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Land the Picks, Bryan: Lakers’ December collapse heightening expectations

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It’s the end of December, but it’s never too early to envision the Sixers drafting twice early in the talent-laden 2017 NBA draft.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles has officially hit proverbial rock-bottom in its 36-game campaign. Losing 101-89 to injury-riddled, offensively challenged Dallas Thursday, it was another listless, familiar contest for the reeling Lakers. A Deron Williams-led cast of misfit upstarts went into the Staples Center and gave a second-half thrashing to a unit comprised of multiple young, budding talents.

Williams contributed “playing team basketball” in the second half to the Mavericks’ 51-32 advantage through that period, but the Lakers compounded issues with lackluster defensive rotations and missed assignments.

It’s not LA’s home loss to a 9-23 team entering the game that’s staggering: the same issues that plagued the team last season have sprouted once again. High-ball screens and dribble penetration generated open and wide-open looks for Dallas, who connected on 14-of-31 threes (45.2 percent). With regularity, Rick Carlisle’s group exploited the Lakers’ lacking awareness, deficiencies.

It was a sharp contrast to earlier games, with LA having a concerted effort to thrive on both ends of the floor. A late Devin Harris three, who set his feet, focused on the basket and performed an unabated shot without deterrence for the swish, encapsulated the Lakers night. Dallas joined the 10-win club, now two games ahead of the Sixers (7-24), and the Lakers continue to “push” for its ideal draft slot.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (12-24)

Tankathon.com Ranking: seventh

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status: It was natural to support constant Lakers losses after the team’s scalding 7-5 start, almost instilling fear of a playoff push. However, almost off script, Tinseltown’s most heralded basketball team has morphed into a pushover with a bleak immediate future. This can’t be explicit enough: the Lakers are half a game better than the No. 3 team in the lottery. Occupied by three teams (Dallas, Phoenix, Miami), LA is technically 0.5 games ahead of the No. 4 and No. 5 teams as well.

The Lakers trending towards the bottom of the standings has its perks for Philadelphia, but LA’s precariousness has spurned the Sixers repeatedly. Philadelphia can’t control the purple and gold meltdown. Luke Walton, as stated repeatedly in past editions of this respective column, controls how the Lakers function.

It’s reining in the youth, overhauling the gameplan and utilizing his valuable depth that could be solutions to a persisting macro issue: lacking talent. LA is back to underdog status and upper lottery, or playoff, aspirations seem steep. Occupying the No. 3 to No. 7 range from today to the end of the year is a reasonable expectation for the Lakers

Opening 2017 with home matchups against Toronto (22-10) and Memphis (21-14) present challenges at the start of January.

Chance of Conveyance: Players ranked from No. 4 to No. 7 on your respective big boards seem like credible options as December closes. (Check out Liberty Ballers’ first mock here.)

Team: Sacramento Kings (14-18)

Tankathon.com Ranking: 15th

Protections: In 2017, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento if the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10 post-lottery.

Analysis/Pick Status: As appealing a situation LA is in, Sacramento also presents long-term upside if everything pans out. A beneficiary of the surprisingly wonky West this year, the Kings are 5.5 games out of the seventh seed but have the same record as the No. 10 lottery team Denver.

Everyone is waiting for the impending Portland surge, after breaking out last season, but losing to Dallas at home raises questions. (The Mavs have played a surprisingly pivotal role in the Sixers’ lottery narrative.) A week from now, Portland (14-20) could be situated as the No. 8 seed, but Sacramento, arguably has the more favorable upcoming three-game slate.

Home contests against Memphis and Miami bookend a trip to Denver for the Kings, while Portland travels to San Antonio, Minnesota and Golden State. Relative to the situation (games against high lottery teams), hope for Sacramento wins in 2017.

Taking advantage of the mid-to-late lottery in this draft affects 2019: the year of capitalization on Sam Hinkie’s famed Sacramento deal.

Chance of Conveyance: Unlikely. This is a more focused Sacramento team with a culture finally conducive to winning.