Monday's NBA: Pelicans hope to cash in draft lottery chips; Pistons' No. 1 odds at 14%

Associated Press

Time for the NBA draft lottery, where some team will get a nice reward for a miserable season.

Not the Los Angeles Lakers, though. Their misery is set to make a good year even better for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans are the lone playoff team among the clubs who can get a boost from lotto luck when the drawing is conducted Tuesday night in Chicago.

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) is congratulated by fans after a 118-103 victory against the Suns in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series in New Orleans.

The Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons all share a 14% chance of winning the lottery and the No. 1 pick for the June 23 NBA draft in New York. Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are among the top college players available.

The Rockets, Magic and Pistons were young teams who finished at the bottom of the league, the kinds of teams the lottery is supposed to benefit.

Then there’s the Pelicans.

They were just like most other observers in and around the NBA this season, expecting the Lakers to be a winning team, possibly a championship contender. But when the Lakers instead flopped to a 33-49 finish, eighth-worst in the league, it left New Orleans in position to cash in one of its chips from the 2019 trade that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.

The Pelicans will make the pick from the Lakers as long as it lands in the top 10 – and there’s about a 99.6% chance of that.

Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said nobody on the Pelicans was expecting to get a top-10 pick from the Lakers this season, in which New Orleans rebounded from a 1-12 start to make the playoffs led by All-Star Brandon Ingram – acquired in the trade with Los Angeles.

“So we got very lucky and as is often the case in our business, it’s better to be lucky than good,” Griffin said after the playoffs. “And if you can be both, you can achieve something and so we’re grateful we’re a playoff team that’s holding a lottery pick. It’s a highly unusual thing.

“So we got lucky there for sure.”

That’s what Tuesday is all about.

The Pistons had the luck last year, when they won the lottery and eventually chose guard Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick. He went on to finish third in the voting for rookie of the year.

Houston and Orlando also have plenty of young talent and are prepared to add to it. All three have a better than 52% chance of landing a top-four selection.

The lottery sets the top four picks. The remainder of the non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of their finish. Besides the Rockets, Magic, Pistons and Pelicans, the other teams participating Tuesday are Oklahoma City, Indiana, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, Washington, New York, Charlotte and Cleveland.

There are only 13 teams instead of the 14 that missed the postseason, because the Thunder also own the Clippers’ selection, which goes into the lottery in the No. 12 position.

Hall of Famer David Robinson will be sitting on stage to represent the Spurs, a reminder of the type of franchise-changing player that could be available to a lottery winner. The Spurs took Robinson No. 1 after winning the 1987 lottery.

The Rockets ended up with a dominant big man of their own in the lottery 20 years ago, when they selected Yao Ming of China. Now digging out from the end of the James Harden era, they finished 20-62 this season, worst in the NBA.

Houston had the No. 2 pick last year and took Jalen Green, who showed plenty of promise as a rookie. Now they might be able to add two talented young players to their roster, a top-five pick of their own and the No. 17 selection from Brooklyn that they acquired when they dealt Harden in January 2021.

“I do think we’ll be a more talented team next year than we were this year and I actually think, just in terms of talent, we were a pretty talented team,” general manager Rafael Stone said. We were just extraordinarily young. Chances are we’ll be even younger next year, but you never know.”

Suns overhadowed by Game 7 loss

Chris Paul worked his way around the perimeter and got the shot he wanted on the first offensive possession for the Phoenix Suns – an open 14-foot jumper near the free-throw line that he’s made plenty of times during his 17-year NBA career.

It rattled in and out of the basket.

The unwelcome surprises were just beginning for the Suns.

Two hours later, the top-seeded Suns walked off their home floor after a 123-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals that will go down as one of the most embarrassing no-shows in NBA playoff history.

If it’s possible, the final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game actually was. The Mavericks led by 46 points at one juncture and the game was never even remotely competitive.

Instead of going back to the NBA Finals, the Suns are left to wonder what went wrong.

“We didn’t step up to that challenge today,” Suns forward Cameron Johnson said. “I can’t tell you enough how much I wish I could rewind the clock a few hours.”

It’s difficult to know what to make of the Suns’ season. Yes, they won a franchise-record 64 games during the regular season. Yes, they had an All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker. Yes, Monty Williams was the NBA’s Coach of the Year. Yes, when they were rolling they were one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league.

And then the season ended … like that.

Williams tried to put on a brave face following Game 7.

“We were the best team in the league all season long,” Williams said. “We made it to the second round and lost in a game seven. That is no a bad team, we are a really good team. We had an off night. We probably had an inconsistent two weeks if I am directly honest. But I am proud of what we accomplished. These guys are the new standard of Suns basketball.

“That is something to be proud of.”

Maybe so. But it’s going to take a while for the sting of a Game 7 stinker to wear off before that becomes clear.