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Lakers' lucky number comes up in NBA draft lottery with No. 2 pick

After enduring the worst season in their history, Lakers finally catch a break, landing No.2 pick in NBA draft

The agony subsided after many, many months of it. Something finally went right for the Lakers after their worst season ever.

They hung on to the pick they could have lost because of the Steve Nash trade and doubled down by jumping from No. 4 to No. 2 in the NBA draft lottery Tuesday.

The franchise that built its foundation upon George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal now has a chance to draft a promising big man next month.

The reward for a 21-61 season is almost surely Duke's Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns, to be determined between now and the first few minutes of the June 25 draft.

The Lakers had only a 12.6% chance at winning the No. 2 pick but it was theirs after the plastic drum spat out ping-pong balls numbered 6-8-4-11, one of 119 four-digit combinations the Lakers were given after finishing with the NBA's fourth-worst record. There were 1,000 total combinations spread among the 14 lottery teams based on regular-season records.

"We played like crap all season so it's only right we get the #2 pick HA," Kobe Bryant said on his Twitter account, adding the hashtags "laker luck" and "good day."

The Lakers probably owe thanks to Equinox gym in Santa Monica, where Coach Byron Scott said his workout buddies promised him the team would end up with the No. 2 pick.

"Big-time night for us," Scott said after stepping down from the set of the TV broadcast of the lottery results. "I think this is obviously a step in the right direction for the franchise and the process of being back to where we know we should be in the next year or so."

The Lakers also owe a debt of gratitude to longtime publicist John Black, who wore a championship ring for the first time since he could remember. It was from 2001 and worn in the secluded room where the actual lottery drawing took place an hour before the TV broadcast.

Black chose it because he always liked its fit, comparatively subtle look, and how it stood for the Lakers' most dominant playoff run, a 15-1 march ending with a championship victory against Philadelphia.

"I didn't want to have to throw it in the East River," an ecstatic Black said after the drawing concluded in a meeting room of a Manhattan hotel. "I've been a nervous wreck."

There were big stakes indeed, derived entirely from a 17.3% chance the Lakers would lose their top-five-protected pick because of the Nash trade with Phoenix in 2012.

The lottery started with Minnesota winning the top overall selection with a combination of 1-3-7-6, and then the four ping-pong balls were placed back in the hopper to join 10 others, making it again 14 total, numbered 1 to 14.

When one of the Lakers' combinations came up for the No. 2 selection, Black clapped the back of the Philadelphia 76ers representative sitting next to him, executive Brad Shron. The 76ers would have gotten the pick (which they acquired from Phoenix) if the Lakers somehow fell to sixth in the lottery with two teams passing them. Instead, the Lakers vaulted two teams.

"I said, 'Sorry, but you're not getting our pick,'" Black said.

The Lakers' first-round selection next year will go to Philadelphia unless the Lakers hold a top-three pick after the lottery.

Of course, the Lakers want nothing to do with the lottery a year from now.

Scott declined to say the Lakers would automatically take whichever big man dropped to them next month. The team will work out all top prospects over the next few weeks and come to a decision, he said.

Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell is a remote possibility, but Okafor and Towns appear too tantalizing to pass up.

Okafor helped lead Duke to the NCAA championship, showing the most polished post game of any college player. His defense and free-throw shooting need work, but he's expected to make a quick impact at the pro level. NBA talent evaluators love his footwork, his face-up jumper and quick spin moves, not to mention his incredibly large hands.

Towns, though, is a better athlete and has a higher ceiling as a two-way player, his defense clearly superior to Okafor's but his offense not as well-rounded.

Towns' stats this season weren't gaudy — 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game — thanks to the liberal substitution pattern of Kentucky Coach John Calipari. He had solid games as the NCAA tournament progressed, including 25 points against Notre Dame and then 16 points and nine rebounds against Wisconsin in the Wildcats' Final Four semifinal loss.

Towns and Okafor, both freshmen, are listed at 6 feet 11. The Lakers drafted a Kentucky freshman last year with the No. 7 pick, power forward Julius Randle, but he sustained a broken leg in the opener and didn't play another game all season.

The Lakers also hold the No. 27 pick (from Houston, via the Jeremy Lin trade) and their second-round pick, 34th overall.

After so many negatives for the franchise in recent months — another season-ending injury for Bryant, a numbing lack of on-court entertainment and a fan base that encouraged losing to improve lottery position — Scott credited the power of positive thinking.

"I just felt in my heart and my mind that we were going to get No. 1 or 2," he said. "I don't know why I felt that way. I just did. I'm very happy that it came to fruition."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: Mike_Bresnahan

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