NBA draft lottery watch: Hawks still lead race for top odds

Robin Lopez is the best player for the Bulls, one reason they are among the top challengers for best the lottery odds. (AP Photo)

The rebuilding Hawks largely will depend on the draft to add talent but they have plenty of competition in the race to the bottom of the NBA standings and thus the best odds in the draft lottery. The stakes are high: After this season, the odds for the team with the worst record winning the lottery decrease dramatically.

Here is a look at the five teams with the worst projected records in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com predictions, starting with the worst team first and ties broken by rating:

1. Hawks (2-12)

FiveThirtyEight projected record: 23-59

The Hawks maintain their lead at the bottom of the projected standings after three consecutive losses, including a 19-point defeat at Washington. The Hawks have remained competitive for the most part but still haven’t figured out how to close games. Four teams have a bigger average point differential that the Hawks (-7.8) but FiveThirtyEight’s metric, a combination of game results and roster quality, predicts that the Hawks will finish with the worst record in the NBA.

Significant injuries: Starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova (knee) is near a return after missing eight games. Reserve big man Mike Muscala (ankle) remains doubtful and wing DeAndre’ Bembry (wrist) is at least a couple of weeks away from returning.

Up next: vs. Kings (3-10) tonight, vs. Celtics (13-2) Sat., at Spurs (9-5) Mon.

2. Bulls (2-9)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 23-59

The Bulls moved up (down) two spots in the projected standings thanks to blowout losses to the Pacers and Spurs. In Chicago, there seems to be more interest in the ongoing Nikola Mirotic-Bobby Portis drama than the team’s play. Mirotic still is out after sustaining a concussion in a preseason fight with Portis. He’s back around the team, which seems to be fraying with the constant questions about the ordeal.

Significant injuries: Mirotic is still out. Justin Holiday (personal) won’t play tonight.

Up next: vs. Thunder (6-7) tonight, vs. Hornets (5-7) Fri., at Suns (5-10) Sun., at Lakers (6-8) Tues.

3. Kings (3-10)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 23-59

The Kings end a three-game trip through the East at the Hawks tonight. They began it with blowout losses to the Knicks and Wizards. The Kings have the worst average point differential in the league (-11.1) now and FiveThirtyEight projects they’ll still have it when the season ends. Guard George Hill told the Sacramento Bee: “We know that we’re a young team, an undeveloped and inexperienced team. But the best way to (develop) is you go through those tough, adversity times and try to learn from it.”

Significant injuries: None.

Up next: vs. Hawks (2-12) tonight, vs. Blazers (7-6) Fri., at Blazers Sat., vs. Nuggets (8-6) Mon.

4. Mavericks (2-13)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 25-57

The schedule relents a bit for the Mavericks after they played 11 games over the first 18 days. But Dirk Nowitzki is dealing with swelling in his right knee and Dorian Finney-Smith is expected to miss extended time because of a quad injury. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says the team is “pursuing anything and everything out there” in trades to shore up their depth.

Significant injuries: Finney-Smith and Seth Curry (leg) who has been out since the preseason. Devin Harris (ribs) has missed two games and is expected to miss at least one more.

Up next: vs. Timberwolves (8-5) Fri., vs. Bucks (7-6) Sat.

5. Suns (5-10)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 26-56

The Suns have been buried by big first-quarter deficits in their past five games. The good news for the Suns is that they finally traded disgruntled guard Eric Bledsoe. The bad news for the Suns (at least in terms of winning now) is they swapped a good player for Greg Monroe, who may never suit up for them. General manager Ryan McDonough said he’s seeking to trade Monroe or, failing that, buy out his expiring contract.

Significant injuries: None.

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