Someone in the crowd threw a little red, white and blue ball on the court as players lined up for the final seconds of regulation.
It was a strange moment, and the ball bounced neatly to Philadelphia 76ers power forward Nerlens Noel, who picked it up and hurled it back toward the spectators as far as he could, close to the exit tunnel for Section 101.
Taking flight a few minutes later were some important lottery percentages for the Lakers.
This has become a March Madness all its own, the Lakers sitting perfectly healthy players not because they’re preparing for a playoff run but because, um, let’s just say it’s complicated.
The Lakers would never admit it publicly, but their 113-111 overtime victory Monday over the 76ers probably cost them something on lottery night.
They moved three games ahead of Philadelphia in the overall standings and are practically locked in as the NBA’s fourth-worst team. There is a 16% chance two teams could pass them in the May 19 draft lottery, at which point they would forfeit their first-round pick because of the Steve Nash trade. Had the Lakers fallen below the 76ers in the standings between now and April 15, there would be only a 3% chance of three teams passing them on lottery night.
One more stat for lottery gluttons: The team with the third-worst record has a 15.6% chance at winning the No. 1 pick, the fourth-worst team only a 10.4% chance.
The present-day Lakers don’t care. The victory felt great.
Their lottery-laden fans might say otherwise. Coach Byron Scott would gladly debate them.
“I don’t care about all that stuff,” he said. “It’s all about us trying to get better as a basketball team and trying to win games. Whatever happens after that happens. We can’t control that.”
Eight players sat for the Lakers because they were injured, ill or otherwise. Ed Davis fell into that last category, sitting a second consecutive game for “rest” purposes. Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin also sat out, each of them suffering from upper-respiratory infections, though only Lin was listed as ill in the official box score. Next to Boozer’s name was the now-familiar “DNP-Coach’s Decision.”
Nobody sat rookie Jordan Clarkson, who continued his inspired play since becoming a starter two months ago. He had 26 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. He also had the winning layup after a pretty feed from a double-teamed Wayne Ellington with 0.7 seconds left in overtime at Wells Fargo Center.
Rookie Jabari Brown, Clarkson’s college teammate at Missouri, likely earned a job the rest of the season after scoring 22 points. Monday night marked the end of his second 10-day contract, and the Lakers were expected to sign him the rest of the way after its expiration.
“I feel like I helped myself tonight,” said Brown, who made seven of 10 shots.
For the record, nobody is publicly accusing the Lakers of losing on purpose. A huge grin spread over Wesley Johnson’s face after he dunked an alley-oop pass from Clarkson in the third quarter. The 76ers called a timeout, and Clarkson and Johnson jumped in the air at midcourt so they could bump backs.
Like all the Lakers, Johnson has heard the time-to-tank chatter from a vocal sector of Lakers fans.
“It’s one of those things that they want it because of the hype of the draft kids that are coming out,” Johnson said. “But to us, this is our job. We’re not trying to go out there and lose.”
As March folds into April, the Lakers’ most important date now happens past the midpoint of May. They’ll now apparently have less leverage that night in this bizarre upside-down season.