Get ready for a deluge of Rockets-Blazers content in the coming days. At some point this weekend, Houston will host game 1 of the first round against Portland.
However, there's still one more game to be played.
The Rockets have zero incentive to win this game, or even play anyone of important. Expect lots of D-League minutes and an All-Star game attitude from the other Rockets.
The Pelicans actually have a slight incentive to lose, as a loss and a Cavs win could give them some more ping pong balls, though their pick would go to Philly if it's outside of the top 5. I do think New Orleans will play hard in their last home game to try to give the fans something to cheer about.
So thus brings about the second annual "If the lottery is rigged, who's winning it this year?" preview/column.
Here's the deal: the lottery has been fishy for almost every year it's been in existence. While some years there are teams that win the first pick that don't make sense, there's almost always a solid backstory to support the winner if you are the tinfoil hat type. I could go through all the examples, but you guys know that already.
I am NOT saying the lottery is rigged. In fact, I think it's legit (based on the fact that it's so heavily regulated) and that tampering with it would only bring more scrutiny than the already large amount that exists.
But assuming that Adam Silver gets to choose the top pick, let's go though the candidates:
Milwaukee: The Bucks have the best chance at winning the lottery, but the team with the best chance doesn't normally win. The Bucks don't have anything going for them in the conspiracy department. They are a franchise that hasn't been successful for years and they are dragging their feet on a new stadium.
Philadelphia: The 76ers did everything they could to have the worst record, but that 3-0 start looms large now. The Sixers made no secret that they wanted to be a bad team this year and they succeeded in doing so.
Orlando: People think that the Magic have been doing well in the rebuilding process, though I don't understand the Rob Hennigan love. The Magic don't really have a great case to win the first pick this year.
Boston: The Celtics are one of those teams that the NBA wants to be good all the time because of how they won a bunch of titles when there were only like 6 teams in the league. Wow. Much praise. I could see Boston getting the top pick.
Utah: Please God no. I don't think Utah has a case to grab the top pick.
Los Angeles: Here we go. The easy pick to win the lottery if it's rigged. LA needs a player to take over the reigns from Kobe after spending a few years with him. If the Lakers win the lottery, I might change my stance on whether it's rigged or not.
Sacramento: Hey, they still have a team! And they play really well against the Rockets for some reason!
Detroit: They're a mess of a franchise, but if the NBA wants them to be relevant again with a new GM, they might toss them the pick.
Cleveland: They messed up pretty badly last year, even if the crop wasn't good to begin with.
Other teams in the lottery: Denver (with New York's pick as well), New Orleans (protected top 5 pick owned by Philly), Minnesota (Suns get their pick if it's #14), and Phoenix (would be awesome if they got into the top 3).
Last year when I wrote this column, we all knew that the draft was not a good one. So most of the responses were: "Well, it's a weak draft so who cares who wins?" But that's not playing the game the right way, and you will be admonished for being a spoilsport.