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Why 2019 NBA Draft Lottery is so important

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The lottery is the NBA’s silliest event. High-ranking team personnel travel across the country to sit on stage as the results are announced. They don’t even watch the actual drawing (though others do that). They just sit and grin or grimace for the cameras based on how ping-pong balls bounced in another room earlier in the night.

The silliest part: How darn important it is.

Dynasties are built in the lottery. Rebuilds are upended in the lottery. Jobs are saved and lost in the lottery.

Few lotteries have been as important as this year’s. The future of the NBA’s competitive balance could swing tonight, and highly touted Zion Williamson is only the start of the significance.

The big three reasons this lottery is particularly critical:

Prospect tiers

Zion Williamson is the quality of prospect who comes along only once every few years. He’s huge, athletic and skilled. Few college players, especially freshmen, have ever affected the game like he did at Duke.

WHOOSH!

That was the steep drop to Murray State point guard Ja Morant, who’s nearing consensus as the No. 2 prospect. Then there’s another drop to Duke forward R.J. Barrett, probably the probably the popular pick as No. 3 prospect. Then, there’s yet another drop to whomever you fancy as the fourth-best prospect in this draft.

These divisions between tiers aren’t solidified. There’s still time for movement as players work out and interview.

But, as it stacks up now, the reward for getting the No. 1 pick is far greater than the reward for getting the No. 2 pick, which is far greater than the reward for getting the No. 3 pick, which is far greater than landing somewhere in the middle of the lottery. Those clear delineations only add to the stakes tonight.

Protected picks

The drama doesn’t end with the high picks. A few trades involving protected picks will have major ramifications.

The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a first-round pick, which is top-eight-protected this year. Neither team wants a middling lottery pick in this weak-looking draft. If not moving into the top four, Memphis would rather convey its selection this year. Boston would rather wait, as the protections drop in subsequent years. The Grizzlies have a 26% chance of getting a top-four pick and a 31% chance they get the undesired No. 8 pick. So, that leaves the Celtics with a 43% chance of getting a pick in the 9-12 range.

Will Boston leave this lottery with an uninspiring pick from Memphis or a tempting long-term asset that could be used to, say, trade for Anthony Davis? Will Memphis enter a rebuild with the threat of losing an even higher first-round pick in a better draft, or will it get this obligation out of the way?

The Mavericks have a 24% chance of landing a top-four pick. If they get one, it’d increase the odds they send the Knicks only one of a possible two first-rounders in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. What a double whammy. In the 76% scenario, Dallas will send the Hawks a pick in the 9-13 range.

The Mavericks will eventually send the Hawks a first-rounder from the Luka DoncicTrae Young trade. But this lottery will determine whether that pick gets conveyed this year and could dictate how these promising teams rise from the basement.

The Kings owe their first-round pick to the Celtics or 76ers. Philadelphia gets it only if it lands No. 1. Otherwise, it goes to Boston. There’s a 95% chance Boston is the first team revealed tonight, getting the No. 14 pick. But if another team shows up first, that means Sacramento’s pick landed in the top four. Though the odds still favor picks 2-4 with the Celtics getting it, the 1% chance of the 76ers getting the No. 1 pick would send this lottery’s excitement level into overdrive until the top selections are revealed.

System expectations

The NBA changed its lottery setup this year – reducing benefits for the very worst teams with flattened odds and a drawing for the top four, rather than top three, picks.

I can see the new odds. You can see the new odds. Every team can see the new odds. They’re not changing next season or for the foreseeable future. The odds will remain what the odds are.

But people running teams can be irrational. How many times have you heard someone decry tanking because of how rarely the worst team has gotten the No. 1 pick? No matter how many or few times that has happened previously, the chances of it happening are unaffected.

So, this lottery could go a long way in setting a tone. If the worst teams get high picks, teams might convince themselves lottery reform didn’t go far enough and there’s still value in tanking. If the lottery features a huge shakeup, teams could be dissuaded from tanking hard.

It’s silly that it comes to that. But, again, all of this is silly.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.