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Power Tankings: Bucks' showdown with the Sixers begins it all

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

LET'S GET READY TO CRUMBLE!

What will you be watching tonight? Aside from "How I Met Your Mother" and "2 Broke Girls", we'll have a pretty epic tanking battle between the Philadelphia 76ers. Weeks ago, I wondered if the Milwaukee Bucks would be challenged in the top spot of Power Tankings for the rest of the season. The rest of the field was looking surprisingly competent and the Bucks were too hilarious to be challenged. But we've got a whole new ball game now.

The 76ers are currently on a 10-game losing streak and have taken over the worst net rating in the NBA. They're currently 4.5 games ahead (behind?) of the Bucks in terms of record, which could very easily be erased in the final month and a half of the season. When the Bucks visit the Sixers tonight, it's the last meeting of 2013-14 between the two teams. A win (loss?) by the Sixers tonight would probably lock up the worst record in the NBA for the Bucks this season.

They've also just traded away two of their best players in wing Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes while not receiving anything tangible for the roster this season in return. The Bucks also traded away Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour, leaving Ramon Sessions to boost his free agency negotiations with high assist games the rest of the season, which is easier said than done with this Bucks' team. This entire match-up tonight could very well determine the lottery stakes for the rest of the season.

Winner gets Master P's gold tank and the best lottery odds:

Here are the Week 18 Power Tankings:

1. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 15-41 (0-2 this week), Net Rating: -10.5 points per 100 possessions

I have a feeling this will be Sam Hinkie entering the NBA Draft Lottery room as he's flashing final standings all over the dais of failed teams. Last 10 games for the Sixers have been a 26-point loss to the Hawks, 17-point loss to the Pistons, six-point loss to the Nets, six-point loss to Boston, 14-point loss to the Lakers, 45-point loss to the Clippers, 43-point loss to the Warriors, five-point loss to the Jazz, 29-point loss to the Cavs, and 12-point loss to the Mavs.

A loss Monday night to the Bucks would be as big as any of those huge losses in there. We've got ourselves a tank race, folks. And tank races are often slow and leave a lot of destruction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 10-45 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -9.9 points per 100 possessions

If you're wondering why the Bucks fell despite having a 4.5-game lead on the Sixers for worst record, the recent victory over the Magic really slowed their efforts to get the top pick. With the Sixers kicking things into a high gear, the Bucks can't take nights off and win games against their competitors. They have to stay focused and keep having O.J. Mayo tying his shoes when his team is on defense.

If anything, I should have included the Nuggets in this week's Power Tankings because Randy Foye didn't take advantage of this by cutting off the ball, going baseline, and getting himself an easy bucket. If the Nuggets had lost that game and continued down their current spiral, they'd be rocking an eight-game losing streak with this play highlighting it. They did win this game though.

3. Orlando Magic

Record: 17-41 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -5.4 points per 100 possessions

The Magic have just been confusing this season. They're just competitive enough while still being fairly overmatched in most games. They didn't trade away Arron Afflalo and will end up saving a few bucks on Glen Davis with his buyout after not moving him at the deadline. They won three straight games a couple weeks ago with two of those victories happening against the Pacers and Thunder. They've followed that up with losing four out of their last five, including losses to the Bucks and Cavs. Their win was an overtime victory over the Knicks.

Good news is they've gotten Tobias Harris going as of late. They can keep developing him, Nikola Vucevic, and Victor Oladipo the rest of the season while keeping themselves in position to have a great shot at a top 3 pick. They have two games left against the Sixers this season and one game left against the Bucks. The Magic will have their say on who comes to the lottery with bragging rights.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 19-37 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -4.9 points per 100 possessions

With the news that Kobe Bryant is going to wait another three weeks until his next exam, that puts us around March 16th before we know if Bryant will be playing soon or at all this season. If he did come back after that exam, the next game would likely be March 19 against the Spurs. That would leave him and the Lakers less than a month to go for the rest of the season, possibly playing out the final 16 games of 2013-14. Is that enough to pull the Lakers away from the Jazz, Celtics, and Magic?

Would this version of Kobe even mean enough to the Lakers to elevate a roster featuring Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, Wes Johnson, Kent Bazemore, Ryan Kelly, and Chris Kaman back into the win column a few extra times? How much time would Bryant need to get his conditioning right for something like this? The Lakers are teetering on the edge of full-on tanking and Bryant's return status could very well determine the future of this franchise.

5. Utah Jazz

Record: 19-36 (0-3 this week), Net Rating: -7.7 points per 100 possessions

The Jazz have been pretty fragile all season, and aren't built to withstand injuries to their core as they rebuild and reshape this franchise. In the beginning of the season, Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas III were the duct tape holding together cracks in the house as Trey Burke was out to start the season. They went 1-12 before his return. After he made his debut, the Jazz went 13-15 over their next 28 games to show they weren't just some pushover in the way of easy victories each night.

Since getting to 14-27, they've fallen back off the cliff of truly competing. Back-to-back losses to the Wolves last month turned started a 5-9 stretch that is currently being furthered by the injury to Derrick Favors. He's missed seven of the past 13 games and only played six minutes in one of those games he appeared in. If his hip issue doesn't linger, we'll see the Jazz likely finish out the season on a very competitive note. If it does linger, they could be breaking into the top 3 of Power Tankings again real soon.

6. Boston Celtics

Record: 19-38 (0-3 this week), Net Rating: -4.7 points per 100 possessions

We didn't see any major moves at the deadline for the Celtics and once again point guard Rajon Rondo managed to survive trade rumors. The Celtics have gone 4-9 over their past 13 games, only winning games that involve opponents of a sub-par caliber. Those four wins came against the Magic, Sixers, Kings, and Bucks. They're able to hold their own against the lower rungs of the NBA but when they attempt to climb up the ladder, they get kicked down pretty quickly. Why is this important?

The Celtics go against playoff teams in 13 of the next 17 contests. Much like the Lakers, this team is teetering on the edge of a full-on tank the rest of the season. Some of that will be due to circumstance with the roster and some of that will be schedule based. Really, the Celtics should just be worried about getting Rondo right the rest of the season. The big key is getting him strong enough to finish around the basket, which he's not doing. He's made just 43.8 percent of his shots in the restricted area and 11.8 percent in the paint (outside of the restricted area). Compare that to the 57.4 percent and 41.4 percent he made, respectively, last season and he's got some more healing to do.

Keeping an eye on: Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 22-35 (2-2 this week), Net Rating: -5.2 points per 100 possessions

The Cavaliers are just competent enough to be halfway out of the Power Tankings right now, but I still want to keep an eye on them. They were supposed to be gone from this post forever after acquiring Luol Deng, but then they dropped four out of 14 games and had all of the rumblings of a post-apocalyptic system of anarchy within the organization. Chris Grant is gone, the team has acquired Spencer Hawes, and they're back to some winning ways.

Even though they've dropped two straight games to playoff teams (Raptors and Wizards), the Cavs have won six of their past eight games and are five games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They still have quite a bit of work to do to close the gap, which would include getting wins in a 13-game stretch that includes facing 10 playoff teams and the Grizzlies. But the core of the Cavs should be good enough the rest of the way to make it interesting. Of course, we thought something similar nearly two months ago...

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