With a little less than one month left in the regular season, the bottom of the NBA has essentially subdivided into two distinct races, with two teams caught between them:
- The Detroit Pistons (16-54), Houston Rockets (16-52) and San Antonio Spurs (18-50) are in the running for the No. 1 lottery slot. All three will have 14% chances at the No. 1 overall pick, but that top slot matters because it guarantees a top-five pick.
- The Charlotte Hornets (22-49) are four wins ahead of the Spurs and six wins behind the Orlando Magic (28-41). That effectively locks the Hornets into the No. 4 slot, which has a 12.5% chance at the No. 1 pick.
- The Magic are three wins behind the Chicago Bulls (31-36), Indiana Pacers (31-38) and Portland Trail Blazers. That effectively locks the Magic into the No. 5 slot, which has a 10.5% chance at the No. 1 pick.
- Chicago, Indiana and Portland lead the race for No. 6. The Washington Wizards (32-37) are also in the mix there, but after that? There are seven teams with either 33 or 34 wins that could theoretically sneak into the mix here with a truly terrible final month. The differences here start to get meaningful, at least relative to how close these teams are. The No. 6 slot offers a 9% chance at No. 1. The No. 12 slot, currently only two wins ahead of No. 6, has only a 1.5% chance at No. 1.
So that's where stand right now. There will be a 65% chance that Victor Wembanyama is a member of the Pistons, Rockets, Spurs, Hornets or Magic, and a 35% chance that he plays for one of the several teams vying for position beneath them.
Slow start back from qualifying window
Mets 92 and Wembanyama had a nearly monthlong reprieve from Pro A play during which Wembanyama competed for France and dominated but the team was not in action. During that time in the FIBA qualifying window, Wembanyama dominated on both ends -- but he hasn't quite sustained that production since Pro A play ramped back up. In his three games back this week, he averaged 16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 27.7 minutes per game -- all lows for any three-game stretch he's participated in this season.
And yet the highlights have still been relentless. Part of that lack of production has been due to foul trouble, part of it inefficiency, but the flashes of superstardom remain. (He is, by the way, still leading the league in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.)
#NBADraft prospect @vicw_32 does it on both ends and comes up clutch in the @Metropolitans92 win!— NBA (@NBA) March 7, 2023
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Wemby's first game back vs. Pau Orthez was foul-filled -- he played only 25 minutes, his third-lowest tally of the season -- but still finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in a Mets 92 win. Three days later against Nancy he finished with his third-lowest points total of the season with 14 points in a 93-87 win, albeit on an efficient 5 of 10 shooting. Then, on Tuesday while facing off against his former team ASVEL, Mets 92 got blown out in an 86-69 loss. Wemby had 15 points and 11 boards but went just 3 of 13 shooting from the field.
Wemby blocks ➡️➡️➡️— NBA (@NBA) March 14, 2023
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After the busiest stretch of the season for Mets 92 -- three games in the span of a week -- the team will be off 10 days before picking up again March 24. The next game is scheduled against Le Portel with a 3 p.m. tip. Here's a look at his upcoming schedule.
- Friday, March 24: vs. Le Portel at 3 p.m. ET
- Tuesday, March 28: vs. Le Mans (time TBD)
- Sunday, April 2: vs. Monaco (time TBD)
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: Chicago avoids the bottom-seven because, amazingly, the Bulls have the NBA's best net rating since the All-Star break. That leaves Portland and Indiana as the two 31-win teams to make the cut. The Pacers rank a slightly higher than the Blazers by virtue of their 28-26 record with Tyrese Haliburton. Portland, by contrast, is 26-29 with Damian Lillard on the floor. The Pacers are a fairly good team that is awful without its best player. The Blazers are a fairly bad team that Lillard lifts into the realm of respectability.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: The Bulls have the NBA's best net rating since the deadline, but the Blazers, at minus-7.6, have the worst. That's what you get when you give away two valuable role players at the deadline in an effort to save luxury-tax dollars next season.
5. Orlando Magic: The Magic have a 6-5 record against the NBA's four worst teams, but a 5-7 record against the NBA's four best teams (Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Denver). The Magic, on a night-to-night basis, are the NBA's greatest mystery. They can win or lose against anyone.
4. Charlotte Hornets: We're in "it's Jordan Clarkson time --Jordan Clarkson" territory with Kelly Oubre Jr. since LaMelo Ball got hurt. The veteran wing who has a career scoring average of 12.7 points per game has averaged 25 in his past six games. And you know what? Good for Oubre. He's about to be a free agent this offseason. Go get paid, Kelly, it's not like Charlotte has anything better to play for.
3. San Antonio Spurs: Here's something I can't quite explain: the Spurs had the worst defense in NBA history before the trade deadline. They have the 19th-best defense in the NBA since the deadline. The only major move they made was giving away their best defender, Jakob Poeltl, who has largely played well in Toronto. Welcome to the NBA in March, when nothing makes sense.
2. Houston Rockets: Mere weeks ago, the Rockets seemed destined to have the NBA's worst record three years in a row. And then they beat San Antonio twice in a single weekend, and on Monday, they slayed the mighty Boston Celtics to pick up win No. 16. Their streak is in jeopardy. Of course, the worst record didn't give them the No. 1 pick in either of the past two drafts, so maybe this is all for the best.
1. Detroit Pistons: James Wiseman still has a long, long, long way to go (and we probably could've spared another long or two), but there's been genuine progress for him in Detroit that hasn't compromised their tank. He's averaging 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in his past five, and while most of those shots are relatively low-difficulty looks, he went from being unplayable in Golden State to at least tangibly producing as a Piston.
Loss of the Week
There were no especially notable losses this week, so instead, let's use this space to talk about the New Orleans Pelicans, who are going to be prime "loss of the week" fodder next week because of their schedule: two dates with the Houston Rockets as well games against the Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs. On paper, this is a godsend for a Pelicans team that has fallen to 33-36 and 12th place in the Western Conference. If they aren't careful, they're going to land in the bottom seven at the rate they're going.
This isn't exactly a new trend, either. Since New Year's Eve, they have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. Their 10-24 mark in that time is worse than even the 12-23 Hornets. They are primed for a loss or two in this critical stretch, except for the fact that they are only really still in the play-in race because they've fattened up on these weak opponents. The Pelicans are 8-0 against the NBA's four worst teams and 25-36 against the field. If they move to 12-0 this week, they'll probably still reach the postseason even with Zion Williamson injured.
Lose once and things get messier. Lose twice or more and the Pelicans are in serious danger of falling out of the top 10 in the Western Conference entirely. Even though these teams have fallen out of the race, they have major spoiler potential in the next week or so.
Games of the Weak
Thursday, March 16: Nuggets at Pistons: Yes, it might seem a bit strange to see the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference here, but after four straight losses, we need confirmation that the Nuggets are still... you know... alive. If they can't beat Detroit? Then it's time to panic.
Monday, March 20: Pacers at Hornets: Indiana's two games before this one come against the Bucks and 76ers, so it's possible the Pacers have abandoned any lingering play-in hopes by the time they take the floor.
Tuesday, March 21: Wizards at Magic: OK, Washington... are you planning to stay in the play-in race or fade down the stretch like we all expected? Games like this are going to give us our answer.