Remember all of the playoff talk surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers before the season? With the return of Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle, along with the additions of D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams and the defensive-minded Roy Hibbert, some fans were very optimistic that this group could surprise a lot of people and grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race this year. Even Mitch Kupchak had postseason aspirations for the 2015-16 Lakers prior to opening night.
Now, here we are with 33 games left, and those hopes and dreams have been long gone for several weeks. Admittedly, I had this team winning about 30 games this season, a prediction that is certainly not coming to fruition, barring an absolute miracle. Instead, fans are turning their attention to an event that is becoming more and more familiar to the fan base with each passing year: The NBA Draft Lottery.
The lottery will be held on May 17 this year, so mark your calendars. Just like last year, Lakers fans everywhere will be on pins and needles that night, seeing as the pick will only be retained by Los Angeles if it ends up in the top-three. If it falls to fourth or lower, the draft rights will be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of a series of trades, beginning with the Lakers acquiring Steve Nash back in the summer of 2012.
Ironically enough, the Sixers are the team that the Lakers are currently “chasing” for the highest lottery odds. Philadelphia currently sits at 7-41 while Los Angeles is only a game and a half better at 9-40. Can the Lakers accomplish the once unimaginable task and actually catch the 76ers and finish with the worst record in the NBA? Yes, they can, and they will.
Both teams are headed in completely opposite directions at the moment. Heading into their matchup against the Phoenix Suns on December 26, Philadelphia was a shocking 1-30. Since then, the once notorious tankers are 6-11. In their last 14 games, the Lakers are a whopping 1-13, with the lone 95-91 victory coming at home against the now 18-28 New Orleans Pelicans, who were without Anthony Davis. Had they not been able to steal that game, the Lakers would be on a franchise-worst 14-game losing streak right now, and they would have just one more win than Philly.
Of those 13 losses, 10 of them were by double digits. For comparison, five of the Sixers’ aforementioned 11 defeats were by single digits. Four of which were by six points or less, and two of those were in overtime. Ever since Philadelphia brought in Jerry Colangelo to its front office, Mike D’Antoni to the coaching staff, and traded for guard Ish Smith, the team has been vastly more competitive. Even some of those losses by double digits were close games that got away in the final minutes.
To this point, the 76ers have had a more difficult schedule than the Lakers, based on opponents’ win percentage. Lakers opponents this season have a win percentage of .503, while Philly’s are at .507. And according to ESPN’s RPI rankings, both teams have an expected win percentage of .158, which would result in 13 (12.956 rounded up) wins for each team.
Each team’s respective schedules have been just about even in terms of the win percentage of their opponents thus far. But what awaits the two bottom-feeders?
The Lakers have 19 homes games and 14 away games left on their schedules. Philadelphia also has 19 homes games but has an additional road game. The difficulty level in those games, however, projects to be quite different. Los Angeles’ remaining strength of schedule is .523. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s is at .482. The Lakers play 17 of their final 33 games against teams over .500 (nine at home, eight on the road), while the Sixers play just 15 of their last 34 games against teams currently with a winning record (eight at home, seven on the road).
With the January schedules of each team about to wrap up, here’s what is ahead for the month of February for the Lakers.
As you can see, only three games are against sub-.500 opponents, and only one is at home. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has eight games against teams under .500 (four home, four away) and just four games against teams above it.
The way things are currently going, it might not take the Lakers very long to have the worst record in the league. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to catch and pass Philly by the end of February. Remember, the Lakers could also be auctioning off some of their veteran players to teams chasing a playoff spot. Of course, that could make the team worse, or it could make them better by opening up minutes for guys like Tarik Black. Even then, it’s hard to imagine Byron Scott changing his mind in regards to him. He might end up just playing Marcelo Huertas more. Who knows?
Either way, the Lakers are going to be in contention for the worst record in the NBA by the end of the 2015-16 season, thus giving them the chance to attain the most amount of lottery combinations and the highest odds possible to retain their top-three protected pick (64.3 percent vs. 55.8 percent if they finish with the second-worst record).
Brace yourselves, Lakers fans.