The Houston Rockets (17-54) have already clinched the NBA’s worst record, along with the associated draft lottery odds. However, with the 2020-21 regular season entering its final day, many variables still remain that could influence Houston’s eventual first-round draft picks. With all of the league’s 30 teams in action, it should be an eventful Sunday.
The primary teams to focus on are Miami (39-32), Portland (41-30) and Milwaukee (46-25). As of now, the Heat would be at the No. 18 in the first round, while the Trail Blazers would be at No. 21 or No. 22 (depending on a random draw) and the Bucks at No. 24. In Saturday’s results, the Rockets had an ideal day, relative to draft positioning needs.
Why are these three teams important to watch? Here’s a refresher:
Milwaukee: Houston owns its 2021 first-round draft pick.
Portland: Houston owns its 2021 first-round draft pick, lottery protected.
Miami: If Houston does not land in the draft lottery’s top four (a 47.9% chance), Oklahoma City will swap Miami’s first-round selection for that of the Rockets
Once the regular season concludes on Sunday night, any ties in the draft order will be broken by random draw. The usual tiebreakers for playoff seeding, such as head-to-head records, will not factor in.
With Milwaukee and Miami, the calculus is simple. The lower those teams are in the standings, the better for Houston. Right now, the Bucks are a game behind Denver, Brooklyn, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Heat are within a game of Golden State, Memphis, Atlanta, and New York.
While Portland’s pick is lottery protected, the only way the Blazers could miss the playoffs at this stage is if they lose their regular-season finale versus Denver; the Lakers win theirs at New Orleans; and the Blazers then lose both home games in the ensuing play-in tournament.
For Sunday’s games, here’s our preferences for each pick:
Miami: Cheer for Pistons over Heat; Knicks over Celtics; Hawks over Rockets (The Golden State-Memphis game is irrelevant to the Miami pick, since they play each other. Again, any ties would be broken by random draw.)
Milwaukee: Cheer for Bulls over Bucks; Clippers over Thunder; Nets over Cavaliers; and Nuggets over Blazers
Portland: Cheer for Nuggets over Blazers; Lakers over Pelicans; Mavericks over Timberwolves; Knicks over Celtics; and Hawks over Rockets
Portland’s pick has the most variance, since they’re tied with the Lakers; one game behind Dallas; and one game ahead of New York and Atlanta. Assuming they make the playoffs and don’t lose twice in the play-in tournament, their pick will be anywhere from No. 19 to No. 23.
Miami’s first-round pick can land anywhere from No. 17 to No. 20, while the Milwaukee pick can be anywhere from No. 24 to No. 27.