One week from Wednesday, it'll all be over.
The Los Angeles Lakers' 2016-17 season wraps up in Golden State on Wednesday, April 12, against the top team in the Western Conference. Before the players can pack up their lockers and drive to the airport for a short vacation, though, five games remain in Luke Walton's first season as Head Coach of the purple and gold.
And more than likely, Wednesday night in San Antonio will leave Walton feeling blue.
The Spurs have won all three meetings with the Lakers this season, and when the Lakers visted the Rio Grande in January, the Spurs River Walked all over the Lakers to the tune of a 40-point stomping.
Following an overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night to claim win no. 60 on the season, though, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may take pity on Walton and rest key players against the Lakers. After all, the Spurs appear to be locked into the second seed in the Western Conference, barring the Warriors going winless the rest of the way and the Spurs winning out. While the latter is a possibility, the former is a near impossibility.
And so, the Lakers, a 56-loss team, saddle up in Texas to face a 60-win team. While this may appear to be a game the Lakers have no shot at winning, a team that is not playing for anything and may be inclined to rest key starters could give the Lakers a cracked door. But against the Spurs, even a small crack requires playing clean basketball to wiggle through the little opening.
Unlike the Phoenix Suns, Walton and the Lakers appear content to play for wins with their young core. LA is coming off a rare victory where second-year guard D'Angelo Russell scored 28 points to lead the Lakers over a playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies squad. That same Grizzlies team took the Spurs to overtime on Tuesday night, so the Lakers may yet make a game of Wednesday's mismatch on paper.
That said, the Lakers could do with five more losses before the end of the season in order ot maximize their NBA lottery odds. As it stands, the Phoenix Suns have blatantly tanked the conclusion of the season to the tune of 12 straight losses. If Phoenix loses its final four games, the Lakers can only tie the Suns with five straight losses, which would mean splitting the odds for the no. 2 and no. 3 worst record in the NBA.
What does that mean, exactly?
Well, if the Lakers finish tied with the Suns, each team will have about a 51 percent chance of landing in the top 3 after the NBA Draft Lottery. For the Lakers, finishing in the top three is of the utmost importance. If they fall out of the top three, which is the tails' side of the coin flip, their draft pick would go to the Philadelphia 76ers, who acquired the rights to the pick via the Phoenix Suns. This whole mess stems from the Steve Nash trade.
Even if they fall in San Antonio, the Lakers return home for a final three-game home stand against the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans. None of those opponents are playoff teams, and the Lakers will more than likely squeeze out one more win before the season concludes and concievably finish with the third worst record in the NBA.
A third place finish would only give the Lakers about a 47 percent chance of keeping their pick. Any way it gets sliced up, the Lakers are looking like they'll have slightly better than or slightly worst than a coin flip's chance of landing the top three pick.
As an added note, due to the Dwight Howard trade that took place in the same year as the Nash trade, the Lakers owe Orlando a first round pick in 2019. However, if LA keeps its pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Sixers would get the Lakers' pick in the 2018 draft, and Orlando's first round pick would be converted into two second round picks.
Essentially, finishing in the top three in the 2017 NBA lottery would secure an added first round pick in 2019 for the Lakers. New Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is likely well aware of the importance of finishing in the top three this summer, and he'll probably be whispering a couple extra Hail Marys before the lottery balls are drawn.
With only one week and five games remaining in the 2016-17 season, the Lakers' players and coaches, however, don't seem all too bothered by lottery odds and draft picks. The message going into and coming out of the locker room is about finishing strong and carrying momentum into the offseason, which is due to include a regular workout schedule with the coaching staff involved in organizing the summer workouts.
Walton explained that the workouts would not be mandatory, but they'll be encouraged for the young players hanging around Southern California for the summer.
A summer ago, "The Breakfast Club" was the summer workout crew started by Larry Nance Jr. and former Laker Anthony Brown and grew to include seemingly every core young player on the squad. Of course, Walton didn't even wrap up his tenure with Golden State until mid-June, so he did not get a fair jump on the off-season development.
This summer, Walton seems far better equipped to get guys into the gym sooner rather than later and maximize the off-season for development purposes.
The Lakers and Spurs tip-off at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time.