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Lakers report: Not much matters but the lottery at this point

The Lakers' D'Angelo Russell, right, is fouled by Memphis Grizzlies' Brandan Wright during the second half Sunday.
(PAUL BUCK / EPA)

With only a handful of games left in the NBA season, the picture for next month’s draft lottery is sharpening.

Because the Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, their lottery position could be determined by chance. After having the 29th-best record in the league for several weeks, the Lakers (22-55) have moved up a spot and are now half a game better than the Phoenix Suns (22-56).

If the Lakers and Suns both lose the rest of their games, they will finish with the same record, giving them similar odds to procure a top-three pick. The Brooklyn Nets are likely to finish the season with the worst record in the league. They are 19-59 after beating Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Unfortunately for the Nets, whatever draft pick they get will make the rich richer. The Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets this year, as part of the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets in 2013.

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The ping pong balls used in the draft lottery can emerge in 1,000 combinations. Each is assigned to a different team that finishes the season ranking 17th through 30th. The team ranking 17th will have a minuscule chance at at top-three pick. That team gets only five combinations, giving them half a percentage point of a chance to get the first overall pick.

The team with the worst record in the NBA gets 250 combinations, and has a 25% chance of getting the first pick. That team also has about a 21.5% chance of getting the second pick and about a 17.8% chance of getting the third pick. Overall, it has approximately a 64% chance of having a pick in the top three.

The team with the second-worst record in the NBA, if it is only one team, will have 199 combinations, and a 19.9% chance of getting the first pick, an 18.8% chance of getting the second pick and a 17.12% chance of getting the third pick, making its chances of getting a pick in the top three 55.83%.

The team with the third-worst record in the NBA, if it is only one team, gets 156 combinations and a 15.60% chance of the first pick, a 15.74% chance of the second pick and a 15.58% chance of the third pick, or about a 47% chance at a top-three pick.

It’s possible the Lakers and Suns finish with the same record. The Suns have four remaining games, against Golden State, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Sacramento. Phoenix has not beaten Golden State yet this year, is 1-2 against the Thunder and Kings, and is 2-1 against Dallas.

The Lakers, who did not practice Tuesday in favor of visiting Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, play the Spurs on Wednesday. They have Sacramento, Minnesota, New Orleans and Golden State on their schedule. They are winless against the Spurs, but have one win each against the Kings, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Warriors.

If the Lakers and Suns finish with the same record, their odds would be similar. The league would average the two lottery slots, to get 177.5, then have a draw to break the tie. The winner of the draw would get 178 combinations, the loser 177.

The lottery system will choose the first three picks, then teams will be slotted according to record starting at the fourth pick.

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Having a pick outside the top three isn’t a catastrophe under normal circumstances.

Russell Westbrook was selected fourth overall in 2008, Chris Paul was fourth in 2005 and last year’s fourth overall pick was New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis. In 2010, Sacramento selected DeMarcus Cousins fifth overall. Dwyane Wade, Garnett, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley were also chosen fifth overall.

And Warriors star Stephen Curry was the seventh overall pick in 2009.

The Lakers’ problem is they are still paying for past trades.

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If their 2017 first-round pick falls out of the top three, they surrender that pick to the 76ers, as part of the trade for Steve Nash in 2012. That pick is tied to their trade for Dwight Howard in the same year. If the Lakers lose this year’s pick, they also have to give their 2019 first-rounder to the Orlando Magic.

If the Lakers remain in the top three, they’ll keep this year’s pick and that 2019 first-round pick. They’ll give Philadelphia next year’s first-round pick and give Orlando a pair of second-round picks instead.

The Lakers won’t be completely out of the first round if they lose their first pick. Magic Johnson’s first trade as president of basketball operations ensured the Lakers would have at least one first-round pick in what’s expected to be a very deep draft. The Houston Rockets gave the Lakers a first-round pick and Corey Brewer in exchange for Lou Williams just before the trade deadline.

The Rockets currently have the third-best record in the NBA, which would make their pick No. 28 in the first round.

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UP NEXT FOR LAKERS

AT SAN ANTONIO

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: AT&T Center

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On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio 710, 1330

Records: Lakers 22-55, Spurs 60-17.

Record vs. Spurs: 0-3

Update: The Spurs are firmly the second seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs. They are unlikely to catch the Golden State Warriors, who led them by 3.5 games heading into Tuesday’s games. They can’t fall below the Rockets, who are 7.5 games behind them. That makes the rest of the regular season essentially meaningless for San Antonio. The Lakers, meanwhile, could hurt their odds of keeping their first first-round pick this year with a win as it is a top-three protected pick.

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tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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