SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers may have taken a turn for the worse, even on a night where they collected a rare victory and Nick Young almost set a career-high in scoring.
The Lakers’ 119-104 victory Monday over the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena may have snapped the team’s seven-game losing streak. But such a feel-good moment may just lead to more sorrow when the Lakers await their fate during the NBA draft lottery (May 20) in hopes of landing the top pick.
The Lakers (26-55) are currently ahead of the Utah Jazz (24-57) with the sixth-worst NBA record, giving them a 6.3 percent to secure the top pick in the draft lottery on May 20. A loss would have secured a tie for the fourth-worst NBA record, giving them an 11.9 percent chance for the first draft selection if they stay tied with Boston and win a coin flip.
Not only did the Lakers downplay the implications. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni sounded unaware of the rules.
“I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of ping pong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something …”
Actually, the setup entails 14 ping pong balls being placed in a lottery machine numbered one through 14. Four balls are then drawn at random to determine the winner of each of the top three picks of the draft. Each team in the lottery is then assigned a certain number of four-number combinations. The remaining 11 picks are then ordered from teams with from the worst to best records.
“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”
Regardless, the Lakers have scoffed at such talk.
Lakers center Robert Sacre repeatedly called the discussion “stupid” before noting that all NBA players want to compete. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has denied setting up a team to fail and has attributed the struggles to the myriad of injuries, most notably to Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee) and Steve Nash (nerve irritation in back).
“If we would’ve lost tonght, we would’ve been in last place in the West,” said Young, whose 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting fell short of his career-high 43 points set with Washington against Sacramento on Jan. 11, 2011. “We would’ve had more lottery balls. But I wasn’t thinking about it.”
Instead, Young was thinking about his future, mindful that he will likely opt out of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of a longer and more lucrative deal with the Lakers.
“We’re not going out there just to lose for the draft because I think we still want to be in the league,” Young said earlier this week. “These guys are coming in to take our spots, so, I’m not about to give up for somebody else to come in and take my spot.”