By kicking off a six-game road trip with an 18-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Portland Trail Blazers inched themselves further down the Western Conference standings, away from the play-in tournament and higher up the NBA draft lottery.
The Blazers are now 13th in the West – only 1.5 games out of said play-in tournament – but also riding a three-game losing streak with only three wins in their last 10 games.
Still without Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons (again), it appears Damian Lillard – no matter his determination to make the postseason – is headed toward watching ping-pong balls rather than playing postseason basketball.
At this point, it makes more sense (and is more fun) to look ahead to the NBA draft lottery and where Portland’s pick may land.
Right now, the Blazers are penciled into the eighth overall selection, according to Tankathon. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers are seventh and sixth, respectively, but there’s still a month’s worth of regular-season games to be played.
When analyzing the schedule, what are Portland’s chances of leapfrogging Chicago and Indy and increasing its odds at landing that coveted No. 1 overall pick? Could the Blazers completely change the franchise’s fortunes by lucking into super mega-star prospect Victor Wembanyama?
All lottery and schedule information courtesy of Tankathon as of March 4.
The Blazers are set to begin moving closer to the top of the NBA draft lottery
Houston, Detroit, San Antonio, and Charlotte are pretty much locks to have the worst records in the NBA, in some order. The Orlando Magic have the fifth-worst record in the league at 27-37.
That brings us to Indiana (28-36), Chicago (29-35), Oklahoma City (29-34), and Portland (29-34).
Even if they’re in full tank mode, the Pacers are good enough to win some games on accident. The Bulls owe their first-round pick to Orlando unless it lands in the top four, so they may be tanking harder than anybody.
OKC is now without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery. The Thunder are primed to lose some games on purpose to increase their lottery odds, but even without Gilgeous-Alexander, they arguably have a better roster than Portland.
That leads us to strength of schedule, where the Blazers have an advantage (by having a disadvantage).
Portland has the eighth-most difficult slate of games remaining of any of this handful of teams. Comparatively, Chicago has the 15th hardest schedule, Indiana is 19th, and the Thunder are 27th.
Orlando is two spots behind the Blazers, but barring something relatively dramatic happening, the Magic are likely to hold onto that No. 5 spot in the lottery standings.
The Blazers play the Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings twice and also face the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, and Golden State Warriors – all playoff teams. Their “easy” games remaining include the Utah Jazz (a play-in team) as well as tank-race contests with Chicago, Orlando, and OKC.
Meanwhile, the Bulls get games against Houston (worst record in the NBA), Detroit (second-worst record in the NBA), as well as Charlotte, Indy, Portland, and two games against the Los Angeles Lakers. None of those teams are likely to make the playoffs.
The Pacers still have three games against Detroit left. They also get Houston, Charlotte, Chicago, and the Thunder – again, none of which are playoff teams.
OKC, meanwhile, plays Detroit, San Antonio, and Charlotte – three of the four worst teams in the league by record – and also has matchups with Indiana, LA, and a crucial lottery-odds matchup with the Blazers.
Portland clearly has the toughest stretch run of any team currently projected in the 5-9 range of the lottery. If the Blazers continue to crash and burn over the final month of the regular season, there’s a decent chance they end up closer to pick No. 5 than pick No. 10.
As an interesting aside – running Tankathon’s lottery simulator 10 times got Portland the No. 1 pick twice and the No. 2 pick three times.