The month of May is sometimes referred to as a dress rehearsal for the Lakers, who have played into June, and the NBA Finals, 16 times in the last 35 years.
Now it's merely time for ping-pong-ball percentages and crossed fingers.
The Lakers will finally learn their draft lottery fate before Tuesday's Miami-Indiana playoff game. Their season of woe and all their historic lows netted them the NBA's sixth-worst record and a 6.3% chance at the No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft.
Hoping to catch a stroke of luck after everything that went awry, the Lakers sent James Worthy to New York to represent them in the televised part of the lottery because he was their last No. 1 overall pick (1982).
The Lakers also hold a 7.1% chance of moving up to the second spot and an 8.1% chance of getting the third pick. They cannot move up to fourth or fifth because only the top three picks are "unlocked" on lottery day.
Worthy said he planned to bring three lucky items with him — bobbleheads of Chick Hearn, Jerry Buss and Bill Sharman.
"They hold special places in my heart," Worthy said. "Hopefully they'll be watching from up in heaven."
An upward move in the lottery would affect the Lakers in two ways.
An old team would immediately be infused with youth and presumably talent, two elements sorely lacking this season as the Lakers went 27-55, their worst record in 54 years in Los Angeles.
If they moved up in the lottery it could also tilt the Lakers toward hiring a younger candidate in a wide-open search for a new coach. If they stayed in their current draft spot or fell, they might lean toward a more veteran coach because the team would not be as dependent immediately on a young player.
The Lakers' most likely probability Tuesday is staying at No. 6 (43.9% chance), though they have a 30.5% chance of dropping to seventh and remote possibilities of falling to eighth (4%) or ninth (0.1%).
The top three draft prospects currently are thought to be Kansas center Joel Embiid, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins.
If the Lakers have questions about the lottery, they can always consult the Clippers.
No strangers to the annual event, the Clippers struck it rich in 2009 when the machine spat out ping-pong balls numbered 5, 3, 6 and 10, one of 177 combinations they were randomly assigned ahead of time. There were 1,000 combinations in all, giving the Clippers a 17.7% chance of winning the top pick, which turned into Blake Griffin.
The Lakers will have 63 combinations out of 1,000 Tuesday. Team publicist John Black will represent them in the private room where the ping-pong balls are drawn, a process overseen by an independent accounting firm and a representative from each team. Anybody who enters that room is sequestered until the often dramatic TV show ends in an adjacent studio.
The NBA created the lottery system in 1985 to prevent teams from purposely losing games to clinch the top draft pick.
Only four times since the lottery's inception has the worst team actually won the top pick, most recently Orlando in 2004.
The Milwaukee Bucks were a deplorable 15-67 this season but hold only a 25% chance of winning the top pick. The almost-as-bad Philadelphia 76ers lost 26 consecutive games and finished 19-63 but have only a 19.9% chance of winning the top pick.
Phoenix barely missed the playoffs with a solid 48-34 record, the NBA's 14th-worst, and owns a correspondingly low 0.5% chance of taking the top pick Tuesday.
Winning the lottery can change a franchise overnight.
Orlando senior vice president Pat Williams has been the executive with the biggest smile four times at the lottery — with the Magic in 1992, 1993 and 2004 and with Philadelphia in 1986. The 1992 pick turned into Shaquille O'Neal; in 2004 it was Dwight Howard.
"What a way to make a living," Williams said. "A bunch of ping-pong balls rattling around in a machine determines your destination in this profession.
"Perfect example is San Antonio. They win it in 1987 and there was David Robinson sitting there for them. Then there was a period where they have injuries and have a terrible year and guess what happens? They win the thing again [in 1997] and there is Tim Duncan waiting there for them. That gives them about a, what, 25-year run with those two big guys who never get hurt, play every night and they contend every year. Wow."
The league was compelled to install the first lottery a year after the Houston Rockets "went into a complete nose dive" toward the end of the 1984 season, Williams said, eventually winning a coin flip for the top pick and later selecting Hakeem Olajuwon.
When the lottery debuted, a large plastic cylinder was turned by a crank and held paperboard logos of seven teams. There was controversy from the beginning because the New York Knicks had the seventh-worst record but got the first pick and later took Patrick Ewing.
"Right away, there were accusations and fingers being pointed," Williams said of allegations the NBA favored the big-city Knicks. The less-popular Golden State Warriors had the NBA's worst record that season.
Williams was inadvertently part of a major change after the lottery in 1993 when his Orlando team won it a second consecutive time after owning only one of 66 ping-pong balls shot out from a plastic cylinder infused with air.
"The league turned their mathematicians loose so that would never happen again," he said. "At that point, these complicated procedures [were installed], which no one can describe. We refer to it as the Orlando rule."
The league responded by moving from 66 ping-pong balls to its more complex system of combinations.
The Lakers obviously hope one of the top three combinations is theirs Tuesday. They're not used to this event, taking part in it for only the third time since its inception.
Williams, the four-time winner, has some advice.
"Over the years, we've taken the rabbits feet and four-leaf clovers and Lucky Charms cereal boxes. But I've discovered that it doesn't work," he said. "The best thing we have learned is to have lots of ping-pong balls in the machine."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times