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March 21, 2017

Breaking down the Sixers’ place in the NBA’s tanking race

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There was a weird dynamic with Monday night’s Sixers game in Orlando. Brett Brown’s team was remarkably shorthanded, to the point where Justin Anderson (their ninth available player!) didn’t show up until a few hours before the game. At one point, Brown looked over at his bench … and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was the only guy there.

Despite all of this, the Sixers put forth a perfectly professional effort. In fact, they were running circles around the Magic for 2.5 quarters before completely running out of gas and eventually losing in overtime.

The Sixers played to win as they should have, but let’s just say coming up short might not have been the worst thing in the world.

OK, it was the perfect tanking loss. The team was competitive, there were excellent performances from some of the young guys (Richaun Holmes in particular), but the Sixers lost and probably gained some ping-pong balls in the Process.

We all know how important May 17 is going to be. Heck, Bill Simmons even called it “The Most Important NBA Lottery Since the LeBron Sweepstakes.” With 14 games left in the season, let’s take a look at where the Sixers and the rest of the lottery teams stack up. As always, I encourage everyone to head to Tankathon for their lottery and draft needs:

‘No shot at catching them’ division: Brooklyn (Boston), Los Angeles, Phoenix

The Celtics have led a pretty charmed existence, so it’s easy to forget that they haven’t done all that well historically in the NBA Draft lottery. Well, they’re going to have the best odds this time around thanks to Billy King and the Brooklyn trade that keeps on giving.

Phoenix was the Lakers’ only win in their last 14 games, but 538 is still projecting the Suns to finish two games better than the tanking Lakers.

Looking ahead at both teams’ last 12 games, the Lakers have a slightly tougher schedule (which is a good thing for them) but 9 of their 12 remaining contests are at the Staples Center (eight home, one Clippers home game). There is also a matchup against Golden State the last game of the season which may not include any of the Warriors’ top players.

Phoenix, which hurt its chances at the second-most ping-pong balls with a three-game winning streak earlier this month, should continue to lose on an East Coast swing outside of a stop in Brooklyn. Still, the Lakers have too much at stake here.

PREDICTION: Same order as now. Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Phoenix. Sixers have a 44.2 percent chance at getting the Lakers pick this season.

The race for fourth: Orlando, Sacramento, Philadelphia, New York

The Sixers are 0.5 games behind Orlando, and they both have fairly similar schedules with five games at home and home-and-homes against Brooklyn. Problem is (and again, this is a credit to Brett Brown), the Sixers have been flat-out better than Orlando since the All-Star break. From a net rating standpoint, the have been five points per 100 possessions better. That shellacking of Dallas the other night certainly helps the cause, but the point stands that Orlando is pretty bad.

How about the KANGZ, who have slightly exceeded my expectations since the All-Star break (28th out of 30 in net rating, but still)? They have an even 6-6 split between home and road games, but because they play in the West, their schedule is a bit harder.

And then there are the Knicks, who have also been worse than the Sixers since the break. 538 is projecting New York, Sacramento, and Philly to all finish with 31 wins, a game behind Orlando at 30. I’m going to adjust that ever so slightly.

PREDICTION: Magic and Kings tie at 30 wins, Sixers and Knicks tie at 31. With the pick swap, that would be a 51.75 shot at Top-3 pick for the Sixers.

The deep sleeper: New Orleans

For Boogie and the Brow, the playoffs will have to wait until at least next year. Only three games behind the Sixers at 5, they could try to boost their odds considering the pick is Top-3 protected.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann