Power Tankings: We're going to need a bigger tank

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

We have roughly three weeks left of the 2013-14 NBA regular season, which means this post is about to get really crowded. We've had our eye on roughly four to six teams consistently during this season in Power Tankings, with plenty of teams fluttering in and out of the posts from week to week. But with so little time left to improve lottery odds, we now have nine teams officially in the Power Tankings and our eye on one team that just can't quite be considered tanking quite yet.

The Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic have done their part and what we expected them to do. Then there is the Cauldron of Sadness that includes five teams that don't quite know how to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, good or bad. And then we have one team inserting itself back into the Tankings as it prepares for its annual stretch of games at the end of the season without its young star.

This is getting real like seven strangers picked to live in a house.

Don't forget; the winner gets Master P's gold tank and the best lottery odds:

Here are the Week 22 Power Tankings:

1. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 15-55 (0-4 last week), Net Rating: -11.4 points per 100 possessions

There are three teams in NBA history that have lost at least 24 games in a row. The Cleveland Cavaliers did it over the 1981-82 and '82-83 seasons. They lost 19 in a row to finish the '81-82 season and their first five games of the next season. The 2010-11 Cavs lost an NBA-record 26 straight in one campaign after losing LeBron James the previous summer. And then there is this Sixers team, which has lost 24 straight and has a great shot at breaking the record. They also draw an interesting similarity to the Cavs' team in 2010-11 which set the record.

That year, the Cavs were surprisingly competitive early on before losing a couple players (injuries) and then setting the record. You can say the same about the Sixers this year, only they moved players via trade (sorry, Thaddeus Young). But the Cavs didn't end up with the worst record that season. The Minnesota Timberwolves lost their final 15 games to finish two games worse than the Cavs. Cleveland was out-tanked in a way, despite setting a record for consecutive losses. And with that, I would like to re-introduce you to this year's Milwaukee Bucks.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 13-57 (0-3 last week), Net Rating: -8.9 points per 100 possessions

I'm still thoroughly impressed by this Bucks team and the way it has managed to stop history from unseating it for the worst record in the league. The Bucks are currently on a seven-game losing streak, possibly attempting to catch up to what the Sixers did or just stave off any hope Philadelphia might have to finish with the worst record. In the year the Wolves managed to out-tank the Cavs, Minnesota finished with the worst record but wound up with the second pick in the draft. The Cavs won the first pick in the draft and also had the fourth pick.

The Sixers have an extra pick but can't have the same or a similar scenario happen due to the pick protection involved in the Pelicans' pick. Considering how loaded the draft is, the Bucks wouldn't be all that mad at finishing with the second pick in the 2014 draft, but they'd also probably like to grab the first pick and be in complete control of the future of their franchise.

3. Orlando Magic

Record: 19-52 (0-4 last week), Net Rating: -5.5 points per 100 possessions

The Magic have been impressive all season long. They've toed the line of competitiveness with no real overwhelming feelings of tanking, even though they never put a team on the floor that can actually dream of making a playoff push, which is fine. They're in part of their rebuilding plan and hitting it big in this year's potentially star-heavy draft would put them right on schedule for competing for the playoffs next season. It's just a matter of managing their assets properly this offseason, in case any advantageous trade opportunities come up.

In the meantime, they've lost nine straight games and are all but securing they'll have the third-best lottery odds. They were part of this clustertank of teams like the Jazz, Lakers, Kings and Celtics, but have managed to create enough space to ride smoothly the rest of the season with the third-worst record in the league. That's some textbook tanking, Orlando. How did they lock that up?

4. Utah Jazz

Record: 23-47 (1-2 last week), Net Rating: -8.0 points per 100 possessions

The Magic have 11 games remaining and their current winning percentage says they're on pace to win three of those games. Already three wins behind the Utah Jazz heading into Saturday's game, Arron Afflalo missed a free throw in the final seconds that would've pushed the Orlando lead to three. Instead, they were up two and the Jazz got a Trey Burke corner 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left that ended up winning the game.

The Jazz closed out the win because the Magic tried to get Nikola Vucevic the ball 18 feet from the hoop near the baseline with 1.6 seconds left. This was apparently their play because it was the only passing option for the inbounder, Kyle O'Quinn. Yes, Kyle O'Quinn was inbounding on a game-winning attempt. The pass was knocked out of bounds, and Afflalo didn't really get his 3-point attempt off with 0.4 seconds left. The Jazz won this game but it feels like the Magic tricked them into it. The best odds Utah can hope for now are fourth.

5. Boston Celtics

Record: 23-47 (1-2 last week), Net Rating: -5.2 points per 100 possessions

After beating a LeBron-less Heat team this week, the Celtics have left themselves in this Cauldron of Sadness that includes them, the Kings, Pistons, Lakers and Jazz. Tom Ziller of SB Nation asked on Twitter what we should call this grouping of tanking teams and that was the best I could come up with so I'm sticking with it. The Cauldron of Sadness needs separation or risk having even less control over the all-important lottery odds.

Luckily for the Celtics, they have four straight games with two sets of home-and-home games against the Raptors and Bulls. Then they'll face the Wizards before an easy matchup with the Sixers. Five straight losses before their win over the Sixers would be huge for their lottery odds, but they've managed to have a little too much foolish pride at times this season. At least during all of this, Rajon Rondo has been a joy to watch.

6. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 23-46 (1-2 last week), Net Rating: -6.2 points per 100 possessions

The Lakers recently lost a home-and-home against the Spurs by a combined 50 points. Aside from a foolish win over the Magic (that seems to be going around lately), the nicest part of this stretch of games for the Lakers was definitely their loss to the Wizards on Friday. We got to watch Steve Nash play some basketball again and he was pretty good. He had five points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field, three steals and 11 assists in 19 minutes. We've been worried about whether or not we'll get to see him play ever again in the NBA and then he was wheeling and dealing like this, despite the nerve root irritation concerns in his leg.

Good to have you back, Steve, no matter how long we have you for.

7. Detroit Pistons

Record: 25-44 (0-3 last week), Net Rating: -3.8 points per 100 possessions

Our friends at Tankathon.com, a site tracking all of the current lottery odds and draft pick protections, tipped us off at looking for the Detroit Pistons in Power Tankings after last week. Turns out it was a great tip. They've been sort of in the playoff picture, thanks to how bad the East is. But a recent five-game losing streak currently puts them with the eighth-worst record in the NBA. They owe a draft pick to the Charlotte Bobcats from the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette trade that happened in June 2012 (so we can't pretend this was a very old deal that benefitted either team).

Guess what the protection on that pick owed to the Bobcats is? That's right; it's top-eight protected. The Pistons understand what's going on. How else do you explain Aaron Brooks dropping 27 points and dishing out 17 assists against them?

8. Sacramento Kings

Record: 25-45 (2-1 last week), Net Rating: -2.6 points per 100 possessions

They beat the Wizards in overtime this past week, then got blown out by the Spurs before destroying the Bucks. Destroying the Bucks is hard to avoid at this stage. It's hard to accuse the Kings of tanking (even though there is a heavy dose of Travis Outlaw going on the past month) but we're close enough to the end of the season that they need to be in here. Their record is terrible, their games are competitive and they are deep in the Cauldron of Sadness.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 27-44 (1-3 last week), Net Rating: -4.7 points per 100 possessions

Kyrie Irving may be done for the season with a biceps injury. I'm not doubting that Irving is actually too injured to play at the moment, but this would be the third straight season he has finished mostly on the sidelines. He missed 11 of the final 17 games his rookie season. Last season, he missed 12 of 17 games from late February to early April before playing in the final nine games of the season. And now he'll be out for at least two weeks heading into April and possibly the rest of the campaign.

Either his body knows how to tank for the team or the planets just align properly for Irving and the Cavs' lottery odds after he has dazzled us for a few months. It would be great to see him play a full season. He'll be pushing 50 missed games in his first three seasons of his career, which just isn't fun for anybody.

Keeping an eye on: Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 34-34 (1-2 last week), Net Rating: +1.8 points per 100 possessions

Can't fully throw the Wolves into Power Tankings just yet, but they did blow a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at home to the Phoenix Suns to lose by seven Sunday. Why is that significant? The Wolves owe their first-round pick to Phoenix if Minnesota finishes as the last team out of the playoffs in the West. Their pick is top-13 protected. It's a longshot for the Wolves to finish with a better record than Phoenix at this point because they're so far back and the Suns are in the playoff hunt, but that loss on Sunday all but sealed it.

The Wolves are now six games behind Phoenix with 14 to play. They just have to hope that if the Suns miss the playoffs, they don't hit on their 1.8 percent chance of getting into the top 3 in the lottery, which would push Minnesota's pick back to 14th.

 
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