With eight games remaining on their schedule, the Hawks (21-53) might be out of the race for the top draft lottery odds. They are two games “behind” the Suns (19-55) and 1½ games behind the Grizzlies (19-54). FiveThirtyEight.com predicts the Hawks will finish with the third-worst record (23-59) behind the Suns and Grizzlies (tied at 21-61), a projection that has held steady for most of the past month.
That wouldn’t be such a bad lottery outcome for the Hawks. The team with the third-worst record has a 15.6 percent chance to win the top pick compared to 25 percent for the worst record and 19.9 for second-worst. Significantly, the team with the third-worst record has roughly a 47 percent chance of picking in the top three. (After those three picks are determined by lottery, the selections continue in reverse order of record.)
And that’s where things get dicey for the Hawks. They are just 1½ games “ahead” of the Mavericks and Magic (both 22-51) in the race to the bottom, so the Hawks are closer to finishing fifth than they are first. The Hawks conclude their series against the Magic with a home game on Sunday after losing two of the first three meetings.
(That game presumably is one of the two predicted Hawks victories in the FiveThirtyEight model. I can’t guess the other. Maybe the home game in the season finale against the Sixers, who theoretically could be locked into their playoff seed by then?)
The Hawks have had sporadic moments of competitiveness against good opponents over the past month, including victories over the Pacers and Jazz. Meanwhile the Suns have lost 11 games in a row and the Grizzlies interrupted their 19-game skid with a victory over the Nuggets before losing their last four. The Suns and Grizzlies both still have one home game each against the Kings (24-50), and the Suns also play at Dallas (22-51) to conclude the season.
Lots of wacky things can happen over the final two weeks. There is the potential for a handful of farcical NBA games featuring playoff-bound teams indifferent about the result because seeding is set vs. lottery-bound teams with incentives to lose. But, at this point, it appears the top lottery odds may be out of reach for the Hawks and they would do well to hang on to a top-three spot.