Lakers’ Struggles Create Draft-Pick Drama For Grizzlies, Pelicans

The Lakers hit a new low on Sunday night, suffering a blowout home loss to the Pelicans in which they were booed repeatedly by the crowd at Arena, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. It was the ninth loss in 12 games for an L.A. team that is now 27-33 on the season and only has a 2.5-game lead on the 11th-place Trail Blazers.

As McMenamin observes, it won’t get any easier this week for the Lakers, who face the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Clippers on Thursday, and the Warriors on Saturday. The Lakers are 1-5 against those teams so far this season, narrowly squeaking out an overtime victory in mid-December over a Dallas squad that was missing Luka Doncic.

As Jovan Buha of The Athletic writes, LeBron James was among the Lakers who had no answers after Sunday’s performance. Russell Westbrook, who had one assist and seven turnovers on Sunday, hypothesized that teams are giving a little extra effort in games against the reeling Lakers.

“Teams are coming in, playing harder, and I believe that’s kind of their scouting report: Just play harder than them and see what happens,” Westbrook said, per McMenamin. “And it’s working. Until we determine and have the determination that we’re not going to allow it, especially on our home floor, it will continue to happen to us.”

The Lakers are expected to be without Anthony Davis for a few more weeks and are currently 3.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Clippers. If they can’t move into the top eight of the Western Conference by the end of the season, they’ll have to win two games in a play-in tournament to even qualify for the playoffs.

The Lakers’ increasingly disappointing season is likely being monitored closely for draft-related reasons by two Western Conference rivals, the Pelicans and Grizzlies. New Orleans acquired the Lakers’ unprotected 2022 first-round pick in the Davis blockbuster in 2019, then flipped it to Memphis in last summer’s Jonas Valanciunas deal.

When the Pelicans traded the Lakers’ 2022 first-rounder to the Grizzlies, they added top-10 protection to it, so New Orleans will get the pick if it falls between No. 1 and No. 10. If it lands between 11 and 30, Memphis will receive it. It seemed like a pretty safe bet entering the season that the pick would end up in the back half of the first round, but that’s far from a sure thing now, as John Hollinger of The Athletic (Twitter link) and others have noted.

If the season ended today and the Lakers didn’t earn a playoff spot in the play-in tournament, they’d likely enter the draft lottery in a tie for the No. 11 spot, as our reverse standings show. That would give them only an 8.5% chance of moving into the top four, so the Grizzlies would still feel relatively confident about their chances of holding onto the pick in that scenario.

However, this situation could change quickly. If the Lakers are passed in the standings by at least one more team, their pick may well end up in the top 10 even without any lottery luck, which would be great news for the Pelicans. Incidentally, New Orleans looks like the team with the best odds of passing the Lakers — there’s currently a 2.5-game gap between the two clubs, and the Pels have looked better since acquiring CJ McCollum.

It’s also worth noting that even if the Lakers hang onto the No. 9 spot in the West, a pair of play-in wins by the West’s No. 10 seed would move that team out of the draft lottery, pushing L.A. up one spot in the lottery standings.

At this point, it doesn’t matter much to the Lakers which team gets their lottery pick — they won’t keep it in any scenario. But it’s a major storyline worth following for the Pelicans and Grizzlies, two teams that could really benefit from having another lottery selection.

If the pick ends up in the top 10 and the Pelicans keep it, they’ll send Cleveland’s 2022 second-rounder and their own 2025 second-rounder to Memphis. If the pick ends up between 11-30 and the Grizzlies get it, New Orleans won’t get anything.

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