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NBA Daily: Tank Tracker Home Stretch Update

The Memphis Grizzlies made the race to the bottom interesting with last night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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With last night’s win by the Memphis Grizzlies over a Minnesota Timberwolves team fighting for its playoff life, things got a little bit more interesting in the NBA’s race for Draft Lottery odds. In this home stretch edition of Tank Tracker, we’ll look at remaining games between teams that are eliminated from playoff contention.

While the Grizzlies may have slipped a bit in the race to the bottom, Phoenix has kept its foot on the gas. The Suns are 2-26 since a Jan. 19 win over the Nuggets and have separate five and 10-game losing streaks in addition to the current 12-game streak. The wins were against the Mavericks on Jan. 31 and Grizzlies on Feb. 28. That puts Phoenix in an excellent position to retain the best lottery odds, given how remaining strength of schedule will factor in.

Los Angeles Lakers, 32-41

The Lakers host the Mavericks Wednesday and the Kings Sunday before closing the season with four of five games against teams currently in playoff position. The Lakers’ 32 wins are by far the most on this list. There’s little chance the Lakers end up with anything other than the 10th-best odds to move up in the lottery. That would leave the 76ers with only a 1.1 percent chance to land the top overall pick. The 76ers keep the Lakers pick if it lands at the top position or at picks 6-30. If it lands at positions 2-5, it will be conveyed to the Celtics.

New York Knicks, 27-48

The Knicks host the Orlando Magic April 3 but otherwise play five of the remaining seven games against teams currently in playoff position. New York also hosts the Pistons Saturday. Detroit retains an outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs and will be playing to win. If the Knicks retain the ninth-worst record at season’s end, New York would have a six percent chance to vault into the top three and a 1.7 percent shot to win the top overall pick.

Chicago Bulls, 24-49

Chicago hosts the Magic Friday and splits a pair of games home and away with the Brooklyn Nets before the season finale against Detroit. The Pistons would need to make a run at the eighth playoff seed for that final game of the season to have any meaning. Otherwise, the Bulls have four of nine games remaining against teams in playoff position. The team also hosts the Charlotte Hornets April 3, another team that — like the Pistons — is barely clinging to hope of making the playoffs. With five games remaining against teams currently out of playoff position, it would be difficult for the Bulls to improve on the current 10 percent chance to move into the top three and 2.8 percent chance to land the first overall pick.

Sacramento Kings, 24-50

The Kings host the Mavericks tonight and open a road trip with visits to the Lakers, Suns, and Grizzlies starting Sunday. With half of its remaining games against teams already eliminated from the playoffs, it appears the Kings are locked into no better than the 15 percent chance to move into the top three and 4.3 percent chance at the top pick it would have if the playoffs started today.

Brooklyn Nets, 23-51

For the Nets, Wednesday’s visit to the Orlando Magic, along with a home-and-home with the Bulls April 7 and 9, are the remaining game against teams eliminated from the playoffs. Brooklyn hosts the Pistons Saturday, and Detroit should still be mathematically alive for a playoff spot by then. It’s a pretty light remaining schedule for Brooklyn, but the Cavaliers own the team’s first-round pick. If the Nets retain the sixth-worst record at season’s end, Cleveland would have a 22 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 6.3 percent chance at first overall.

Dallas Mavericks, 22-51

It will be difficult for the Mavericks to improve its lottery odds with visits to the Kings and Lakers starting tonight, a visit to Orlando April 4 and a visit from the Suns to close the season April 10. Dallas also hosts the Pistons April 6 at a time when Detroit will likely be out of the playoff picture with nothing left to play for. That’s a super-light remaining schedule, and the Mavericks’ best hope may be to cling to the 29 percent chance at a top-three pick and 8.8 percent chance at the first overall pick the team would have if it finishes with the fifth-worst record.

Orlando Magic, 22-51

The Magic host Brooklyn Wednesday and Chicago Friday, then open a road trip with visits to the Hawks and Knicks Sunday. After that, Orlando returns home to host the Mavericks April 4 and the Hornets April 6. Charlotte will almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention by that point, meaning the next six games could come against teams with no motivation to move up in the standings. The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule according to Tankathon.com. That leaves Orlando with possibly a best-case scenario of retaining the 38 percent chance to move into the top three and 11.9 percent chance at the top pick the team would have if it finishes with the fourth-worst record.

Atlanta Hawks, 21-53

In contrast to the Magic, only the Suns have a tougher remaining schedule among teams on this list than the Hawks. Sunday’s visit by Orlando is Atlanta’s only remaining game against a team currently eliminated from the playoffs. The other seven games on Atlanta’s schedule all come against teams currently in playoff position. The remaining opponents’ win percentage of .542 is seventh-highest per Tankathon. While we previously speculated that the Hawks could tumble out of position for a top-three pick, Atlanta is now in prime position to have no worse than a 47 percent chance to stay in the top three and a 15.6 percent shot at the top overall selection.

Memphis Grizzlies, 20-54

After a 19-game losing streak, the longest in Memphis history, the Grizzlies made things interesting with a 101-94 win over the Nuggets March 17 and last night’s 101-93 win in Minnesota over the Timberwolves. That brings Memphis within one game of Atlanta in the win column. The Grizzlies will host the Kings April 6 followed by the Pistons April 8. Detroit will likely be out of playoff contention by that point. Still, Memphis faces six remaining games against teams in playoff position. The win percentage for remaining opponents is nearly identical to that of the Hawks. With the second-worst record, Memphis would have a 56 percent chance of picking in the top three and a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick.

Phoenix Suns, 19-56

Only the Nuggets and Thunder face a tougher remaining schedule than the Suns, per Tankathon. Phoenix hosts a Clippers team clinging to its playoff life Wednesday before visits to Houston and Golden State. Afterward, the Suns will host the Kings April 3 before hosting the Pelicans and Warriors. The season finale is an April 10 visit to the Mavericks in what could be a tanktastic match-up for the ages. Should the Suns manage not to slip in the tank standings, Phoenix would retain a 64 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 25 percent chance to select first overall.

With Atlanta, Memphis and Phoenix all facing brutal remaining schedules, it will be difficult for teams higher on this list to move past them to increase their lottery odds. The remaining match-ups among teams on this list will present the greatest opportunity for movement in the final NBA Draft Lottery order. We’re in the home stretch now with lottery reform taking effect next season, so enjoy the tankapalooza while it lasts.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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