Oh my, is this setting up to be a tanky week or what? Teams have 1-2 games remaining, and fans of the worst clubs in the land are watching the scoreboard every night to see how the NBA Draft Lottery standings fluctuate. Players have little interest in tanking -- what do they care if their boss gets the No. 4 pick or the No. 8 pick in the draft? -- but as coaches continue to collaborate with general managers, there are certainly some perverse incentives this late in the season, when so little else matters.
The Golden State Warriors pretty much executed a defensible but fairly obvious institutional tank job by trading Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh for a player who was out for the season (Andrew Bogut) and another player (Stephen Jackson) that was immediately flipped for an aging roleplayer (Richard Jefferson). Stephen Curry quickly got unofficially shut down as the playoffs became impossible to reach; weeks later, David Lee hit the skids.
The Warriors' Sunday line-up featured 48 minutes of Charles Jenkins and a three-man big rotation starring D-League call-up Mickell Gladness, second-round pick Jeremy Tyler and Mikki Moore. (Golden State tripped into a win on Sunday. As it turns out, the Wolves minus Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are really, really bad.)
The Warriors, of course, stand to lose their lottery pick unless it lands in the top seven. The best way to ensure the pick lands in the top seven: be one of the six worst teams in the league at the end of the regular season. The reality: the Warriors, despite their
best worst efforts, are the eighth worst team in the league. Can they make the anti-leap? Is there still hope?
Here's our final NBA Draft Lottery Watch before the end of the season.
STRATA OF THEIR OWN
1. Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats clinched the NBA's worst record long ago; the next team above them in the standings (the Wizards) have more than doubled Charlotte's win total. With just two more losses -- the Magic and Knicks are the foes -- Charlotte will clinch the worst winning percentage in NBA history, worse than the 9-73 Sixers in 1973. There is no parallel for this awful squad.
2. Washington Wizards: The Wiz are on a four-game winning streak, the longest in the Eastern Conference. Great timing! It is actually possible for Washington to "catch" the Hornets in the standings, tying the two up for the second-worst record in the league. That'd cause them to combine and split their odds for No. 1, much like the Wizards and Clippers did in 2008. You may remember that in that year the Clippers ended up with Blake Griffin and the Wizards ended up with Mike Miller and Randy Foye. The lottery, so cruel!
THE PRIME BATTLEGROUND
3. New Orleans Hornets: Chances are that the Wiz will not end the season on a six-game win streak, so the Hornets' 'hopes' for a share of the second-worst record are minimal. Truth be told, the Hornets have been playing their tails off down the stretch, showing no signs of tanking. They visit the Warriors on Tuesday in a critical Lotto Watch showdown, and there's a good possibility that New Orleans will smoke it. That would put the Hornets at 21 wins, which happens to be the current total for the ...
4. Cleveland Cavaliers & Sacramento Kings (tie): The Cavaliers may very well shut down Kyrie Irving for the final two games of the season, which would in all likelihood shut down Cleveland's opportunity to win. The Kings face the Thunder on Tuesday without DeMarcus Cousins, who hit the 13-tech threshold on Sunday. But OKC no longer has anything to play for and could rest its starters. The same may be the case for the Kings' match-up against the Lakers on Thursday, depending on what the Clippers do by then. Chances are that the Cavs finish with a worse record than the Kings. If either team wins one game, they'll be flirting with the ...
6. New Jersey Nets & Toronto Raptors (tie): The Raptors have been truly dreadful for the last couple of weeks, even by their impressive standard. Deron Williams has already been shut down, and you know what that means for the Nets. New Jersey loses its pick unless it lands in the top three, so its fate is tied up in the lottery moreso than any other club -- unlike the Warriors, the Nets can't tank their way into sure safety. Nevertheless, the Warriors will be rooting hard for the Cavs, Kings, Nets and Raptors over the next three nights. Why?
8. Golden State Warriors: Because Golden State needs to pass one of them to finish with the seventh-worst record, and to pass two of them to finish with the safer sixth-worst record.
9. Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are only one win 'ahead' of the Warriors, so any victory by Golden State is inherently dangerous, no matter what the Cavs, Kings, Nets and Raps do.
THE DOUBLE-BARRELED CHAFF
These teams are outcasts in the both the playoff race and the lottery watch. Have mercy on them.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves: Their pick goes to the Hornets. It looks like it will be the No. 10 choice, giving New Orleans two in the top 10 in a bumper crop year.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: The PDX is solidly in the No. 11 spot. They'll just be watching the Nets' race.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: One loss guarantees the Bucks the No. 12 spot in the Reverse Standings. With two wins and a pair of losses by the Rockets and/or Suns, we could have a tie here.
13. Houston Rockets: This lottery business is a sad, sad coda on Houston's season.