For seven of the teams on our list this week, the lottery is now guaranteed. John Hollinger's Playoff Odds now have the Bucks, Sixers, Magic, Lakers, Jazz, Kings and Pelicans at a zero percent chance of making the playoffs. The Celtics are barely hanging on at 1.4 percent. The Cavs have a 2.9 percent chance and the Pistons are at 10.5 percent.
In other words, at this point, the incentive to tank has never been greater. With March Madness just around the corner, it's all about the NBA draft for these teams.
Here's our weekly look at where the 10 worst teams in the NBA stand in their quest for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
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When the Clippers beat the Lakers by 48 points last week the accomplishment was lost amid nationwide scuba diving to determine just how low the Lakers had sunk. Maybe now the Clippers’ accomplishments in that landmark victory and their seven-game winning streak can bob to the surface. People can realize that the Lakers didn’t simply roll over, the Clippers did plenty of kicking. The Clippers turned a 15-point lead against the Lakers into a 52-point lead. The Thunder turned an 18-point lead into an 18-point deficit, and then an L. “You can’t play the score, you have to play the game,” Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher said, in one of those veteran-y quotes.
Oh, and the Clippers are now within 2½ games of Oklahoma City’s second spot in the Western Conference standings. So, yeah, Sunday was a good day for the Clippers.
The one thing you haven’t heard the Clippers do lately is lament. As in: “We did not come with the defensive intensity that we needed in the third quarter,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamented.
That’s a verb used only when you don’t get what you want. The Clippers have gotten the W in their past seven games, making them the hottest team in the league at the moment. They’re beginning to grasp the defensive concepts Doc Rivers is preaching, and held four of seven opponents to less than 100 points during the streak, a standard they failed to meet in nine of their previous 10 games.
While they’re reaching a crescendo, the Thunder have fallen into what Coach Brooks called “a defensive valley,” allowing opponents to score 110 points per game and shoot 47 percent while losing five of their past eight games. They dropped into second place in the Western Conference, a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs, who’ve won six straight and have to be feeling good about themselves as well.
Brooks was as critical as he gets about his team, saying, “It comes down to taking pride in guarding your man and we had trouble staying in front of the basketball tonight” as well as “In the third quarter we did not come out with the defensive toughness it takes to win in this league.”
The Thunder aren’t making excuses about the absence of the injured Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but it’s clearly an issue.
“Thabo is a defensive player,” Brooks said. “Perk is one of our best defensive players. He’s not only good on the post, he’s good on the pick-and-roll coverage and he’s good at communicating.”
Perkins communicates not only on the court but in the locker room and through the media, quick to call out insufficient efforts from his team. He wasn’t around Sunday, so that left it to Fisher.
Yes, Kevin Durant, a 40 percent 3-point shooter on the season, has shot 33 percent on 3-pointers in February and is 9-for-32 (28 percent) in four games in March. And just when it seemed Russell Westbrook had regained his shooting touch by making 58 percent of his shots in the previous five games, he cratered to a 7-for-23 (30 percent) shooting performance Sunday afternoon.
Those aren’t the type of things that have Fisher concerned.
“It’s a larger perspective in terms of just where we are as a team, our mentality, our mindset, our ability to bring the right type of focus to the game,” Fisher said.
“As a team we have to decide what’s most important to us. And if it’s the team’s success, then you’ll start to see offensively and defensively things tighten up the way they need to tighten up. Just in terms of respecting the game, respecting each other, bringing the right sense of urgency to our jobs.
“I don’t question guys’ commitment to the team, I’m just saying we’re not right now putting it out there on the court."
The Thunder left the arena muttering to themselves, the Lakers were granted a temporary reprieve from their miserable season, and Jodie Meeks had a career-high 42 points to savor. Nobody had it better than the Clippers, though. They had a day off to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in L.A., and their status improved at the same time.
When Meeks was asked if the Lakers could glean anything from their 107-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star break that they could apply to Sunday's matchup, Meeks made it clear that circumstances had changed.
You see, Meeks sat out that previous meeting because of a sprained ankle.
And boy did he back it up.
After the Lakers fell down by as many as 18 points in the first half, Meeks scored 20 of his career-high 42 points to help the Lakers storm back for the 114-110 victory over the Western Conference-leading Thunder.
"It's one of those games, man," Meeks said after going 11-for-18 from the field, including 6-for-11 on 3-pointers. "It's was fun out there. The most important thing is I was glad we got the win."
As encouraging as the offense was, it was Meeks' defense that provided the ultimate lift. With the Thunder trailing by 110-107 with 33.7 seconds left, it was Meeks who defended Russell Westbrook at the top of the key as the Thunder's All-Star launched an airball as he tried to tie the game.
"I think defensively he was out of sight and on Westbroook the whole time," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "So that's a lot of energy that he put out to win that game. But you know what? He's been doing that on a pretty consistent basis all year."
While Westbrook wanted no part in crediting Meeks ("There's nothing for me to talk about," Westbrook said when asked about Meeks' performance), Meeks heaped praise on Westbrook even though he had eight turnovers and shot 2-for-10 from 3.
"He's a tough cover," Meeks said. "He's a great player."
Meeks also had four steals, twice sniffing out a lazy pass by the Thunder and turning it into a breakaway opportunity that left Oklahoma City no choice but to foul him, leading to two clear-path violations.
"Every game I try to watch film on the opponent and try to see some of the passes they make," Meeks said. "Sometimes I'll get burned on backdoors, but a lot of the time I'm successful on steals."
LOS ANGELES -- Turns out that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't all that intimidating when you have Jodie Meeks on your side.
Meeks exploded for a career-high 42 points, and the same Los Angeles Lakers defense that had given up an average of 136 points in their last three games held the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder to 26 points below that in the Lakers' most shocking win of the season.
It was appropriate that Meeks was the guy to lead the way. In a season marred by injuries and inconsistency, Meeks could be counted on all year, scoring in double digits in 51 of the 59 games he played in.
Sure, Durant and Westbrook combined for 47 points, but they shot just 15-for-42 compared to Meeks' 11-for-18.
How it happened: It looked like another long night for L.A. as it fell down by 18 points early, but the Lakers outscored the Thunder 36-19 in the third quarter (shooting 11-for-19) to get back in it. They rode that wave of momentum all the way to an 18-point fourth-quarter lead of their own before holding off a furious Thunder rally. Meeks ended up guarding Westbrook at the 3-point line with 33.7 seconds left when Westbrook air-balled a 3 that would have tied the game. Kent Bazemore tacked on two of his seven fourth-quarter points with a layup, and the Lakers held on.
What it means: That impressive road win in Portland last week was all but forgotten after the Los Angeles Clippers completely embarrassed the Lakers by 48 points. But Sunday's effort proved that this Lakers season isn't just going to spiral out of control over these final five weeks. There's too much pride in that locker room.
Hits: The Lakers shot 13-for-31 from 3 (41.9 percent).
Pau Gasol had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar scored 12 off the bench, going 3-for-4 from 3.
Ryan Kelly had a career-high eight assists.
Misses: The Lakers were outrebounded 59-36.
Stat of the game: 11. Meeks eclipsed his previous career high of 31 points by 11 points with 42.
Up next: The Lakers get a bit of a respite with no game until Thursday, when they travel to play Oklahoma City again, followed by the San Antonio Spurs on the road Friday.
LOS ANGELES -- Jodie Meeks scored 24 of his career-high 42 points in the second half, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat Oklahoma City 114-110 on Sunday despite a triple-double by Thunder star Kevin Durant.
Pau Gasol added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the injury-ravaged Lakers, who had lost 29 of their previous 37 games. Meeks was 11 of 18 from the field and 14 for 14 at the line while becoming the third player to reach the 30-point mark this season for Los Angeles.
Meeks is averaging 19.2 points in 11 games since returning from a sprained right ankle. Before the injury, he was averaging 14.4.
Durant had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for his third triple-double this season. Serge Ibaka had 21 points and 15 boards for Oklahoma City.
It will be the first of four straight games against the top two teams in the Western Conference – two against the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by two against the San Antonio Spurs.
The challenge come tipoff will be trying to keep Durant, who is averaging a career-high 31.8 points, from shooting the lights out. In two games against the Lakers this season, Durant is averaging 37 points while shooting a perfect 20-for-20 from the foul line.
“I don’t think anybody has ever figured that out,” D’Antoni said when asked how the Lakers could stop the seventh-year forward. “You just try to contain him. You try not to foul him. If you do that, then you’re in for a long night. Try to make him make hard 2s, contested 2s. If he makes 15 or 20 of them, then you live with it. But you can’t take away everything, or you’ll give him everything.”
Then there’s Russell Westbrook, seven games back from a knee injury, averaging 21 points on 50 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from 3-point range in that span.
“He’s an element that’s hard to handle, and he’s playing extremely well, especially shooting the basketball,” D’Antoni said. “That’s something that’s scary to think that with all that athleticism, now he’s starting to shoot the ball well. That’s scary.”
Westbrook had 19 points and 12 assists when the Thunder beat the Lakers in Oklahoma City in December, 122-97. Westbrook missed the next game in February, but the Thunder still won, albeit in a closer contest, 107-103.
The Lakers will have to protect the paint against the rim-running Westbrook if they hope to have a chance. Pau Gasol (sore left ankle) is probable after going through shootaround Saturday. If Gasol can’t go, the team will likely look to second-year center Robert Sacre.
Despite the Lakers’ struggles as a team their last three game, D’Antoni gave credit to Sacre for his improvement.
“Those are the little victories that we have to have,” D’Antoni said of Sacre, who is averaging 8.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in 17.5 minutes in four games this month. “We have to develop guys to get better to be able to go forward with what the franchise wants to do in the future. Those are other goals that we have, without losing. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
They’re also trying to correct their defense which has been virtually nonexistent of late.
"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni said of Dwight Howard. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."
This week L.A. allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to score 132 points, the Los Angeles Clippers to score 142 points and the Denver Nuggets to score 134 points. All three games were in regulation no less and all three games ended up, not surprisingly, as losses.
The Lakers have no business even dreaming of winning another game this season if they're going to keep giving up 136 points per game.
"You can't win that way," D'Antoni said after a 134-126 defeat to Denver on Friday. "We are trying everything we can do and the players are trying. Just a lot of it is that we were outrun, out-strengthened, outmuscled and out-fought a little bit. I don't know if the air is going out or we're tired or what the problem is."
D'Antoni has repeatedly said the team's best chance to win is by playing with a smaller lineup, spacing the floor and getting up and down the court, but when you don't have a ton of talent on your team, most opponents will do more with that increased amount of possessions and embarrass you with video-game numbers in the process. Ty Lawson had 30 points and 17 assists Friday. Kenneth Faried had 32 points and 13 rebounds. Those stat lines aren't even easy to get on NBA 2K14.
Playing at a more balanced pace masks the talent gap.
Just take a look at the Chicago Bulls. While they lost two of their best players this season in Derrick Rose to an injury and Luol Deng to a cost-cutting trade, they've continued to stay afloat thanks to their defense and grind-it-out style. In their past four wins, they've allowed a total of 358 points.
Pau Gasol scored 27 points to lead the Lakers in their third straight defeat and sixth in eight games. This one ensured their first losing season since going 34-48 in 2004-05.
Jordan Farmar and Robert Sacre had 24 points apiece for the Lakers, who were coming off a 142-94 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. The 48-point defeat was the biggest in franchise history.
DENVER -- After suffering the most lopsided loss in the 67-year history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, coach Mike D'Antoni vowed for a change in Denver on Friday night.
"I expect a whole different team," D'Antoni said of his Lakers.
After giving up an average of 137 points in their past two home losses, turns out the only thing different about Friday was the venue.
For yet another night, the Lakers' defense proved to be about as effective as a screen door on a submarine.
Led by Ty Lawson's relentless drives and improved outside touch (the point guard had 30 points, 17 assists and shot 5-for-6 on 3-pointers), Denver did whatever it wanted to on offense and ran the Lakers off the floor.
Sure, the Lakers didn't allow the Nuggets to score 137 points, but 134 points got the job done just the same.
As disappointing as the 48-point drubbing on Thursday was, it could be accepted on some level because the Los Angeles Clippers are clearly a better team than the Lakers.
That's not the case with the Nuggets, however. Much like how the Lakers proved to be the salve that fixed the New Orleans Pelicans earlier in the week, playing sacrificial lamb to end Nola's eight-game losing streak, they also played Denver's doormat, as the Nuggets had lost 11 of 13 coming into Friday.
A popular question being asked after the Clippers game was whether the Lakers had already quit on the season with 20 games left. While the result against the Nuggets was discouraging, there was no evidence to suggest that the purple and gold are already packing it in.
There are too many individual agendas at stake. With a roster composed of 12 out of 15 players on expiring deals, there will be nights like the Nuggets game the rest of the season when a Ryan Kelly (24 points, 11 rebounds) or Xavier Henry (10 points, five rebounds, two steals) impresses, but it's just not going to translate to wins.
How it happened: Denver jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter, setting the tone for another long night for L.A. The Lakers tried to get back into it in the second quarter with Jordan Farmar scoring eight of his 24 points in the period to draw L.A. within two at one point, but Denver used a 13-3 run to push the lead back to 11 at the half. The Nuggets went on to lead by as many as 23 in the second half as they coasted to victory.
What it means: For one, there is a reason Phil Jackson used to call games like Friday -- the second night of a back-to-back against a run-and-gun team -- a "scheduled loss." It wouldn't have mattered who was coaching the Lakers in a situation like this -- Jackson included -- the challenge the Nuggets presented was as tough as it gets in the NBA. In other words, an eight-point loss to the Nuggets, all things considered, is not a bad bounce-back effort from L.A.
Hits: Pau Gasol kept up his scoring ways, dropping in a team-high 27 points on 12-for-21 shooting.
Jodie Meeks scored 16.
Kendall Marshall broke out of his slump ever so slightly with eight points (on 3-for-9 shooting) and 16 assists.
Misses: As good as Lawson was, Kenneth Faried might have been even better, finishing with 32 points on 14-for-20 shooting and 13 rebounds.
The Lakers were outscored 64-50 in the paint by the Nuggets.
Stat of the game: 14-for-24. The Nuggets shot better from the 3-point line (58.3 percent) than they did on free throws, going 12-for-21 (57.1 percent).
Up next: What's the Lakers' reward after playing four games in five nights? How about a pair of games -- one at home Sunday, followed by one on the road Thursday -- against the No. 1 team in the Western Conference in the Oklahoma City Thunder? No rest for the weary.
After having been a teammate of Kobe Bryant's for four seasons and an assistant coach on Phil Jackson's staff for an additional six, Shaw's decade of experience with the franchise makes him uniquely qualified to talk about the pair of Lakers legends.
"He did talk about it," Shaw said. "One of the things he's big on, not necessarily the most talented guys -- obviously you want to have talent -- but he liked guys that were winners, and when he looked at guys that were going to be drafted out of college, he wanted guys that came from winning programs and that understood [how to win] as opposed to a guy who maybe was a star of his college team but his college team wasn't very successful and guys that understood and were willing and able to play whatever role it was.
"Because, when you think about it, his teams that he had, in Chicago, he had great players -- two or three on each of those teams. Same way in L.A. -- he had two great players -- but the rest of the guys that were built around those stars that he had, those superstars that he had, were guys that understood their roles and accepted their roles and had very high basketball IQs and bought into what he was trying to do. So, obviously, from the starting point, he had [Michael] Jordan, he had [Scottie] Pippen. In L.A., he had Kobe and Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal]. But the coaches that he took over for had those guys, too, but he was able to do something with them that they weren't able to do. So that kind of goes to his coaching ability and his ability to have everybody play in unison regardless of their personalities and what have you."
While Jackson's 11 championships as a head coach are unmatched in the sport, Shaw says he believes the 68-year old's coaching days are over.
Phil Jackson is "ready to go back to work," a source with knowledge of his thinking told ESPN.com on Friday.
The former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach has spent the last couple of years working to improve his health -- which included several surgeries and a successful fight against prostate cancer -- and writing a book. But the itch to return to the NBA in some capacity is strong.
While Jackson has made it clear to any team that has approached him that he prefers a front-office role that would allow him to shape and mold a franchise the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley has, he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations, the source said.
He would not consider any coaching position that did not have a significant guarantee of personnel power as well, sources said.
Sources previously told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that New York Knicks president and general manager Steve Mills recently met with Jackson regarding the possibility of him becoming the team's next coach. The sources said Jackson, 68, told the Knicks he was not interested in the position.
A source, meanwhile, confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley that the Knicks have offered Jackson a front-office position.
The New York Daily News earlier had reported the offer, with a league source telling the newspaper that Jackson is expected to deliver his decision sometime next week.