Fortunes could soon change for the Milwaukee Bucks, whose 2013-14 season was defined by losing.
Even the Philadelphia 76ers (19-63) did more winning than the Bucks, despite a winter swoon that reached an epic record 26 consecutive losses, putting Milwaukee (15-67) in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
“I’ve never been first before,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Obviously sitting today in our position, there’s a real sense of anticipation and hoping for the best.”
Even with the best odds of landing the top pick, the Bucks have a better chance of losing Tuesday night when the ping pong balls are drawn to determine the order of the first 14 picks in the 2014 draft. The lottery will take place at halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Milwaukee’s probability for the fourth overall pick — the Bucks are assured a spot in the top four — is much greater at 35.76 percent, as compared to a 25 percent chance at No. 1. Not since 2004 has the team with the league’s worst record actually landed the first pick in the draft.
Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kansas center Joel Embiid are projected to be top-five picks. Australian point guard Dante Exum, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and Indiana center Noah Vonleh are in the picture, too.
The lottery could greatly reshape the draft boards of teams at the top, according to senior director of NBA scouting operations Ryan Blake. For example, Blake said evaluators must determine whether Wiggins is a good player with the ceiling of someone like 2013 lottery pick Harrison Barnes, or if he might rise to meet his athletic potential and be closer in talent to perennial All-Star Tracy McGrady.
“If you look at last year’s draft — you had no idea the order (players) would be drafted,” Blake told The Sports Xchange at the conclusion of the NBA Draft Combine last week. “You also have seven teams with multiple picks in the first round. You haven’t had the trades the last few years that we expected. But when you have the number of teams rebuilding and can utilize these picks in other ways — and a team like Oklahoma City with two picks, they have a pretty full roster.”
Blake said the prevailing commentary on the draft class, which some described at the outset of the 2013-14 college basketball season as possibly the greatest ever, did not impact his top-down view of the crop.
“It’s a good draft, no question,” Blake said.
In 2005, Milwaukee leapt from sixth to the No. 1 pick and selected Utah center Andrew Bogut. In 2007, the Bucks finished with the third-worst record but dropped to the sixth pick and drafted Yi Jianlian, who played only one year in Milwaukee and is now playing in Hong Kong.
The 76ers are hopeful of becoming the third franchise to go from the second-worst record to the top pick, a feat that would represent a repeat for Philadelphia. In 1996, the lottery pushed it up from the second spot and the 76ers drafted Allen Iverson first overall.
The Sixers would receive the New Orleans Pelicans’ first-round pick if it is outside the top five. Based on NBA draft models, the best chance for Philadelphia to wind up with two top-10 picks is if the Pelicans get the 10th selection and the 76ers fall to fourth. There is a nearly 28 percent chance of that outcome Tuesday.
Notes: Julius “Dr. J.” Erving will represent the Philadelphia 76ers at the draft lottery on Tuesday. …Twin brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris, back-to-back lottery picks in 2011 and now Phoenix Suns teammates, are scheduled to represent the franchise at the lottery. The Suns narrowly missed the playoffs with 47 wins but could have four first-round picks, including their own lottery selection and a top-13 protected selection from the Minnesota Timberwolves. … Cleveland climbed up to win two top overall picks with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s young son, Nick, representing the team but he was bumped in favor of vice chairman Jeff Cohen. The lottery fortune led to Cleveland drafting Kyrie Irving and then Anthony Bennett No. 1.
Odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick (via NBA):
1. Milwaukee Bucks 25.0%
2. Philadelphia 76ers 19.9%
3. Orlando Magic 15.6%
4. Utah Jazz 10.4%
5. Boston Celtics 10.3%
6. Los Angeles Lakers 6.3%
7. Sacramento Kings 4.3%
8. Detroit Pistons 2.8%
9. Cleveland Cavaliers 1.7%
10. New Orleans Pelicans 1.1%
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks) 0.8%
12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets) 0.7%
13. Minnesota Timberwolves 0.6%
14. Phoenix Suns 0.5%
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.