The Hawks surrendered the final 11 points of the game to lose at the Heat on Tuesday night. It was a tough loss for the Hawks, but a clear win for their draft lottery positioning, especially because the Magic beat the Knicks and the Suns beat the Kings on the same night.
Those results left the Hawks (22-56) two games behind the Suns (20-59) for the worst record and thus the best lottery odds. The Hawks also moved 1.5 games clear of the Magic (23-54) for the third-worst record and pulled within a half game of the Grizzlies (21-56) for the second-worst record. To be assured of at least tie for the worst record, the Hawks need to lose their final four games and have the Suns win two of their final three.
FiveThirtyEight.com’s statistical model predicts that the Suns, Grizzlies and Hawks each will win one more game and that the Magic will win two. That would mean the teams finish as they stand now (in reverse order): Suns, Grizzlies, Hawks and Magic.
The stakes are high. The team with the worst record (and no tie) has a 25 percent chance of winning the top pick and will pick no later than fourth. The team with the second-worst record (no tie) has about a 20 percent chance at the top pick and selects no later than fifth and the team with the third-worst record (no tie) has a 15.6 percent chance to win the lottery and picks no later than sixth.
It’s significant that the Hawks gained some distance from the Magic for the third-worst record. Finishing third from the bottom would give the Hawks about a 47 percent chance of winning a top-three pick compared with a roughly 38 percent chance for the team with the fourth-worst record. After the top three picks are determined via lottery, the remaining teams select in reverse order of finish.