With only eight days remaining before the end of the regular season, the murky waters of playoff positioning are becoming ever clearer. And with it, so too are positions for the draft lottery becoming more visible.
The bottom four teams in the NBA are as follows (from better record to worse): Cleveland Cavaliers (24-53), Phoenix Suns (23-55), Orlando Magic (19-59) and the Charlotte Bobcats (18-60). Charlotte and Orlando are so far behind the pack that they could both win out the rest of the season with every other team losing their respective games and still wrap up the top odds for the top pick in this year's draft.
But between the two Southeastern Division rivals, it could be a very close finish. Each have four games remaining, though Charlotte's is a good bit easier. Stars next to a team name denotes clinched playoff status
Charlotte's upcoming schedule
April 12 at Detroit (26-52 | 3-7 in last 10 games)
Previous games: Jan 6 W 108-101 OT / Feb 20 L 105-99 / March 23 L 92-91
April 13 vs Milwaukee* (37-40 | 3-7 L10)
Previous games: Nov 19 W 102-98 / Dec 7 L 108-93 / April 1 L 131-102
April 15 vs New York* (51-26 | 10-0 L10)
Previous games: Dec 5 L 100-98 / March 29 L 111-102
April 17 vs Cleveland (24-53 | 2-8 L10)
Previous games: Jan 4 L 106-104 / Feb 6 L 122-95
Total record: 138-171
L10 combined: 18-22
Bobcats total record against these teams this season: 2-8
Average margin: -8 points
No schedule is easy for Charlotte, but this is a nice little stretch to end the season on. Detroit and Cleveland are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and Milwaukee's an 8 seed with a losing record. New York is playing very well right now, but on the penultimate game of their regular season, I seriously doubt they'd play their starters much. They are so dependent on veterans and lack youth that I cannot see any reason why they should risk their fragile important players. However, they're still playing Tyson Chandler right now, which doesn't make a lick of sense considering his durability this season.
Charlotte's 1-2 this season against Detroit, but every game has been a close one. Jason Maxiell had a strong game last time, but he's out now after having eye surgery. However, Andre Drummond is back, whose only game against the Bobcats came in Detroit's loss to Charlotte during his injury.
On the minus side, Cleveland consistently runs rampant on offense and defense against Charlotte in recent history. Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson love to chew up the Bobcats' backcourt and frontcourt. With Dion Waiters out, they lack a good outside threat who's improved as the season's wore on.
Given all this, I think we might see Charlotte go 1-3 to end the season, with their lone win coming against Detroit. Last year, we saw the Knicks and Bobcats in similar situations at the last game of the season and New York still wiped the floor with Charlotte. Milwaukee's defense and inconsistent offense could easily pile up on the Bobcats and I think Cleveland could ride Kyrie and Thompson in a winning effort to end the season. There's a chance they go 2-2 or better, but I'm sure not going to bet on it.
Orlando's upcoming schedule
vs Milwaukee* (37-40 | 3-7 L10)
Previous games: Feb 2 L 107-98 / March 17 L 115-109
vs Boston* (40-37 | 4-6 L10)
Previous games: Nov 25 L 116-110 OT / Feb 1 L 97-84
vs Chicago* (42-35 | 6-4 L10)
Previous games: Nov 6 L 99-93 / Jan 2 L 96-94 / April 5 L 87-86
at Miami* (61-16 | 8-2 L10)
Previous games: Dec 31 L 112-110 OT / March 6 L 97-96 / March 25 L 108-94
Total record: 180-128
L10 combined: 21-19
Orlando's record against these teams this season: 0-10
Average margin: -6 points
Compared to the Bobcats' schedule, this is freakin' murderers' row. Each team is a playoff team and Orlando hasn't beaten a single one of them once this season. They've had some close calls with each but have yet to put it all together and finish with a W. Unfortunately for them, Milwaukee, Boston and Chicago will all likely be fighting to hold on to or improve their playoff seedings down the stretch. Their best shot at a win might be against Miami if the Heat decide to cool their jets and coast into the playoffs trying to avoid injury. Still, they've played Chicago close as recently as April 5.
What will likely doom them has to be their absolute lack of depth due to injuries to Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. The dearth of scoring ability spells a necessity for extremely good performances from role players. Vucevic can definitely punish opponents in the paint and Tobias Harris can do a lot of things, but I wouldn't be very hopeful about the prospects of relying on Beno Udrih to carry your scoring load.
Honestly, it's tough to see Orlando winning another game. If my predictions are right, at least in regards to the teams' records, we will have each team at 19-63 to end the season in a tie.
In the case of a tie between two teams, they average the ping pong balls between the two teams. Should the resulting division result in a remainder, a coin flip will determine who gets the extra ping pong ball. Series records don't matter. Last year the Cavaliers and the Hornets tied for the third-worst records at 21-45. Adding the normal 156 and 119 chances normally given to the third and fourth-worst teams and dividing it by two gave New Orleans and Cleveland 137 ping pong balls each and the resulting coin flip gave New Orleans the eventual rights to the top pick and Anthony Davis.
Of course, the draft lottery is pure luck or lack thereof. Having the worst record guarantees a team nothing but having the best chance at getting the top pick. Whether the worst team gets it is nothing but chance and has not had stellar results. However, having better odds at a result and being guaranteed a pick no worse than fourth doesn't exactly hurt.