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Lakers and Mavericks used young players down the stretch. But only one team says it was trying to lose

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban walks off the court after the first half of a game against Memphis on April 12.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

The Dallas Mavericks knew on April 1 they weren’t making the playoffs this season. After that, they went 2-5 to close out the season. According to team owner Mark Cuban, that miserable finish to the season was by design.

“Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games,” Cuban said Wednesday on “The Dan Patrick Show.”

That way, the Mavericks would have a better chance at getting a higher draft pick this summer, because of the lottery system the NBA has in place. And how exactly does a team going about losing on purpose?

“You play all your young players,” said Cuban, who emphasized that the players were never asked to tank games.

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Sound familiar, Lakers fans?

The Lakers balked when asked about tanking but made it clear after the playoffs were out of reach that their main goal was developing young players rather than seeking wins.

To that end, the Lakers took Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov out of their starting lineups, then eventually shut them down altogether. They traded away their leading scorer, Lou Williams, who, though good at providing an offensive spark, didn’t further their long-term goals. Even later, they shut down Nick Young for the season in favor of experimenting with guard combinations.

In April, the Lakers found themselves in a battle with the Phoenix Suns to improve their lottery odds. All the Lakers had to do was lose out and they would have the second-worst record in the league, with the second-best odds to keep a top-three pick. Against the San Antonio Spurs, they rested D’Angelo Russell with “knee soreness” that coach Luke Walton didn’t offer many details about, and Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson both saw very limited minutes with minor injuries.

The Lakers won that game anyway, and were defiant afterward. They won their next three games and finished the season having won four of their last five.

Like Cuban said of his players, “once a guy walks on the court, they’re going to play their heart out, particularly the young guys because they have something to prove. So, you know, Dorian Finney-Smith, Yogi Ferrell — there’s nothing you could say or do to them to say, ‘Don’t play hard,’ or, ‘Try to lose this game.’

“That wouldn’t be right and I don’t think any NBA team would ever do that.”

The Mavericks finished with the ninth-worst record in the league and did not improve that standing during Tuesday’s lottery, drawing the ninth overall pick for the June 22 draft. The Lakers, however, emerged with the second overall pick.

charles.schilken@latimes.com

Twitter: @chewkiii


UPDATES:

12:50 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about the Lakers.

This article was originally published at 10:35 a.m.


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