The Lakers owe their 2015 first-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns, unless the Lakers finish with a top-five selection. If the Lakers keep their pick, they would owe the Suns their 2016 first-rounder, but with top-three protection.
On Friday, the Lakers visit the Orlando Magic (15-37) in what may be the most important game of the season to lose.
As the fourth-worst team in the league, the Lakers would have an 82.8% chance of landing a top-five pick in May's draft lottery. If the Lakers beat the Magic, improving to 14 wins, they would risk falling to fifth -- with just a 55.2% chance of staying in the top five.
Falling to the Magic, the Lakers would stand at 13 wins while Orlando would improve to 16.
Some of the top prospects expected to be in the draft include Duke's Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky's Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, Arizona's Stanley Johnson, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, UCLA's Kevon Looney, Kansas' Kelly Oubre and guard Emmanuel Mudiay, playing overseas in China.
The Lakers have 33 games left this season. They've won at a 26.5% pace. If they continue at the same rate, they'll get eight or nine more wins to finish at 21-61 or 22-60.
With Kobe Bryant out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Lakers may not get beyond 19 wins, but the Magic have shown a serious knack for losing, dropping 10 straight.
The Lakers can't afford to spot Orlando another loss on Friday; instead they need to focus on catching the Philadelphia 76ers (11-39), New York Knicks (10-39) and Minnesota Timberwolves (9-40) below for even better odds at keeping that top-five pick.