Saturday scoreboard watching: Who to cheer on for Rockets’ draft picks

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The Houston Rockets (17-54) have already clinched the NBA’s worst record, along with all of the associated draft lottery odds. However, with the 2020-21 season now in its final two days, many variables remain that could influence Houston’s eventual first-round draft picks.

The primary teams to focus on are Miami (39-31), Portland (41-30) and Milwaukee (45-25). As of now, the Heat would be at the No. 18 or No. 19 slot in the first round (depending on a random draw), while the Trail Blazers would be at No. 22 and the Bucks at No. 24.

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, May 16, 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 only a game behind Denver, Brooklyn, and the Los Angeles Clippers in the loss column. With two games left, the Heat are within two games of Golden State, Atlanta, New York, Portland, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

In Friday’s results, the Rockets had positive results in the form of a Dallas win over Toronto, Golden State’s victory over New Orleans, and Denver’s win at Detroit. Those three teams are competing with Portland, Miami, and Milwaukee, respectively, in the league’s final standings.

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While Portland’s pick is lottery protected, the only way the Blazers could miss the playoffs at this stage is if they finish the regular season 0-1; the Lakers finish 2-0; and the Blazers then lose both home games in the ensuing play-in tournament. That five-game parlay seems unlikely.

For Saturday’s games, here’s our preferences for each pick:

Miami: Cheer for Knicks over Hornets, Bucks over Heat
Why: New York is currently tied with Miami. On paper, the Bucks-Heat clash is a wash, since the Rockets could own both draft picks. However, it’s likely a better result if Milwaukee wins, since Miami has several more teams that it’s in close proximity to.

Milwaukee: Cheer for Nets over Bulls
Why: If Brooklyn wins out, the Bucks can’t catch them.

Portland: Cheer for Lakers over Pacers
Why: The Lakers would tie Portland if they win out and the Trail Blazers lose their regular-season finale versus Denver.

We’ll post a new version of this guide each day during the final weekend of the NBA’s 2020-21 regular season. Stay tuned!

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