NBA standings: Entering April, a look at the Thunder’s lottery chances

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Logan Newman
·9 min read
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With the calendar has flipped to April, the Oklahoma City Thunder have turned their attention solely to the young players on the roster. The translation: Over the next month and a half, the team is going to evaluate its young players at the cost of winning.

Because of that, the Western Conference reverse standings placement of both the Thunder and the Houston Rockets will be the primary storyline for Oklahoma City fans as the season nears its close.

The Thunder hope to own not just a good pick themselves, but a pick near the top of the draft from the Rockets.

Every Friday for the remainder of the season, we’ll take a look at the standings and see how other “competitors” for the bottom of the standings are faring. Stats come from NBA.com and Basketball Reference, while lottery odds are via Tankathon.

Competing for play-in spots

The Thunder are actually only 2.5 games back of a play-in spot. That was not at all the plan for this team, but because there's technically a way they get in, we'll include a brief section for that. Depending on the next week of play, this part might be removed from the next release.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (22-23, 3 games over Thunder)

Since the Grizzlies' win over the Thunder on March 24, they have been cursed with three games against the Utah Jazz but blessed with one against the Rockets. They lost the three to the Jazz and beat the Rockets, which pushed them below .500. Ja Morant sandwiched 12-point games with a 32-point showing and a 36-point performance, both of which were against the Jazz. Jonas Valanciunas averaged 18.3 points and 14.5 points over the four games.

10. Golden State Warriors (23-25, 2.5 games over Thunder)

The Warriors went 1-4 without Steph Curry, which pushed them to 10th place in the conference. In his two games back, he has averaged 34 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists, helping Golden State stabilize with a 1-1 stretch.

11. Sacramento Kings (22-26, 1.5 games over Thunder)

A five-game win streak that ended on Wednesday thrust the Kings back into the play-in race. Over that stretch of wins, De'Aaron Fox posted an absurd 34.2 points on 61.7% shooting, aided by his 44-point game against the Warriors. Tyrese Haliburton continues to play at a level that could net him Rookie of the Year votes, as he averaged 18.8 points on a 57.8% field goal percentage and 51.9% from deep on 5.4 attempts. Richaun Holmes averaged 18.2 points, 12.2 boards and 2.8 blocks per game. When this team is clicking, they have weapons.

12. New Orleans Pelicans (21-26, 1 game over Thunder)

Here is why we included the teams hoping for a play-in spot. The Pelicans are still only one game ahead of the Thunder. The Pelicans have won four of their last six games, and their final loss of that stretch came without Zion Williamson, who has been given the ball more in clutch situations as of late. Over the last five games Williamson has played in, he is averaging almost 10 points in the fourth quarter on 71.4% shooting and attempting five free throws in the frame each game. His averages of 32.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game led to a 4-1 stretch and kept them in the thick of the play-in race.

Looking at lottery odds

9th-best odds: Oklahoma City Thunder (20-27)

Without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder have managed to lose some games. They dropped three straight before taking down the Toronto Raptors, which actually hurts them in the lottery sweepstakes. Svi Mykhailiuk has turned his play around since coming to Oklahoma City from the Detroit Pistons. He has scored double-digits in four of his seven games, and reached 22 against the Pistons. Anyone who has watched the Thunder has also seen Moses Brown dominate the glass. The double-double machine secured a standard contract with Oklahoma City and will continued to be relied upon over the next month and a half. Lottery odds for 9:

1

2

3

4

9

10

11

12

13

4.5%

4.8%

5.2%

5.7%

50.7%

25.9%

3.0%

0.1%

>0.0%

8th-best odds: Chicago Bulls (19-27, 0.5 games behind Thunder)

The Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic and went into a free fall. Chicago has now lost five games in a row, and that's even worse for the team because they now owe this pick to the Orlando Magic as part of the trade for Vuc. In part because they don't own their pick (which is top-4 protected), but more because they truly want to make the playoffs, they will continue trying to win. That road is daunting, though -- Chicago's next games are against the Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets. Lottery odds for 8:

1

2

3

4

8

9

10

11

12

6.0%

6.3%

6.7%

7.2%

34.5%

32.1%

6.7%

0.4%

>0.0%

7th-best odds: Toronto Raptors (18-30, 2.5 games behind Thunder)

The fact that Toronto shopped Kyle Lowry at the deadline indicates the fact that they are willing to miss out on the playoffs this season. The team, now with four consecutive losses -- including one to the Thunder -- is inching down (up?) the lottery. Lottery odds for 7:

1

2

3

4

7

8

9

10

11

9.0%

9.2%

9.4%

9.6%

8.6%

29.8%

20.5%

3.7%

0.1%

6th-best odds: Washington Wizards (17-30, 3 games behind Thunder)

The Wizards haven't been able to put it together behind Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Their only three wins over the last 13 games have come from superhuman efforts: Beal put up 43 points to upset the Utah Jazz, Westbrook had a 19-point/19-rebound/10-assist game against the Detroit Pistons, and then Westbrook had a 35-point/14-rebound/21-assist game against the Indiana Pacers. When they're not pulling off these feats -- and even when the are, as Westbrook is averaging a triple-double over the last 13 -- the Wizards are losing. Lottery odds for 6:

1

2

3

4

6

7

8

9

10

6.0%

6.3%

6.7%

7.2%

34.5%

32.1%

6.7%

0.4%

>0.0%

T4th-best odds: Orlando Magic (17-31, 3.5 games behind Thunder)

The Orlando Magic traded away their best players, decided to tank, and then went 2-2. Not good (bad) enough if you're trying to stick below some of these other teams coming for your spot. New center Wendell Carter Jr. has played well for the Magic. He had seven points in the second-quarter in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers, and then posted a team-high 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench in the overtime win against the Pelicans. Lottery odds for 5 (if no tie):

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10.5%

10.5%

10.6%

10.5%

2.2%

19.6%

26.7%

8.7%

0.6%

T4th-best odds: Cleveland Cavaliers (17-31, 3.5 games behind Thunder)

The Cavaliers have done what they wanted since the trade deadline: They've lot all four games, one against the Jazz and one against the Philadelphia 76ers. Kevin Love played 20 minutes on April 1, the first time he has reached this number since Dec. 26. He has only appeared in five games this season, but we'll see if the Cavaliers are willing to continue playing him as their lottery odds continue to get better. Lottery odds for 4 (if no tie)

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

12.5%

12.2%

11.9%

11.5%

7.2%

25.7%

16.7%

2.2%

Top 3

3rd-best odds: Detroit Pistons (14-34, 6.5 games behind Thunder)

The Pistons, in last place in the Eastern Conference, have pretty strong control of their lottery odds destiny. Detroit's record is three games worse than that of the Cavaliers and Magic, and only half a game better than that of the Rockets. Oklahoma City will get a look at Detroit on Monday. Lottery odds for 3:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

14%

13.4%

12.7%

12.0%

14.8%

26%

7.0%

2nd-best odds: Houston Rockets (13-34, 7 games behind Thunder)

Here's where things get interesting for the Thunder. If Houston's pick is lower than No. 4, Oklahoma City gets control of it. With the second-worst record in the league, the Rockets have a 52.1% chance of keeping their pick, but a 27.8% chance it lands at No. 5 and a 20% chance it falls to No. 6. It's unlikely the Rockets win enough games to rise to fourth-worst record, where the Thunder would have a 54.9% chance of receiving their pick. If Houston rises to the worse record in the league, they would have a 52.1% chance of keeping their pick and a 47.8% chance of the Thunder receiving the No. 5 pick. Lottery odds for 2:

1

2

3

4

5

6

14%

13.4%

12.7%

12.0%

27.8%

20.0%

Best odds: Minnesota Timberwolves (12-36, 8.5 games behind Thunder)

Here's where things continue to stay interesting. The Timberwolves, via the D'Angelo Russell trade, owe their pick to the Warriors if it is not in the top three. There is a 59.9% chance it is not in the top three. Almost half their lottery balls will indicate the fifth pick in the draft. Minnesota is in quite a pickle, and in a year in which they expected to compete for a playoff spot, it's extra tough to swallow. It's the most high-risk play in basketball tanking: You either get the star at the top of the draft, or you get nothing. Lottery odds for 1:

1

2

3

4

5

14%

13.4%

12.7%

12.0%

47.9%

1

1