. But these are things they are capable of doing should they remain focused and do work early on that side of the ball.
The question, of course, is if, based on the stuff I mentioned at the top of this post, whether or not fans actually want them to.
Where you can watch: 6:00 start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.