The Portland Trail Blazers used 10 players in their blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday. Let's take a closer look at those players:
- Shaedon Sharpe, still a teenager for the next two months.
- A 20-year-old undrafted free agent (John Butler) and a 20-year-old No. 57 overall pick (Jabari Walker).
- Four former first-round picks who were moved before the end of their rookie deals: Cam Reddish, Kevin Knox, Matisse Thybulle and Keon Johnson.
- A 23-year-old former first-round pick of their own (Nassir Little).
- The "veterans" of the group: 26-year-old Drew Eubanks and 29-year-old Ryan Arcidiacono, who have combined to start 100 games in their careers.
As we round third and sprint toward April, get ready to see a whole lot of this. Promising youngsters. Slightly older has-beens. Even older never-will-be's. This is roughly the time of year when teams that spent the season deluding themselves into believing they could actually win anything try to catch up on the season's worth of tanking they should've committed to. The worst teams in the NBA are already set, but teams like Portland have to get their ducks in a row quickly. Indiana and Washington are in the same boat, and more teams will join them before the end of the regular season. Their odds at Victor Wembanyama may be relatively low, but hey, the seventh pick is better than the ninth.
Wemby's double-double streak continues
Wembanyama posted a double-double for his third consecutive outing on Tuesday with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in an 89-83 win over Le Mans. The big performance in victory helped Mets 92 end its two-game losing streak to ASVEL and to Le Portel in a span of 10 days.
The win capped what was a busier-than-usual week for Mets 92 and for Wembanyama, who typically play just once weekly. After a 10-day haitus, Mets 92 first lost to Le Portel, 78-77, as Wembanyama turned in 19 points and 11 rebounds. He finished 6 of 12 shooting and played 36 minutes, but Mets 92 coughed up a 13-point fourth-quarter lead to suffer a blow to its regular-season title hopes.
Le gros dunk de Wembanyama pour conclure la première mi-temps face au Portel ! 🧨— REVERSE (@REVERSEMAGAZINE) March 24, 2023
🎥 @FirstTeam101 pic.twitter.com/S7jZGLnLaO
Against Le Mans four days later, Wembanyama on Tuesday scored 26 points, grabbed 10 boards and added three blocks to win 89-83, its first win in 28 days with one of the most hilariously brilliant highlights of the season for him. (Of which there are many.)
Around the world.— NBA (@NBA) March 28, 2023
Victor Wembanyama is special.
Watch the #NBADraft prospect live on the NBA App: https://t.co/R7t0tiZ9fk pic.twitter.com/hvW194p5U3
Mets 92 schedule
Up next for Mets 92 on the schedule is a big Sunday test vs. league-leader Monaco. With Mets 92 now two back of first-place, the rematch from an early season loss looms large in determining how the top of the league looks by season's end. Wembanyama had 27 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting with Monaco in a 95-82 loss, playing all 40 minutes for the first -- and only -- time all season. That's one of two games up on the schedule in the next 10 days before another two-week hiatus on tap.
- Sunday, April 2: 1:00 p.m. ET
- Saturday, April 8: 11 a.m. ET
Race to the bottom
Each week, we'll rank the seven teams likeliest to earn the coveted No. 1 slot on lottery night. These rankings will take current record, recent performance, upcoming schedule and injuries into account to subjectively rank the NBA's worst teams.
7. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are surprisingly top-heavy for a middle-of-the-pack team. They are 5-15 without Tyrese Haliburton this season and 4-10 without Myles Turner. Those are their only two consistently above-average players, and on Monday, without either of them, they were blasted by 23 points by a Dallas Mavericks team that... umm... hasn't had the best week (but more on them later). If the Pacers keep those two sidelined the rest of the way, they should comfortably lose their way into the bottom seven.
6. Orlando Magic: You know who isn't comfortable losing anything? The Magic. I'll let Paolo Banchero take it from here:
shhhhhh they think we tanking🤣 https://t.co/Z7n3pOVgx3— Paolo Banchero🇮🇹 (@Pp_doesit) March 27, 2023
5. Portland Trail Blazers: We touched on the Blazers above, but it's worth noting that, although they committed to the tank earlier last season, this is the second year in a row that has followed this pattern. The Blazers retool in the offseason and expect significant improvement only to face plant, tank, and give fans of other teams hope that Damian Lillard might be traded in the offseason. Maybe he will be, but more likely, the Blazers will once again kick the can down the road, try to fix this in the offseason, and set us up for the exact same conversations a year from now. If nothing else, the Blazers are consistent.
4. Charlotte Hornets: Has any bottom-of-the-league team ever had this much separation in the standings? The Hornets, as of this writing, are seven wins ahead of the third-worst team in the NBA and six wins behind the fifth-worst. It is entirely possible that they clinch their exact lottery position, No. 4, before the end of March.
3. San Antonio Spurs: Every week we seem to find a new San Antonio big man to highlight. Zach Collins has been the best of the bunch. In his last 16 games, he is averaging 16.5 points per game on 49% shooting from the field and 41.2% from deep. San Antonio had a chance to go down as the worst defense in NBA history before the deadline. The Spurs rank 23rd in the NBA since then with Collins as their primary big man. Injuries ruined the early portion of his career, but Collins is finally getting things back on track now.
2. Houston Rockets: Players around the league are getting louder about the problems in Houston. Draymond Green was the latest to criticize their culture. "It's very easy to build bad habits. But habits are hard to break. You build bad habits and it kind of becomes who you are," Green said, going on to lament the team's lack of veterans. The Rockets had the NBA's worst record in each of the past two seasons. With very few veterans on the team, they've failed to build a culture that is conducive to developing their young players. Major changes are going to have to come to Houston in the near future.
1. Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have placed an emphasis on acquiring talented young big men who failed with their first team. James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley have flashed signs of life in Detroit, but that shouldn't come at the expense of incumbents. Rookie Jalen Duren averaged over 25 minutes per game in his first 52 appearances this season, but has since his minutes tumble to below 22 in his past eight. Duren has been one of Detroit's few bright spots this season. Rarely will a successful rookie lose playing time on a bad team, but that's a situation the Pistons have created themselves by adding so many bigs. They might need to clear out some minutes next season to emphasize the players who are most important to their rebuild.
Loss of the Week
We haven't really covered the Dallas Mavericks in this space. In fairness, we didn't think we needed to. Generally speaking, teams that reach the Western Conference Finals and then trade for an All-Star at the deadline rarely find themselves in the lottery. But the Mavericks are a unique brand of disappointing, and while they are unlikely to act on it, they have a serious incentive to lose. As of this writing, the Mavericks have the 11th-worst record in the NBA. They will send their first-round pick to the Knicks this June... unless it lands in the top 10.
The Mavericks are trying to win and send the Knicks that pick. It just isn't working out for them. On Friday, they hosted the Hornets without LaMelo Ball in a must-win game. Charlotte, despite playing in the second half of a back-to-back, won the game. OK. Weird losses happen. This is the NBA. The Spurs beat the Nuggets recently. Even the Pistons have won 16 times. Surely, the Mavericks would want revenge in the Sunday rematch, right?
Wrong, and here's what's so concerning: they only allowed 110 points, they got 40 points out of Luka Doncic, and they still lost. Starters not named Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined to score five total points. That should tell you everything you need to know about the Mavericks right now. They're so thin that even on a night in which their defense generally does its job, they're still perfectly capable of losing because they're getting so little out of their supporting cast.
This can be remedied in the offseason. If Dallas does wind up keeping its top-10 pick, that's a valuable trade asset. If that pick leaps into the top four, their entire future changes. But for now, it's DEFCON 1 for a Dallas team that never thought it'd get a Wemby Watch spotlight.
Games of the Weak
Wednesday, March 29: Jazz at Spurs: It may have taken them the whole season, but the Jazz have finally met the Spurs on the tank train. Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and Collin Sexton have already been ruled out of this game, and Lauri Markkanen is listed as doubtful.
Friday, March 31: Magic at Wizards: As of this writing, the Magic have one fewer victory than the Wizards. By next week, it's possible that the Magic will have jumped out of the bottom seven altogether for the first time all season.
Friday, March 31: Rockets at Pistons: The stakes of this game have largely been sapped. The Pistons, in all likelihood, will have the NBA's worst record regardless of this game. But hey, this is a running story about bad teams and these are the NBA's two worst. Considering how late into the season we are and therefore how many players might wind up missing this game, you might not see a worse game of NBA basketball all year.