Welcome to the 2016 "Race for Disgrace", a yearly Sacramento tradition in which we take a look at the final stretch of the season to see if the Kings can be the best at being the worst. As most of you know, the Kings have some pretty unique NBA draft implications this year; If they finish out of the bottom 10, they lose their draft pick to the Chicago Bulls. If they jump in the lottery ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, the 76ers will swap positions with us.
Now that we've set the stage, on to the race!
As the current standings indicate, the Kings are in a tight race with five other teams to determine lottery order:
14. Washington Wizards (36-37)
13. Chicago Bulls (36-37)
12. Houston Rockets (36-38)
11. Denver Nuggets (31-44)
10. Orlando Magic (30-43)
9. Milwaukee Bucks (30-44)
8. New York Knicks (30-44)
7. Sacramento Kings (29-45)
6. New Orleans Pelicans (27-46)
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-49)
4. Brooklyn Nets (21-52)
3. Phoenix Suns (20-54)
2. L.A. Lakers (15-59)
1. Philadelphia 76ers (9-65)
The teams in bold are the teams the Kings are most likely to change positions with. Only 1.5 games separates the Kings from the Nuggets and losing their pick, while the same separation exists between the Kings and the Pelicans for the 6th pick.
Here are the remaining schedules for each relevant team (as it will be almost impossible for the Kings to get worse than 11th or better than 6th. Games against other teams in this group in bold:
@Memphis, @New Orleans, vs. Sacramento, vs. Oklahoma City, vs. San Antonio, vs. Utah, @Portland
vs. Brooklyn, @Indiana, @Milwaukee, vs. Memphis, vs. Detroit, vs. Miami, @Miami, vs. Milwaukee, @Charlotte
vs. Phoenix, vs. Orlando, vs. Chicago, vs. Cleveland, @Boston, @Philadelphia, @Orlando, vs. Indiana
@Dallas, vs. Brooklyn, vs. Indiana, vs. Charlotte, @Philadelphia, vs. Toronto, @Indiana
vs. Washington, vs. Miami, @Denver, vs. Portland, vs. Minnesota, vs. Oklahoma City, @Phoenix, @Houston
@San Antonio, vs. Denver, @Brooklyn, @Philadelphia, @Boston, vs. Lakers, vs. Phoenix, vs. Chicago, @Minnesota
Sacramento's own schedule during the stretch is fairly difficult, and I expect that they will do the same thing that they did against Portland yesterday for the rest of their away games and rest most of their starters. The Wizards, Heat, Blazers, Thunder and Rockets are all in playoff races with only the Thunder really having any kind of separation and potentially resting players. They have done really well against the Nuggets and Suns this season, but I could see both those games as games in which Sacramento decides to rest Cousins and as such gives up their biggest advantage.
New Orleans probably has the easiest schedule on the list, with 6 of their 9 remaining games coming against fellow lottery teams, but the Pelicans also will be playing without most of their best players for the remaining stretch.
New York is the only team on the list to not have a game against another member of this tight group, but they do get to play the Nets and 76ers, two teams far below them in the standings.
Milwaukee and Orlando each play each other twice. The best result for the Kings here would probably be if both those teams split those and then won one or more of their remaining games. Orlando also gets to play Brooklyn next while Milwaukee has games against Phoenix and Philadelphia.
Denver's schedule is perhaps the toughest of any of the group, with five games against playoff teams. The game against the Kings will be pretty important for Sacramento in terms of keeping their pick or not.
The odds are that the Kings will probably go into the lottery with their pick at this point, but it could be pretty close and even if they finish 10th, they could still lose out on their pick with a lucky bounce for one of the 11-14 teams. That would be a real bummer.