It’s in the Hawks’ best interest to lose at Minnesota tonight, by which I mean the long-term interest of the franchise.
Hawks players should play to win because that’s their job (all indications are that they have been doing that). There are ancillary benefits to winning even for a team that’s going nowhere, among them maintaining a competitive culture. Also, fans spend time and money to see competitive basketball and that’s what they should get in Hawks-Timberwolves tonight.
Having said that, the Hawks (21-59) need to lose this game in the big picture. They need to lose to increase their own chances of winning the draft lottery, of course. Right now, the Hawks are third from the bottom in the NBA standings behind the Suns (19-56) and Grizzlies (20-54). FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds of winning the top pick at 15 percent and Tankathon.com has them at 15.6 percent.
But the Hawks also need to lose to help the Timberwolves. They will own Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2018 draft if the Timberwolves (42-33) make the playoffs. Minnesota is eighth in the Western Conference, just hanging on to a playoff position, and that’s where the Hawks want them to stay.
Right now, Atlanta’s pick from Minnesota would be No. 18 overall, a much better position than seemed possible before Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler went down to injury. If the Timberwolves don’t make the playoffs this season, their first-round pick would convey to the Hawks if Minnesota made the playoffs in either of the next two seasons.
The T-Wolves were rolling when Butler was healthy and they could finish much higher than eighth in the West in 2018-19 or 2019-20, making Atlanta’s pick less valuable. (Or, less likely but possible: the T-Wolves miss the playoffs three years in a row and the Hawks never get that first-round pick).
In a recent interview with 92.9 The Game Hawks GM Travis Schlenk recently acknowledged that the Hawks are rooting for the T-Wolves to squeak into the playoffs. (Via @KLChouinard)
Circumstances are helping the Hawks in their quest for better draft picks. Dennis Schroder, their leading scorer, will miss his second straight game with an ankle injury he suffered on Friday at Golden State. Kent Bazemore, the team’s second-leading scorer, is out with a season-ending knee injury.
The Timberwolves are 12-point favorites on the Vegas line. Then again, the Timberwolves suffered a home loss to the Grizzlies (20-54) on Monday, their fourth loss in their past six games. That result helped the Hawks in terms of the draft lottery but hurt them as far as getting Minnesota’s pick.
The Hawks need to lose to the Timberwolves tonight for a win-win.
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