For his birthday, the Lakers almost gave Coach Luke Walton a win.
What happened instead was ultimately better for the franchise.
The young Lakers showed fight and shot the ball well. They threatened one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. And then they lost to the Washington Wizards, 119-108, at Staples Center.
"It was beautiful," Walton said of the Lakers' 37-point third quarter in which they made 15 consecutive shots, and 15 of 16 overall. "The way the ball was moving. They were just reading off each other. Guys were ready to make quick passes. Guys were flashing. … Unfortunately the fourth quarter started with us missing some open looks that we had been hitting and then we had some turnovers. … They cut into that lead without even really having to get hot."
Point guard John Wall finished with 34 points, 14 assists and four steals for the Wizards, who outscored the Lakers 37-13 in the fourth quarter.
D'Angelo Russell finished with 28 points and nine assists for the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points.
"He was great tonight," Walton said of Russell. "He was brilliant, some of the passing he had."
The defeat kept the Lakers a half-game worse than the Phoenix Suns.
Both the Suns and Brooklyn Nets also lost Tuesday. The Suns dropped to 22-53, still a half-game better than the Lakers, whose 21-53 record is the worst in the Western Conference and second-worst in the NBA, ahead of only the 16-58 Nets.
Although Brooklyn has won five of its last 10 games, it's unlikely the Nets will catch the Lakers in the standings given that only eight games remain. But if the Lakers maintain their position below Phoenix, it would improve their chances of retaining their first-round pick by finishing in the top three in this year's draft lottery.
If the Lakers fall out of the top three on lottery night, they'll surrender that pick to Philadelphia and also their 2019 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic. If they stay in the top three, they keep this year's first-rounder, and their debt to the Magic becomes two second-round picks.
Against the Wizards, the Lakers fell behind early and trailed by 12 points midway through the first quarter. They stormed back as the quarter closed, constructing an 8-0 run punctuated by a fastbreak layup from David Nwaba at the buzzer. Nwaba grinned as the ball descended through the net to tie the score at 27.
The Lakers led by three at halftime, with Russell having scored 20 of their 58 points, on eight-for-13 shooting. They only grew stronger from there.
While the third quarter has often troubled the Lakers this season, this third quarter emboldened them. A 14-3 run starting with 9:23 left gave the Lakers their first double-digit lead of the game. They led by 16 points during the third, and by 13 heading into the fourth quarter. Clarkson scored 14 points during the third period alone, and by the end of it he and Russell had combined for 46 points.
Then Washington, suddenly playing like a team with a chance at the best record in the Eastern Conference, struck back.
The Lakers didn't score for the first 2 minutes 5 seconds of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Wizards scored nine points and cut the Lakers' lead to four.
Later in the fourth, Wall stole the ball from Russell, took it the length of the court, elevated and dunked the ball to tie the score at 101. It wasn't the last time the Lakers would lead, but marked a watershed moment in a comeback the Wizards began to start the final period.
"We just missed some early shots and turned it over and it snowballed from there," Walton said.