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Land the Picks, Bryan: Kings endure rough week

Sacramento’s recent inability to close out games is leading to losses and boosting the Sixers’ lottery odds.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker is a contortionist masquerading as a basketball player. In the Suns’ final possession against Sacramento with the game tied at 106, Booker called his own number and dispersed eight other players away from him and his man. With 2.2 seconds remaining in the fourth, using three seconds to attempt to catch Matt Barnes off-balance, the 20-year-old shooting guard dribbled diagonal from the basket, twisted his body and canned the game-winner.

A seven-point Kings lead with 4:22 to go in the fourth dwindled to nothing. Sacramento, dropping a home game against a team with the second-worst record entering Friday, is making their victories last week look like facades. An Arron Afflalo three punctuated a Kings upset of the Cavaliers one week ago. Just six days later, Sacramento helped Devin Booker (34 points) give off impressions of a young Reggie Miller; something that he’s flashed inconsistently just over one-and-half years into the league.

The Kings didn’t just have trouble with Booker: T.J. Warren and Eric Bledsoe came to Cali and contributed 20-plus points apiece for a team ice-cold in their conference.

Last night, Phoenix entered the game at 5-28 against the West and triumphed over Sacramento in a Friday night shocker. Heading into Saturday’s slate of contests, multiple teams have jumped the Kings in the standings from both conferences.

Team: Sacramento Kings (19-31) Ranking: 5th

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: Along with Phoenix, the Sixers helped Sacramento move to the fifth spot in the lottery, edging out their adversary in a close outcome. A defensive meltdown allowed Arron Afflalo ample space and time to make a game-tying triple, but the errant attempt resulted in the Sixers’ lone victory this week. It sparked a Kings losing streak, with a double-digit loss to the Rockets sandwiched in between the Monday defeat and Friday letdown.

However, there was one positive that emerged in the loss. Ben McLemore had a relatively productive night, with 18 points and three assists, taking over for an injured Garrett Temple. Temple’s been one of DeMarcus Cousins’ complements and his style of play isn’t as flashy as McLemore’s. However, there’s little downside in just unleashing the former first-round pick and letting him break down his man off the dribble consistently.

Viewing McLemore’s potential impact, his play has been predicated on Sacramento’s coaches’ willingness to utilize him in the half court consistently. He’s naturally an exciting supplementary piece, but his tantalizing qualities just have yet to promote McLemore’s growth. It’ll be intriguing to see if he can double down on quality performance when the Kings host Golden State tonight.

Hosting four straight teams currently in the playoff seeding, Sacramento could be the No. 4 team in the lottery this time next week.

Chance of Pick Conveyance: With the Sixers and Kings at No. 4 and No. 5 in the lottery standings, respectively, the floor of the pick swap is higher than it has been in ages. The Sixers, also, currently boast a 18.4 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick and #Swapocalypse could happen.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (17-36) Ranking: third

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status:

Lou Williams and Nick Young have been lauded for their improved offensive efficiency and overall performance, but a there’s another storyline developing in Los Angeles. A major contributor to the Lakers annual struggles in the winter is their youth lacking consistency. It’s been apparent in the 2016-17 as well. In a win over Denver Tuesday, D’Angelo Russell had the most productive outing of the core. Brandon Ingram struggled mightily on offense, as did Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. wasn’t piling up stats in different categories and Julius Randle was out.

In an eight-point loss to Washington Thursday, Clarkson went off for 20 points, and the Russell-Randle-Ingram trio collectively went 7-for-22 from the field. Clarkson’s 1-for-7 performance, Ingram showing versatility by scoring the majority of his 14 points away from his natural position of small forward, Nance putting up a 18/11/4/3 clip and Randle receiving a DNP-CD Friday against Boston spoke to the volatility of the Lakers’ foundation.

All outcomes were single digits this week for LA, but steady contributions from players could’ve flipped one of the outcomes.

Chance of Pick Conveyance: Just three games separate Los Angeles from the Sixers, with the purple and gold playing four more games this season thus far. Traveling for contests against underperforming teams in New York, Detroit and Milwaukee, the Lakers could capitalize.

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