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Land the Picks, Bryan: Lakers show promise, Sacramento still reeling

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Los Angeles heads into their game against Philadelphia with some confidence while the Kings continue to slide.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers’ 122-110 road victory over the Phoenix Suns Thursday was a massive boon for L.A.’s pick conveying this year. Possessing an eight-game losing streak heading into the contest, the win revitalized a team destined to finish 15th in the West. With extended rest, the Lakers have a favorable matchup against a Sixers team finishing the second half of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights.

Sacramento appears to be sleepwalking through March, now boasting the league’s longest current losing streak at eight games. Inserting Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein into the starting lineup is a necessary step but won’t move the needle immediately.

The Kings’ tailspin has its benefits — that pick swap looks tastier with each passing day.

Team: Sacramento Kings (25-41) Ranking: Sixth

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: With the Sixers’ four-game losing streak, Sacramento’s move down the lottery was slightly limited. However, their schedule this week will have an impact on teams in the No. 3 to No. 6 positions. Hosting Orlando (24-43) Monday and traveling to Phoenix (22-44) Wednesday, two Kings losses would aid Philadelphia’s quest for a top-5 pick.

Sacramento’s tumble down the standings coincides with the emergence of Hield-Cauley Stein two-man game. Hield (13.8 PPG, 50.0 FG%, 60.0 3PFG%) and Cauley-Stein’s (12.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 50.0 FG%) production in March have been a silver lining in the prolonged losing streak. With starting jobs and consistent minutes, the two have a freedom to work through mistakes, a luxury Sacramento hasn’t always afforded prior young talents. It’s unfortunate that management didn’t implement this strategy sooner.

In addition to finally spotlighting the youth, if Vivek Ranadive Vlade Divac made the same deal in January, the Kings likely wouldn’t have pulled off their February run. It was the first winning month since January of last season, and this level of ineptitude could’ve lasted for most of 2017.

Nonetheless, Sacramento finally has meaningful building blocks. Instead of another pipe-dream run at the playoffs, March has been about development.

Chance for Pick Conveyance: Philadelphia’s penchant to pull off surprise victories and Sacramento’s dearth of talent could make things interesting. Just two games separate the teams from No. 4 in the lottery.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (20-45) Ranking: Second

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status: D’Angelo Russell starred in Los Angeles’ surprise win at Phoenix. The 21-year-old point guard looked controlled, and contributed a 28-point, four-rebound, and three-steal performance. Without complementary guard Lou Williams, now a Houston Rocket, Russell has taken over as Luke Walton’s offensive catalyst.

Averaging 21.8 PPG and shooting 46.8 percent from the floor since Williams’ departure, the southpaw’s late-season breakout is promising for L.A.

Brandon Ingram has been another reliable source of production for the Magic Johnson Variety Hour. Averaging 14.3 points and shooting 51.5 percent from the floor over his last three games, the rookie’s making plays by slashing to the basket and finishing. Ingram has thrived (relatively, anyway) as his role has grown. He’ll be a intriguing matchup offensively against the Sixers’ forwards tonight, testing their footwork on dribble penetration.

While Los Angeles’ situation at center remains unpleasant, Jordan Clarkson continues to be a key figure in Walton’s small-ball lineup. He’s a natural scorer on a roster lacking them, despite his high-volume shooting tendencies. Clarkson’s taken a portion of our old friend Nick Young’s minutes in March. Based on minutes distribution this month, it appears that Walton is content with giving significant burn to his youthful core of Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, and Julius Randle.

Chance for Pick Conveyance: The Lakers are three games behind the Sixers in the standings and 1.5 back of Phoenix. With L.A. embarking on a stretch of games against playoff-contending teams after Sunday, the Lakers might need to defeat undermanned Philadelphia. A loss could seriously damage pick conveyance odds. If you’re a fan of Michael Porter Jr. or Luka Doncic, a Lakers loss Sunday won’t impact your day.