NBA draft lottery watch: Bulls still lead but Hawks gain ground

The Hawks are still looking up at Robin Lopez and the Bulls in the race for the best the draft 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 the 2018 draft the odds for the team with the worst record winning the lottery decrease dramatically.

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

1. Bulls (3-16)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 20-62

The Bulls are back at the bottom of the projected standings this week after four consecutive losses, including by 30 points at the Jazz and by 49 at the Warriors. FiveThirtyEight predicts that the Bulls will finish with a league-worse -8.5 point differential. It’s hard to see how the Hawks will finish behind the Bulls, whose best player probably is Robin Lopez. The Bulls also likely will be without one of their rotation bigs, Bobby Portis or Nikola Mirotic, whenever the team sorts out that mess.

Significant injuries: Mirotic has been out all season because of injuries sustained in a fight with Portis. He has rejoined the team but reportedly still wants out of Chicago.

Up next: at Nuggets (11-9) Thurs., vs. Kings (6-15) Fri., vs. Cavs (14-7) Mon.

2. Hawks (4-16)

FiveThirtyEight projected record: 22-60

The Hawks beat the Knicks but slipped a spot in the projected standings following their 112-78 loss to the Raptors. FiveThirtyEight still predicts that three other teams will finish worse point differentials: the Bulls, Kings and Suns. The Hawks are getting healthier and have four days off until playing the Cavs, who have sorted things out since losing at home to the Hawks on Nov. 5. But after that the Hawks play consecutive games against the Nets so there’s a chance they’ll win a couple and move down in the lottery standings.

Significant injuries: Isaiah Taylor (eye) is out for at least another few days.

Up next: vs. Cavs (14-7) Thurs., at Nets (7-13) Sat., vs. Nets Mon.

3. Kings (6-15)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 23-59

Anyone who watched the Hawks beat down the Kings by franchise-record 46 points may be surprised to learn that Sacto has won three of seven games since then. That includes a victory on Monday at Golden State (without Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, but still). The Kings followed that with a blowout loss at home to the Bucks.

Significant injuries: None.

Up next: at Bulls (3-16) Fri., at Bucks (10-9) Sat.

4. Suns (8-14)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 26-56

The Suns ended a three-game losing streak with a W at Chicago on Tuesday. It appears Suns interim coach Jay Triano (unlike Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer) is having a hard time fully committing to his young players, as Scott Bordow of azcentral reports. It may not matter what Triano does over the next four games of the trip, all against projected playoff teams.

Significant injuries: None.

Up Next: at Pistons (11-9) tonight, at Celtics (18-4) Sat., at Sixers (11-8) Mon., at Raptors (12-7) Tues.

5. Mavericks (5-16)

Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 29-53

The Mavs have taken a significant step back in the lottery standings over the past two weeks. They won at Boston On Nov. 18, at Memphis last Wednesday and vs. the Thunder on Sat. They also had competitive losses against the Celtics and Spurs during that stretch.

Significant injuries: Dorian Finney-Smith (quad) is expected to miss another week. Seth Curry (leg) has been out since the preseason.

Up next: vs. Nets (7-13) tonight, vs. Clippers (8-11) Sat., vs. Nuggets (11-9) Mon.

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