- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
While most NBA prognosticators are watching a heated playoff race, we've been paying close attention to another race -- a race to the top of the lottery.
As it stands, the Charlotte Bobcats are a lock to have the best shot (25 percent) at winning the lottery. With just a week left to go in the regular season and with a pitiful 7-46 record, no one is even close to catching them.
The Washington Wizards also look like a sure thing to pick up the second-best chance of winning (19.9 percent).
After the Bobcats and Wizards, it all gets a bit murky.
The New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers all have a real shot at getting the third-best position in the draft (a 15.6 percent chance of winning the lottery). All three teams have won 20 games this season. Given how well the Hornets have played of late (they're 7-3 in their last 10), they actually have the worst shot of landing in third place. They have remaining games against the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets and should win at least one of them. The Kings have two remaining games against the Thunder and one against the Lakers. Unfortunately, they have to play the Bobcats -- the one team in the league that's virtually impossible to tank against.
The Cavs have five remaining games against the Knicks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Wizards and Bulls. The Wizards game is obviously a very winnable one. The last game of the season against the Bulls could be a gimme as well.
Another intriguing drama surrounds the Golden State Warriors. If their pick is No. 8 or higher, they must send it to the Utah Jazz. The team has been on a horrific tankapalooza for the past month. They've lost six straight and eight of their last 10. Currently, they sit at No. 8.
However, they are essentially in a deadlock with the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets at 22 wins. If all three teams finish with the same record, the NBA will decide their fate with a coin toss after the regular season ends. Given how hard the Warriors have tried to tank, I doubt they win another game over the next week (though games against the Wolves and Hornets are possibilities) -- essentially handing their fate over to the NBA.
The Jazz, of course, will be watching them closely. A week ago, it looked like they were in great shape to get two lottery picks -- the Warriors' and their own. However, the Jazz must send their pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves if they make the playoffs. Currently the Jazz and Suns are in a dead heat for the final playoff spot in the West. If the Jazz make the playoffs and if the Warriors' pick falls in the top seven, there's a chance they won't have any first-round picks at all.
The Nets are in an interesting situation. They traded their pick, top-three-protected, to the Blazers at the trade deadline. It's been a disastrous trade for the Nets and could ultimately lead to Billy King's ouster in New Jersey. For the time being, it's in the Nets' best interest to get as close as they can to the top spot. All three of the top spots in the draft are decided in the lottery. They'll essentially have three chances to undo this trade.
But as of right now, it looks like they'll need some help from the lottery gods. With Dwight Howard making more of a ruckus in Orlando, their best chance of landing him might be to give the Magic a top-three pick in return.
The Timberwolves have been in a free-fall of late as well. They've won just one time in their last 10 games. However, their pick will go to the Hornets this year regardless of where they fall.
One last interesting draft drama is happening in Dallas. The Mavericks traded their pick to the Lakers (who then turned around and traded it to the Rockets), but it is top-20-protected. Currently the team sits at No. 19. With Howard out for the rest of the season, it's conceivable that the Mavs and Magic swap places, pushing them to No. 20. To get to No. 21, Boston, Memphis or Atlanta will really have to crater. So while the Mavs' trade for Odom certainly didn't turn out well for Big D, keeping their draft pick this year could be an unexpected bonus.