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Land the Picks, Bryan: Sacramento loses grip on playoff positioning

The Kings have returned to the lottery, with Portland finally making a surge in the standings.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A team that built its core through the draft has become an unlikely ally in boosting the value of the Sixers’ 2017 and future draft picks. The young, budding trio of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe have helped salvage a subpar Portland start. With a 4-2 record in the last six games, including a signature home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday, the Trail Blazers have looked formidable. Finally playing to its preseason billing of Western Conference contender, Portland is a definite adversary to Sacramento and Los Angeles in their playoff quests.

All three teams are in the bottom-half of the league in points allowed per game, but Portland (18-23) hasn’t allowed 90 points or more in three of the last six games. Over the next two weeks, the newest No. 8 seed in the West has a favorable matchup, predominately, facing statistically poor offensive teams.

Portland’s uptick in defensive stoutness would certainly be appreciated. Sacramento also has to immediately gather themselves on the less glamorous end, with home matchups against Oklahoma City and Cleveland looming.

Team: Sacramento Kings (16-22) Ranking: 11th

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: Just 0.5 games back from Portland in the West, the Kings taking advantage of a watered-down conference this season has run its course. A brutal nine-game stretch, seven against teams with over a .500 record, could allow last season’s upstarts (Portland) to once again gain momentum and a cushion in January. Arguably, the Trail Blazers are a team you’d naturally pull for over a team in perpetual turmoil like Sacramento.

Incidents like the one DeMarcus Cousins and Darren Collison experienced recently simply have become an addition to Kings games. Cousins acknowledged it was just a minor skirmish with his teammate, but the outbursts have accumulated for Boogie this season, further tarnishing his image.

Cousins isn’t concerned with leaving either, reportedly seeking a contract extension at the end of the 2016-17 season. Kings losses wouldn’t be catastrophic, for those seeking a Sacramento finish above the top 10 spots in the lottery. A meltdown could have the talented center reconsidering his intention to stay. Rudy Gay had expressed his discontent in Sacramento, prior to the regular season, and serves as the lone frontcourt offensive threat outside of Cousins.

If he forgoes his player option for next season, Cousins could be in a predicament. The longer the Kings have a realistic shot at contention, the more likely players will buy into the foundation. Kings losses in abundance would be ideal.

Chance of Pick Conveyance: With the Sixers just 4.0 games “back” from the Kings and having a scalding January, the next couple of weeks have become intriguing. Just one game ahead of Denver, who are No. 8 in the lottery, a Kings slide might drastically affect the odds of a pick conveyance.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (15-28) Ranking: seventh

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status: A brief Lakers scare at the beginning of the week was punctuated by a throttling from Portland and San Antonio. Los Angeles had little difficulty dismantling a injury-stricken Miami unit and a confused Orlando team still attempting to piece together an optimal lineup. For a team that allows 100-plus points on the regular, there should be little worry about Los Angeles moving forward.

D’Angelo Russell looked to be amidst a breakout run, but put up two straight duds offensively against the Trail Blazers and Spurs. Brandon Ingram has made a productive impact off the bench for Luke Walton, taking on a supplementary role as a scorer and contributing in many categories. He’s thrived in January, averaging 11.3 points (53.7 FG%), 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 28.0 MPG.

Not having a playmaker/distributor type off the bench to complement Russell has become a burden. Lou Williams has regressed as a shooter, Jordan Clarkson already fulfills his role and Julius Randle is second on the team in assists per game (3.8). He shouldn’t be.

Defense has been a problem throughout the season for Los Angeles, but the overlapping skill sets and lacking facilitators is something to acknowledge. It’s factored into losses, dropping the Lakers to the middle of the lottery.

Chance of Conveyance: Right now, it’s statistically at 85 percent.

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