The Philadelphia 76ers won a weird one last night against the Hawks in Atlanta. Already without Joel Embiid for the seventh straight game, the Sixers also had a compromised Ben Simmons suffering from a stomach bug, and lost Dario Saric about 15 seconds into the game with a busted lip and chipped tooth, resulting in a game against an undermanned, super-lottery-bound Hawks squad where it still wasn't totally obvious most of the way who the playoff-bound roster was. It ended as a largely unconvincing 121-113 victory for Philly — but a Victory nonetheless, their 51st in 81 tries, and their 15th in a row, leaving their season-closing home game against the Milwaukee Bucks as the final challenge standing between them and entering the playoffs on a 16-game heater.
All good stuff, but not what I was principally concerned with last night. The real scoreboard watching to be done as a Sixers fan Tuesday was for the Hornets-Pacers and Rockets-Lakers games, which remarkably both fell as the Process Phaithful would've hoped: The Hornets crushed the largely-resting Pacers in their 82nd game to finish the season at 36-46, while the Lakers fell to the Rockets at home to move to 34-47 for the year. With those two results, the Lakes clinched having a worse record than the Hornets for the year — which means they will enter this year's draft lottery in the tenth spot of the tanking rankings, and will most likely hand the No. 10 overall pick over to the 76ers shortly after.
Of course, at season's beginning, we all had higher hopes for the Lakers pick. Personally, I was hoping it fell in the top five, meaning it would either transfer to us as the No. 1 pick or go to Boston at No. 2 to 5, which would mean we got a totally unprotected Sacramento Kings pick next year instead — a hell of a proposition, considering that team is never gonna be good. And it looked extremely likely for half the season, as a nine-game losing streak that stretched from late December to early January dropped them to a West-worst 11-27. But then the team somehow congealed well enough to win 12 of their next 16, and fought all the way back to 31-36, looking like they might land as low as 12th in the tanking rankings, particularly if the flailing Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons couldn't get their acts together in front of them.
But luckily, the Hornets and Pistons leveled off a little, and the Lakers have gone 3-11 in their last 14, clinching a bottom-10 record for the NBA season. The chances of them jumping into the top three are pretty negligible — about 4 percent total — and there's about a 9 percent chance of them sliding back a spot. But that leaves a fat 87 percent chance of them sticking at No. 10, which is just fine by me — usually high enough in the draft to either grab the most reliable future role player or sometimes to snag the one potential future star that slips for reasons no one can adequately explain. Most importantly, it's one higher than No. 11 — the pick with which we took Michael Carter-Williams in 2013, who we traded a year and a half later for this Lakers pick — which is all the validation I could possibly need on that deal, certainly.
Tonight we close the season playing for the three seed at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game that would leave the Sixers with as clear a path to the Eastern Conference Finals as could reasonably be expected if they win. It'll be a challenge for sure — the second night of a back-to-back, with an injury-ailed and increasingly tired-looking roster — but even if we lose, c'mon: atop-four seed and a top-10 draft pick in the same season. Sounds like time and money pretty well spent to me.