NBA

Lakers-Kings: Should The Lakers Still Try to Tank?

By winning two games in a row, the Lakers now seem to be on pace to finish ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference

With a win on Friday night at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers can tie their longest winning streak of the season: three games.

Including Friday's game against the struggling Sacramento Kings, the Lakers only have four games remaining over six days. The 2016-17 season is nearly, mercifully over. After starting 10-10, the Lakers sit on 23 wins and 55 defeats entering the final quartet of contests.

"It feels like it went pretty fast," Lakers coach Luke Walton said on the topic after Thursday's practice.

Walton admitted that he had a bit of work popping up for the organization related to the summer ahead, but the coach contended that his focus was on the final four games ahead, rather than the 78 behind.

There's an elephant in the room, of course - or in this case, the gym.

"Nothing," Walton said when asked what he says to fans begging the team to lose games and help their draft lottery odds. "I'm being serious. We're not going to tell our guys to go out there and lose. That's not what sports is about. That's not how any of these guys got here, and it's not right."

At this point, it sounds like a broken record, but it bears repating: the Lakers benefit from losing games. Partly because of the way the NBA draft lottery stucture is set up and partly because the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers will send out their 2017 and 2019 first round draft picks unless they land one of the top three draft picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Entering Friday night, the Lakers hold a 46.9 percent chance of keeping their 2017 first round draft pick, which is down from 55.8 percent because the Lakers have won two games in a row.

As it stands, the Phoenix Suns have lost 13 in a row and only have one fewer win than the Lakers. Had the Lakers only won one of the past two games, the Lakers and Suns would be on pace to finish level after 82 games and split the odds, with both teams holding roughly a 51.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three in the NBA Draft Lottery.

In truth, a coin flip would take place due to the odd number of lottery balls for the combination of the no. 2 and no. 3 lottery seeds, and the winner of the coin flip would earn one extra ball in the lottery and also technically hold the no. 2 spot in the lottery. Winning the coin flip would be important because if only one team outside the top three jumps into the top three in the draft lottery, the Lakers would still finish third and keep their spot. 

However, those permutations may effectively be put to rest if the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, though one should note that the Kings enter the contest on a two-game winning streak of their own.

Sacramento features Buddy Hield, who was named the March Rookie of the Month by the NBA. Hield was a central piece in the Kings' trade with the New Orleans Pelicans that shipped long-time center DeMarcus Cousins out of the California state capital.

Hield averaged 14.1 points over the month of March and followed that up by scoring 22 points on April Fool's Day and 16 points three days laters - both wins. The 23-year-old Bahamian out of Oklahoma is making a late run for Rookie of the Year.

Meanwhile, the Lakers stumble into Friday's game looking like a MASH unit. Ivica Zubac is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury, while Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell are both listed as questionable with minor knee issues. Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram is listed as probable due to patellar tendinitis in his right knee, and the 19-year-old only played 10 minutes in Wednesday's win against the Spurs.

Those 10 minutes, however, proved to be inspiring and got the Lakers off to a fast start that led them to leading by 26 points in the second quarter. Even on a minutes limit in recent games, the former Duke Blue Devil has looked far more aggressive in attacking the basket, particularly on finishing through contact for the conventional three-point play.

If Ingram suits up, comparing the lanky 19-year-old's impact on the game to his 23-year-old Kings' counterpart influence on the proceedings should make for an interesting side bar.

The visit from the Kings will be the first of three home games at Staples Center before the Lakers conclude their 2016-17 season in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday. Considering the Lakers play three non-playoff teams at home before the finale in Golden State, the Lakers will more than likely win one more game at home and finish with the third worst record in the NBA.

Beating the Kings may not be at the top of every fan's wish list at this point in the season, but if the Lakers are doomed to finish with lower odds than the Suns, which seems more likely now than ever before, the Lakers may as well win Friday night and look to put together their first four-game winning streak since the 2012-13 season - a four-year dry patch.

Walton has been speaking about carrying momentum into the offseason, and the team's first four-game winning streak in four seasons would provide the young team a small taste of the type of success that has been lacking since the last time the Lakers were a playoff team.

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

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