Fans of the Magic, Rockets, and Pistons won’t be especially invested in the playoff and seeding races taking place near the top of the NBA’s standings during the last two weeks of the regular season. However, they’ll be closely monitoring their respective teams’ place in the standings for lottery purposes.
Entering action on Monday, Orlando, Houston, and Detroit have identical 20-55 records, meaning they’re all tied for the top spot in the NBA’s draft lottery, as our Reverse Standings show.
Because the lottery format dictates that the league’s bottom three teams all have identical odds for the No. 1 overall pick (14%) and a top-four pick (52.1%), this year’s race to the bottom isn’t quite as consequential as it would have been a few years ago under the NBA’s old lottery system.
Still, since each bottom-three team has a 47.9% chance of falling outside of the top four, its position entering the lottery is crucial — the league’s worst team can’t fall any further than No. 5 on lottery night, whereas the third-worst team could slip all the way to No. 7.
The Magic have played some of their best games of the season in recent weeks, winning home games vs. Minnesota and Golden State and picking up victories in New Orleans and Toronto earlier this month. They’re 4-5 in their last nine games, but have the NBA’s ninth-hardest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.
The Rockets looked a week ago like the odds-on favorite to finish the season atop the lottery standings, but with three wins in their last four games, that’s now far from a certainty. Their remaining schedule is the league’s sixth-easiest, per Tankathon, and includes five home games, with just two on the road.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are 8-10 in their last 18 games, but just 2-8 in their last 10. Their remaining schedule is the league’s 11th-hardest, per Tankathon, and they have more games on the road than at home.
Of course, we shouldn’t exclude Oklahoma City from this conversation. At 21-53, the Thunder are just 1.5 games ahead of the three aforementioned clubs after losing 11 of their last 12 games. They’ll host the Pistons on Friday in what should be an important game — the winner of that contest could put itself out of the running for the No. 1 spot in the lottery standings.
The Thunder have the NBA’s ninth-easiest remaining schedule, with an equal split of home and road games. Of course, it’s worth noting that two of OKC’s upcoming games are against a tanking Portland team that is probably the NBA’s actual worst right now (even if the Blazers’ full-season record doesn’t reflect that). It would be a little surprising if the Thunder manage to lose both those meetings.
What do you think? Which team will finish the season with the NBA’s worst record and claim the top spot in the draft lottery standings? Will any of these clubs lose the rest of their games? Will there be a tie for the No. 1 spot, necessitating a coin flip?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with yours thoughts on this season’s race to the bottom.