The most interesting race in the NBA right now for is not taking place among the playoff seedings for Celtics fans. Instead, it’s the frantic finish in the middle of the lottery as the Grizzlies fight to the finish to convey their 2019 top-8 protected pick to the Celtics.
The reasons for the Grizzlies wanting to get rid of this pick now have been long discussed here at BSJ and the same can be said for the Celtics’ desires to hold off at least another year on receiving it from Memphis as the protections loosen (top-6 in 2020, unprotected in 2021). The stakes are high from Boston’s perspective since while receiving the No. 9 or No. 10 overall pick in 2019 wouldn’t be a terrible thing, it takes away one potential valuable future trading chip (with potential upside) from their asset chest to deal.
Currently, there are four teams within a half-game of each other in the 6-9 spots in the lottery standings.
Let’s examine some critical developments in the race since we last checked in on the Celtics draft watch.
1. The Lakers played themselves out of the pack before shutting LeBron James down: Incredibly, LA has won four of its last five games, which propelled themselves up the standings even before deciding to shut down James for the remainder of the campaign (six games). This is an encouraging development from Boston’s perspective on a number of fronts, including the fact that the Lakers’ odds of landing a top-4 pick have plummeted with their recent wins (just eight percent from the No. 11 spot). That gives Magic Johnson even less ammo to throw around in Anthony Davis trade talks and gives Memphis one less team to potentially move past in the standings. They have a pretty brutal closing schedule against five playoff teams but their 35 wins should keep them ahead of the 7-10 lottery pack even if they lose out.
2. Jonas Valancinuas is done for the season in Memphis: The former Raptor had been a force for his new team since the trade deadline but a sprained right ankle suffered on Sunday night against the Clippers ended his campaign five games early. He joins a long list of Grizzlies that have been ruled out for the season including Jaren Jackson, Kyle Anderson, CJ Miles and Dillon Brooks. Mike Conley and Avery Bradley have also missed recent games with injuries, but both remain day-to-day.
3. The Mavericks and Wizards are pulling off improbable wins: Give credit to Rick Carlisle and Scott Brooks: They still have these squads fighting for pride at the end of disappointing seasons. The Mavericks have somehow won three of five over playoff teams (OKC, Golden State, Philadelphia) to get themselves even with the Grizzlies in the standings while the Wizards salvaged a 2-2 West Coast trip with a victory over the Nuggets on Sunday night. Both teams have a far easier schedule down the stretch, giving them a chance to reel off a few more wins and keep the Grizzlies at or below the No. 8 spot.
All four teams have very winnable games left on the schedule, including a pair of head-to-head matchups between Dallas and Memphis that could prove to be pivotal. However, rest decisions by opposing teams will likely factor into success here so it’s dangerous to gauge anything at this point except the fact that this race will go down to the wire.
The Game the Celtics (may) want to lose
It’s too early to tell if it will mean anything in the standings for Boston but there is little doubt the front office has the team’s regular-season finale against the Wizards circled for standings implications.