Column: Lakers can win by losing, so that’s what they should do
It was their most inspirational victory of the season. It was also their saddest.
How messed up is the current NBA draft lottery system? Just check out the Lakers’ 102-95 win, um, loss, um, whatever, on Wednesday night against San Antonio.
The game begins and Larry Nance Jr. grabs an offensive rebound around LaMarcus Aldridge and lays it back in.
Nance grabs a loose ball, throws it out to Tyler Ennis, who nails a jumper.
Stop it! Stop it now!
The Lakers are hustling, playing good defense, getting big rebounding from Julius Randle, glimpses of potential from Brandon Ingram and the usual all-over-the-court buzz from Nance.
And you’re dying, because they’re winning, and you want them to lose, you need them to lose, their future might depend on whether they lose, and something is very wrong here.
“Lose in overtime,’’ clarified Norm Pattiz, a 35-year courtside season-ticket holder who has shown the Lakers so much love he has five championship rings.
Yes, even that guy who has spent nearly half his life standing next to the Lakers bench and clapping with those giant rings — you’ve seen him on video for three decades — wants them to lose.
“It stinks, and for the previous three years I held out hope and wanted them to win,” said Pattiz, a longtime communications executive. “But this year, I threw my hands up. They need to lose. In overtime. But they need to lose.’’
I hate every part of this. A win is a loss? A loss is a celebration? Pattiz is right, it stinks. He’s also right that Lakers fans can only throw up their hands and endure the stench.
You know the deal. The Lakers need to be bad enough to win a top-three lottery pick in this June’s draft or they will lose the pick to the Philadelphia 76ers because of The Worst Trade In The History Of Professional Sports, That Stupid Deal For Steve Nash.
You know the importance of that lottery pick. The NBA is the only professional league where a single player can entirely change a team’s fortunes. That lottery pick is gold.
You know the standings. The Lakers are currently only the third-worst team in the NBA, which mean their chances of being in the top three in the lottery are only about 47%, which is nervous time.
If the Lakers could finish behind Phoenix and be the second-worst team, their chances would improve to 56%, which feels much stronger. Except while the Suns have lost 13 in a row, the Lakers have won two straight
The nerve of them! What are they thinking!
With only four games remaining, and the Lakers leading the Suns by two games in the loss column, it is imperative that the Lakers lose all four of those final games. It doesn’t matter that three of those games are against horrible Sacramento, Minnesota and New Orleans. They must find a way to lose.
Think about that last sentence. It has been written about franchises throughout the NBA over the last few seasons, but that doesn’t make it any less unnatural. Mull that over for a second. The Lakers have to try to lose to have their best chance at building a winner. And that is just an awful way of doing business.
The Lakers are partly responsible for this mess. If Jim Buss had not made such questionable draft picks in recent years, they wouldn’t keep be in this position. The NBA’s broken draft system is also responsible. The league has to figure out a way to stop rewarding intentional losing. At this rate, the only thing that would seem to work is to abolish the draft altogether and allow teams to recruit players like colleges, with the salary cap creating a parity that currently doesn’t exist.
Until then, even though it’s completely understandable, to hear fans of the NBA’s second-winningest franchise openly hope that their team loses is still chilling
“Obviously, it’s a unique situation,’’ coach Luke Walton told reporters Wednesday night.
It’s unique this year because, unlike in their past couple of horrible seasons, this time the Lakers aren’t even pretending. The stakes for this lottery pick are so high — they would actually lose two first-round picks if they don’t finish in the top three — that they are clearly building a lineup for losing.
What is the first thing Magic Johnson did when he took over basketball operations last month? He traded their best player, Lou Williams.
What happened next? The Lakers shut down veterans Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng and Nick Young.
Then they started benching guys for rest, benching for minor injuries, benching for the heck of it, until finally, before Wednesday’s game against San Antonio, they finally went Full Tank.
They didn’t practice the previous day. They benched D’Angelo Russell. They benched Ingram after 10 minutes, during which he scored eight points, which clearly scared the heck out of them.
They entered the fourth quarter with a six-point lead and decided to hold that lead with a lineup that included Ennis, David Nwaba, Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black.
And, oh yeah, for the first time in three weeks, they played Metta World Peace. They didn’t just play him, they played him for 17 minutes, his first double-digits minutes since the first week of December.
And they still won! And everyone was furious! Fans who normally would be thrilled were upset. A social media that normally would be embracing was attacking.
And the players had to actually defend themselves for the victory.
“I need to come out and play my hardest,’’ Ennis told reporters, later adding, “I don’t pay attention to what the fans say.’’
Imagine that. At a rare time when a young Laker should be soaking up cheers, he’s bracing for boos, a win is a loss, every victory is a dagger, and something is very wrong here.
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