On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 98-94 to tie their longest winning streak of the season at three games.
The contest had 17 lead changes, 11 ties and neither team led by more than five points in the second half. As far as NBA games between two non-playoff teams in the latter stages of an 82-game season go, Friday's game delivered far more excitement and entertainment than it promised.
Julius Randle led the Lakers with 25 points and also provided a quote directed at all the fans sitting at home wishing for losses: "Tanking? We don't believe in that. We don't believe in that. Us as players, we go out there. We compete. We do this for a living."
Why talk of tanking following a victory?
Well, the Phoenix Suns beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on the same night and snapped 15-game losing streak. That meant that with a loss, the Lakers and Suns would have been tied in the wins column, and the Suns and Lakers could lose the remainder of their games and tie for the second worst record in the NBA. That scenario playing out would have resulted in the Lakers and Suns splitting their odds and holding a 51.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three on NBA Draft lottery night.
Instead, both teams winning kept the Lakers one win ahead of the Suns, with Phoenix only two games from the end of their season. In many ways, Friday's win was a missed opportunity to increase the Lakers' odds of holding onto its lottery pick, which goes to the Philadelphia 76ers if the Lakers fall out of the top three positions.
However, one should point out that finishing tied with Phoenix would give the Lakers a 51.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three, while finishing third would give the Lakers a 46.9 percent chance of finishing in the top three. So, at this stage, all the fuss over tanking is only about a 4.5 percent difference in odds on draft lottery night.
After reiterating that his players' job is to go out and compete and not be bothered about tanking or any of the outside noise, Lakers coach Luke Walton commended his guys for their focus and attitude late in a season with no playoffs on the line.
"This is what we try to do," Walton said after the game. "It's not easy, too, because late in the season, normally, you check out if you're not in the playoff race. So, I'm really proud of our guys—the way they've continued to work, to really prepare before practice."
Next, the Lakers look to do something they have not done since the tail end of the 2012-13 NBA season: win four games in a row. LA hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday evening in the penultimate home game of the 2016-17 NBA season.