Games that could help, hurt Pistons’ draft lottery odds in closing stretch

Detroit News

As the NBA moves toward the final full week of the season and more than half the teams figure out their playoff seeding and postseason travel plans, there’s another path for the remaining squads.

The bottom teams of the league will be preparing for the draft lottery and their scouting kicks into high gear in anticipation of the draft lottery on June 22 — and ultimately the draft on July 29.

The Pistons (20-47) will be one of the teams in the latter group and though they’ve struggled in recent weeks, they got a nice win on Thursday night over the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies. They’ll have more challenges in their five remaining games, including against the East’s first-place team, the Philadelphia 76ers, on Saturday.

Many fans will turn their gaze to the losing column to see where the Pistons will finish heading into the draft lottery. The three teams with the worst records will have equal odds (14%) of getting the No. 1 pick. The Pistons have the second-worst record and with five games remaining, likely won’t finish worse than the Houston Rockets (16-50).

The Minnesota Timberwolves (20-46) are a half-game behind and the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-46), Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45) and Orlando Magic (21-45) are all within two games of the Pistons.

Of course, the caveat is that the lottery can sometimes drastically change the order. The best the Pistons can hope for is to finish in the bottom three and hope that form holds, and they don’t drop. In the new system, teams can leapfrog others, so a team could fall as many as four spots.

Dropping from second to sixth would be tough, but if they stay where they are, the Pistons wouldn’t pick lower than sixth. There’s another week of games to be played in jockeying for that position, so things could change.

Experts project the top four players to be a tier above the next group, so there’s an incentive to moving into those positions.

Here are the games that could significantly impact the order heading into the draft lottery:

► Timberwolves at Pistons, Tuesday: This matchup may be the most crucial, given that Minnesota is just behind the Pistons. The Timberwolves have been surging of late, winning five of their last eight games. It’ll be the last game of a three-game road trip, with games at Miami and Orlando preceding it. One would assume the Timberwolves would lose their final three games, at home against Denver, Boston and Dallas, so this could be the most likely win they have left. Minnesota won the only other meeting, the regular-season opener, when both teams had a lot more optimism.

► Timberwolves at Magic, Sunday: Orlando imploded its roster and is in the midst of a massive rebuild, so their fans want the best draft pick they can get. The best chances are to move up, and hope the positions stick. Orlando also has surged recently, winning three of its previous five games. The Magic also won the early-season meeting between the two teams.

► Thunder at Kings, Sunday and Tuesday: It’s actually a double dose for Oklahoma City and Sacramento (29-37). The Kings have just a glimmer of hope of still getting one of the play-in spots, so they have something to play for. The Thunder, who lost by 57 points last week, look to be in early vacation mode already, having lost 19 of their last 20 games. The Thunder finish against the Jazz and Clippers, who are among of the top teams in the West, so they could conceivably lose the rest of their games.

► Magic at 76ers, May 16: This doesn’t seem to fit the criteria. How would the 76ers, who have the East’s best record, lose to the Magic? If the 76ers already have clinched the top seed, they could look to rest their starters and put out a skeleton squad of backups. It’s hard to project, but it could happen. The Magic have looked spry in their recent games, and maybe they get a burst of energy to carry them to an unlikely win.

Pistons at 76ers

► Tip-off: 7 p.m. Saturday, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

► TV/radio: BSD-plus/104.3

► Outlook: It’s a matchup of the best and worst records in the conference, as the 76ers continue to move toward clinching the top seed in the East. They’ll be on the second night of a back-to-back, while the Pistons (20-47) are be coming off their first win this month.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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