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Posted at 10:51 AM ET, 02/12/2011

Race to the bottom

By Lee Friedman

With nearly every game they play, the Wizards solidify their lottery position. For most of the season Flip Saunders has talked about how the Wizards were still in the hunt for the playoffs based on how bad the bottom of the Eastern Conference is. He's partially right. The East basically has five very good to great teams in Miami, Boston, Chicago, Orlando and Atlanta. The Knicks are somewhere between good and not embarrassing depending on the night. Now here’s where it gets bad, as of Thursday the difference between the current fifth seed Atlanta and No. 7 seed Philadelphia is nine games. To put that in perspective, as of Thursday the Wizards were only 8 ½ games out of a playoff spot, and according to Playoff Probabilities Report (PPR) they have a 0 percent chance of making the playoffs and are projected to finish with the fifth worst record in the league. In the West, the difference between the No. 5 seed and the No. 7 seed is just one game.

In spite of the bad basketball being played in Philadelphia, Indiana and Milwaukee, the Wizards are unlikely to make the playoffs, which means they are headed back to the lottery for the third straight year. Last year, despite having the fifth worst record in the league, the Wizards hit the lottery jackpot and got the No. 1 pick. They could be in a similar position this year.

So which teams are in contention for the No. 1 pick (which unlike previous drafts has no consensus No. 1)? I didn’t count Milwaukee or Charlotte since they are both in playoff contention, and will probably end up at the back end of the lottery if they don’t make the playoffs. I also discounted every team in the West except for Minnesota and Sacramento. Below are the Wizards competition along with the number of wins that PPR projects them to finish with:

Detroit (31.9): They probably aren’t bad enough to be a threat to the Wizards lottery hopes, but for Pistons fans, the train wreck that is their salary cap means that they could be bad for a few years. They have $103M wrapped up in Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Richard Hamilton, Will Bynum and Ben Gordon over the next three years and it’s all guaranteed. Like Stroh’s, they are not getting better with age. Poor Detroit, even their bad beer is now imported from somewhere else.

New Jersey (25.7): If they managed to swing the trade for Carmelo they were going to compete for a playoff spot, but at this point that looks unlikely. I’ve said before how bad their free agent signings were, but the regression in Brook Lopez this year, especially his rebounding, is mystifying. I think he spent too much time around Yi in N.J. Note to Ernie: You might want to move JaVale away from Yi on team flights.

Washington (24.5)

Toronto (24): This team has some decent young players, Andrea Bargnani is having a great year and Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan may turn into solid players. But they don’t have much beyond Leandro Barbosa and those three. They are a definite threat to the Wizards lottery hopes.

Minnesota (23.1): A silver lining for Wolves fans, this team actually has a lot of young, cheap talent signed to contracts that keep them under team control for at least two more years (Michael Beasley at $6M is their highest paid player right now). Kevin Love has turned into a star, Beasley has been a huge surprise (are the possession laws more lenient in Minnesota?) and Darko Milicic has actually earned some playing time. However their defense is the worst in the league and their team is run by graduates of the Daniel Snyder School of Sport Management (you think if Snyder endowed a grad school at a D.C. college anyone would attend?). Unfortunately playing in a tough Western Conference, they have a good shot at knocking the Wizards down a spot.

Sacramento (22.1): Both DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans have the talent to be All-Stars or the next Latrell Sprewell (in the case of Cousins it could be both). Outside of those two the team has almost nobody of value. Beno Udrih is the only other player with a PER above 15 and their back-up point guard voluntarily goes by the name Pooh (Pooh Jeter shares his last name with arguably the most well-known baseball player on the planet and that is the best nickname he could come up with?).

Cleveland (14.5): I really feel sorry for Antawn Jamison, a hard worker who played through a lot of injuries and is one of my all-time favorite Wizards. He suffered through two years of losing in D.C. and finally gets traded to the Cavs with a shot to make a title run towards the end of his career. I’m sure he figured “I can’t be put into a situation worse than last year when one of my coworkers brought handguns to the office.” Proving once again, life can always be worse.

By Lee Friedman  | February 12, 2011; 10:51 AM ET
Categories:  Lee Friedman, Wizards  | Tags:  Lee Friedman, Wizards  
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Next: Box lunch: What's next for Wizards?


Um, Lee, Philly and Indiana are not playing bad basketball right now.

Posted by: Pradamaster | February 12, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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