Kobe Bryant looks to pass while being defended by Grizzlies forwards Zach Randolph and Matt Barnes (22) during the first half of a game on Feb. 24.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant reacts from the sideline during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 24.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant talks with Grizzlies guard Vince Carter before a game Feb. 24 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes, left, works to control the ball against Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) during the first half of a game on Feb. 24 as forward JaMychal Green looks on.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) shoots against Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) during the second half of a game on Feb. 24.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Julius Randle is defended by Memphis forward Matt Barnes during the first half of a game on Feb. 24.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Julius Randle heads to the basket in front of Grizzlies forwards Matt Barnes (22) and Chris Anderson (7) during a game on Feb. 24.(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
Byron Scott had a message for Lakers fans who wanted their team to lose.
Sorry, the Lakers will keep trying to win.
Lottery enthusiasts need not worry. Trying to win and actually succeeding remained entirely different concepts.
The Lakers fell Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies, 128-119, for a staggering 48th loss in 59 games.
D’Angelo Russell showed some spark and there was an entertaining Matt Barnes-Kobe Bryant matchup, but lottery talk carried the day.
For the second consecutive season, the Lakers’ draft pick will be surrendered if they fall below a certain spot in the May 17 lottery.
Last year, they needed a top-five pick to keep it and fortuitously moved from fourth to second on lottery night.
The wiggle room is smaller this time. Their first-round pick is only top-three protected or else they surrender it because of the Steve Nash trade.
The Lakers own the NBA’s second-worst record, giving them a 55.83% chance of keeping the pick and creating the second annual Lakers quandary — losing now helps them later in the lottery.
Scott didn’t want to hear about it.
“You don’t go out there trying to lose basketball games,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “I think that’s a bad way to present that to your team — ‘We’re trying to lose so we can protect the top-three pick.’ That’s a bad omen to me.
“So I would never, even behind closed doors, tell my players, tell my coaches, tell my trainers or anybody that we were trying to lose games on purpose to protect the pick.”
He wasn’t quite done.
“I’m not coaching, looking at the clock, going, ‘All right, man, if we can just turn it over a few more times and miss a few more shots, this game is in the bag as far as a loss is concerned.’ That’s not me,” he said.
The Lakers are wedged between the worst team in the league, Philadelphia (8-49), and the third-worst team, Phoenix (14-43).
Lottery lovers, unite! The Lakers play the Suns twice next month.
If Russell keeps progressing, the Lakers might win both games. He looked confident while amassing 22 points and a career-high eight assists at FedEx Forum in his third consecutive game as a starter.
“It’s much easier for him when he does start to be able to control the game,” said Bryant, who had 13 points on five-for-14 shooting.
Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson will each play 30 minutes a game the rest of the way, according to Scott.
This was good news for Russell, who lost his starting job 20 games into the season before getting it back last week.
“Earlier in the year, I probably was given that starting spot and didn’t have to work for it,” Russell said. “I’m not going to try to give [Scott] a reason to bench me again.”
If only the Lakers could bench their whole defense. They’ve allowed an average of 113 points during a seven-game losing streak.
Scott faulted Clarkson and Russell, who let Mike Conley (24 points) and P.J. Hairston (17 points) have their way. Bryant had trouble with Barnes, letting his former teammate beat him for 25 points.
In other words, there was plenty of blame to spread. Just like so many of the other losses.