By winning occasionally, Lakers may be losing

Lakers will be guaranteed a first-round pick in draft if they finish with NBA's worst or second-worst record

The Lakers (4-13) remained undefeated against the Eastern Conference on Sunday night, defeating the first-place Toronto Raptors (13-4).

With three wins against the east, but just one in 14 tries against the Western Conference, the Lakers currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA. The Lakers may be last in the Western Conference, but they have better records than the New York Knicks (4-14), Charlotte Hornets (4-14), Detroit Pistons (3-14) and the winless Philadelphia 76ers (0-16).

Struggling through one of the heaviest schedules in the league, the Lakers have survived a variety of absences, including those of Steve Nash (back), Nick Young (thumb), Ryan Kelly (hamstring), Julius Randle (leg), Xavier Henry (Achilles) and Wayne Ellington (personal matter), and they're still not quite bad enough to protect their 2015 NBA first-round pick.

As part of the Nash trade with the Suns, the Lakers owe Phoenix their next draft pick, provided it's not one of the first five selections.

The only way the Lakers are 100% guaranteed a draft pick in June is if they finish with the worst or second-worst record.  At third-worst, they have a 4% chance to fall to sixth.  The odds climb to 20% at fourth and all the way up to 44.7% at fifth. 

The top 2015 draft prospects include Duke's Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky's Karl Towns and guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who is playing in China, bypassing collegiate ball.

Coach Byron Scott and the 11 healthy players are trying to win each and every game, but the team has struggled defensively.  Still, the Lakers have won two of their last six games and their schedule lightens after a brutal November.

The Lakers play in Detroit and Boston (6-9) this week, two franchises potentially "competing" for draft position.  The Lakers' occasional wins continue to put the team in danger of finishing without a playoff berth, yet no draft pick to show for it.

Other teams in range of the Lakers at the bottom include the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-11), Utah Jazz (5-12), Orlando Magic (7-12) and Oklahoma City Thunder (5-12) -- although the Thunder just got Russell Westbrook back from a hand injury and could have Kevin Durant, who injured his foot, return in the next few days.

If the Lakers do end up keeping their top-five pick, they will owe the Suns their 2016 pick -- top-three protected.

Email Eric Pincus at and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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