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Lakers continue to make progress toward a lottery pick

Professional BasketballLos Angeles LakersOrlando MagicUtah JazzMemphis GrizzliesPhiladelphia 76ersMilwaukee Bucks

After a surprise win in Portland on Monday against the Trail Blazers, the Lakers have completely fallen apart with three straight losses including a 48-point drubbing by the Clippers.

The Lakers have given up an average of 136 points a game through that stretch, falling to 21-42 on the season and last place in the 15-team Western Conference.

The good news for the Lakers, given that the playoffs have been out of the equation for some time, is improvement in the chase for a higher pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

On May 20, the league will hold the draft lottery.  The lower the Lakers finish in the standings, the better chance they have at a top-three pick.

Three teams in the Eastern Conference currently have worse records than the Lakers do. The Milwaukee Bucks (12-49 before Saturday's games) and Philadelphia 76ers (15-46) appear out of reach but the Lakers are still within range of the Orlando Magic (19-44). 

The Lakers host the Magic on March 23, in what could be a "must-lose" for both teams, considering the lottery.

Currently the Lakers are tied in the win column with the Utah Jazz (21-41, 14th in the West) and Boston Celtics (21-41, 12th in the East).  The Jazz visits the 76ers on Saturday night.

Philadelphia has lost an impressive 15 straight.  A Jazz win would be a small victory for the Lakers.

The schedule ahead for the Lakers is quite rough, with home-and-home sets against the Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16) and San Antonio Spurs (45-16).

The only (current) non-playoff teams left on the Lakers' schedule are the New York Knicks (23-40), Minnesota Timberwolves (31-30), Sacramento Kings (22-40), Memphis Grizzlies (35-26), the Bucks, the Magic and the Jazz.

The Wolves and Grizzlies are still making playoff pushes.  Every loss against the remaining sub-.500 teams only bolsters the Lakers' chances at a top pick.

The projected draft pool could include Kansas players Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, plus Jabari Parker (Duke), Dante Exum (Australia), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Aaron Gordon (Arizona) and Noah Vonleh (Indiana) -- to name a few.

Fans might have trouble watching the team the Lakers are putting on the floor, but the losing today could bear fruit in June.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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