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Land the Picks, Bryan: Lakers can’t stop winning

Defying expectations, Los Angeles won all three games this week and moved past Phoenix in the win column.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers’ plan to rest some of their healthy veterans midway through March offered their youth more minutes and depleted depth. Forcing D-Leaguer David Nwaba, Tyler Ennis, Tarik Black, and Thomas Robinson into meaningful, late-season roles would seemingly ensure countless losses.

However, those overlooked talents are capitalizing on the increase in minutes and have been pivotal contributors in the Lakers’ three-game winning streak. There’s no certainty they’ll have similar opportunities next season.

Unrestricted free agents this offseason, Ennis and Robinson both are incentivized to spell the starters effectively. They have, with Robinson (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 52.1 FG%) and Ennis (19 PTS, 6 AST in a win Wednesday) helping the Sixers from afar with their recent play.

Taking control of the No. 3 slot in the lottery, Los Angeles has a promising chance to finish there.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (24-55) Ranking: Third

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status:

It would’ve been reasonable to peg the Lakers for one or two wins this week, but a three-game winning streak heading into their final three games is ideal. Hosting Minnesota (31-48) tonight and New Orleans (33-47) Tuesday, L.A. gets two West pushovers far from playoff contention. With Walton featuring no traditional centers in his rotation, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis have to be priming for this matchup.

However, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell could outperform the backcourt tandems of Minnesota (Ricky Rubio-Brandon Rush) and New Orleans (Jrue Holiday-E’Twaun Moore). Russell’s 28-point, six rebound, five-assist performance against Memphis proved essential, with the Lakers a five-point victor. Clarkson struggled that game, but was a scoring outlet against San Antonio and Sacramento.

A season finale with Golden State at Oracle would prove daunting if scheduled earlier in the season. Already clinching the No. 1 seed, the Warriors, in a perfect world, would rather concede their final game before it started to avoid injuries to their rotational players. Kevin Durant returned last night, and is likely to start against L.A. Maybe it’s management trying to acclimate him to game speed before the playoffs, but making him susceptible to injury before the postseason might be questionable.

With a likely first-round matchup against Portland or Denver next weekend, there’s little incentive of fielding your full roster other than to appease fans. Maybe an inspired Lakers team takes advantage of Kerr resting some starters. Don’t place bets on it, though.

Chance for Pick Conveyance:

This three-game slate for the Lakers offers hope, barring some shenanigans from Steve Kerr’s rotational decision Wednesday. Phoenix (23-57) hosts Dallas and travels to Sacramento to conclude their regular season, after triumphing over a stat-hunting Russell Westbrook and OKC Friday. Los Angeles enters their final three games with a 53.1 percent chance for their pick to convey. Luke Walton doesn’t tank, and maybe he’s honest.

Team: Sacramento Kings (31-48) Ranking: Tied seventh with Minnesota.

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:

Buddy Hield’s exceptional post-All-Star break play is one of Sacramento’s most promising developments since the evolution of Cousins in royal purple. Hield’s rapid acclimation to his new team has weakened Philadelphia’s overall odds at a top pick, but the rookie came up with a timely play Friday that could have Sixers fans forgiving him.

With Sacramento down 94-92 and five seconds remaining against L.A. Friday, Corey Brewer intercepted his lackadaisical inbounds pass to Georgios Papagiannis. Maybe it was sweet justice for strutting out a Tyler Ennis-David Nwaba-Metta World Piece-Thomas Robinson-Tarik Black lineup throughout most of the fourth quarter in the last two games. Hield’s rookie mistake might’ve sent Lakers fans into pure rage, but it doesn’t diminish his late-season impact.

The West’s Rookie of the Month in March and pushing to win the award in April, Hield’s blossoming under Dave Joerger’s tutelage. Houston, Phoenix, and the Clippers remain. Averaging 14.5 PPG and sporting shooting clips at 48.6 FG% and 44.1 3P%, Hield could exploit their weak defenses.

Minnesota defeating Los Angeles wouldn’t be catastrophic, if you’d like to see Sacramento finish either sixth or seventh in the lottery. New York, despite intent on resting playable talent, get the Sixers at home for their finale. Record ties could be in play, which would result in a complex scenario explained here.

Chance for Pick Coveyance:

The unpredictable Kings could finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 10 by Thursday morning. That’s a 5.2 percent difference in top pick odds, and Markelle Fultz already knows Wells Fargo’s atmosphere. Downing Phoenix Tuesday would be appreciated, Kings.

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