Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (29-44) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (21-53)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, MN
When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I am cheering for the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. And here is why. The Wolves are eliminated from the playoffs and have the eighth-worst record in the NBA. The eighth-worst record gives you these odds at the NBA Draft Lottery:
1st pick: 2.8 percent
2nd pick: 3.3 percent
3rd pick: 3.9 percent
8th pick: 72.4 percent
9th pick: 16.8 percent
10th pick: .8 percent
That is a 10 percent chance of a top-3 pick and a 90 percent chance of drafting 8th or worse.
My glimmer of hope lies in the fact that the Wolves have only two more wins than the Orlando Magic who own the fourth-worst record in the NBA. Here are the Magic’s lottery odds in the four slot.
1st pick: 11.9 percent
2nd pick: 12.6 percent
3rd pick: 13.3 percent
4th pick: 9.9 percent
5th pick: 35.1 percent
6th pick: 16.0 percent
7th pick: 1.2 percent
That is a 37.8 percent chance of a top-3 pick and 0 percent chance of drafting 8th or worse.
I’m not ignorant to the value of “finishing the season strong,” but this is enough for me. An opportunity cost is here and it seems to have been ignored. The quality of this draft has been remarked substantially, and while it is as deep of a draft as it is strong at the top, 37.8 is so much more than 10. The riches a top-3 pick could garnish are so much more important than an impressive showing from Omri Casspi or Brandon Rush.
Tonight Presents an Opportunity!
Fivethirtyeight Win Total Projections
Brooklyn Nets: 19 wins
Los Angeles Lakers: 23 wins
Phoenix Suns: 24 wins
Orlando Magic: 30 wins
New York Knicks: 30 wins
Sacramento Kings: 31 wins
Philadelphia 76ers: 31 wins
Minnesota Timberwolves: 33 wins
From their calculations, FiveThirtyEight projects the Wolves will finish with 33 wins. Baked into that win total is the 84 percent chance they give the Wolves to beat the Lakers tonight. Tonight is the Wolves most likely win of the remaining nine games, and therefore it presents an opportunity. If the Wolves let the Lakers sneak away with this game, their inclusive win total prediction falls to 32. Great news!
Blow Saturday’s home game against the Kings (83 percent chance of winning) and the win total prediction has nearly fallen to 31. See where I’m going with this... It starts with a “T” and rhymes with Shawshank.
3-30: Home v. Lakers (84 percent chance of winning per FiveThirtyEight)
4-1: Home v. Kings (83 percent)
4-3: Home v. Blazers (57 percent)
4-4: @ Warriors (7 percent)
4-6: @ Blazers (30 percent)
4-7: @ Jazz (18 percent)
4-9: @ Lakers (62 percent)
4-11: Home v. Thunder (54 percent) *New logo reveal, though...
4-12: @ Rockets (18 percent)
It’s my opinion that the closer any of these numbers get towards zero, the better. If you’re thinking, I hate you, Dane, that’s fair. But remember this, Nerlens Noel was traded at the deadline for two second round picks. Serge Ibaka was traded for a late first and Terrence Ross. And DeMarcus Cousins was traded for Buddy Hield and a top-3 protected first!
What if the Wolves landed a real life top-3 pick? Even if you have no desire for yet another teenager joining the Wolves roster, fear not. Just think of the possibilities on the trade market.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, the Lakers have even more incentive to lose this game. If the Lakers fall out of the top-3 in the draft lottery this season they lose their pick to Philadelphia. Additionally, L.A. owes the Orlando Magic a 2019 first-round pick for Dwight Howard, but that selection is tied to the Lakers' obligation to the Sixers (i.e., if the Lakers land a top-three selection in 2017, they'll also keep their 2019 first-rounder, owing instead a pair of second-rounders to the Magic). Full details here.
They need this “L” more than the Wolves do. With 21 wins the Lakers are one game ahead of the 22 win Phoenix Suns in the tankathon. If the Lakers finish with a worse record than the Suns, their odds of keeping the 2017 and 2019 pick increases from 46.9 percent to 55.8.
Wait, there is more incentive? Yup. The Brooklyn Nets are on a hot streak, winning 5 of their last 10 games. This has boosted their previously unassailable futility to just bad. The Nets, now, have 16 wins. If they remain hot, they could bump their win total over the 21 win line the Lakers are currently at. (The Nets have no incentive to tank as their pick is certainly going to the Celtics.)
The Lakers would likely need to lose out, but if they do their odds of maintaining the ‘17 and ‘19 picks boosts to 64.3 percent. As Eric wrote last time the Wolves and Lakers matched up, this game again is about who wants it less. I know what I want. But the Lakers have the league’s most experienced tanker, Corey Brewer. Brewer will be starting in place of the injured rookie Brandon Ingram (knee). For that reason alone, the Wolves are a lock to win. Dang it.