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Dreadful Armada: Injuries and Incentives to Lose For New Orleans

On New Orleans' stretch post-Davis injury and the incentives for them to lose games. Plus, an Atlantic Division update and the weekly tanking rankings.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis's injury will force him to miss 4-6 weeks. It basically amounts to a shot at the heart of the Pelicans' playoff hopes. At 2-1 since the injury struck, with both wins coming against the Eastern Conference, the team is still afloat in a loaded conference with a 9-9 overall record. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, that's not likely to last for long.

Because the Pelicans have an absolutely brutal upcoming schedule. By playing in the Western Conference but being on Central time, the Pelicans have road trips similar to the East Coast teams which often can make-or-break* a season, only more often.

*I can hear Doug Collins now, talking about that 4-3 road trip his first season, gloating about how much he got out of that team. His ego is unrivaled.

The schedule-makers did not give the Pellies an easy holiday season. The team embarks on a five-game road trip over nine days leading up to Christmas, featuring a road SEGABABA** against the Clippers, and games in Denver, New Orleans, and Portland (and the other game is in Sacramento, which also is far from easy).

**Second game of a back to back - I enjoy saying SEGABABA far too much to not use it.

The worst team they play over the next month is Detroit, who looks to be finding its stride while Andre Drummond annihilates everything in his path. Aside from that? They get OKC. Houston. Second dates with Portland and Denver. These games are not easy at all, and even with a healthy Brow the team would seem to have a hard time keeping up a strong pace against the competition. Instead? They'll have to make do with super-small lineups and extended minutes from deep reserves.

All this is great news for our draft pick - the Pellies should not be in the running for a playoff spot, which should guarantee at least a lottery selection. Where that falls is up in the air, though just that month's stretch won't knock them too many rungs down to make them dangerously close to being in the Top 5. Even without the Brow, they're too good. But a drop from, say, 14 to 9 would be a nice change.

Tanking Incentives for New Orleans?

For those unfamiliar, the Golden State Warriors executed one of the more blatant tanking attempts less than two years ago - yes, the Golden State Warriors who currently fancy themselves championship contenders, and rightly so. Once they realized they had just a slim chance at making the postseason, they traded Monta Ellis for an (injured) Andrew Bogut and (healthy) Stephen Jackson, then dumped Jackson and took on Richard Jefferson's contract and a draft pick from the Spurs, and simultaneously sat out everybody and anybody with injuries, real or not. That team featured the only all-rookie starting lineup in NBA history, gave heavy minutes to guys like former Sixer castoff Charles Jenkins (!), and did pretty much everything in their power to avoid winning games.

The scheme worked. Golden State dropped from having something like the 11th or 12th best odds at a lottery selection to falling in a tie for the 7th best odds, which was almost the goal. You see, Utah owned Golden State's pick unless it fell in the top 7 selections. The Warriors then hit the jackpot: they won the tiebreaker coin toss (or whatever that tiebreaker is) and then got Harrison Barnes as their reward.

Likewise, the Pellies are only a year or two from fancying themselves as a playoff-caliber team. Likewise, the Pellies lost their best player to injury. Likewise, the Pellies have a draft pick they stand to lose unless it lands at a high point in the draft.

However: I'd argue the Pellies of this season are further along, and unlike the Golden State tank situation, the injured star (Davis in this case, Stephen Curry for Golden State two years ago) will return this season. The Pellies will suffer in his absence, but upon return they should be fine. Also unlike that team, most of the core is currently healthy, and the front office in New Orleans needs time to see all the pieces work together. Consider this a very unlikely possibility.

Adding a piece via this loaded draft is certainly a major incentive, though. I couldn't blame them if they tried to bottom out with the injury.

Also: best wishes on the recovery, Anthony Davis. He's one of the most entertaining players in the league already. He also can't drink alcohol legally in the United States. That team has a scary bright future.

Sinking Into the Atlantic

So the two top teams in the Atlantic are almost certainly trying not to win this season (76ers and the division-leading Celtics), while the third isn't quite sure exactly what it's doing right now (Jurassic Parks). The bottom feeders were projected playoff teams, in contention for home court advantage. What a strange position to be in.

Danny Ainge, Sam Hinkie, and Masai Ujiri are also the three smartest GMs in the division, and none likely will let a potential playoff appearance and two or more games of playoff revenue to take their eyes away from the draft pick prize.

In other words: the Nets (more likely, in my opinion) or Knicks are going to back their way into a division title this season. It's very possible, if not likely, that the division winner finishes with a record under .500 on the year.

The real question: what more can the GMs do to improve their lottery odds? We think we know what aces Hinkie has up his sleeve - can Ainge and Ujiri come up with similar ways to sabotage their own teams? Are the other competitors so bad that even intentionally losing is difficult? We'll soon find out. For all three teams, the December 15th date is a welcome sign. Trading, and tanking, become much easier.

For now: take solace in the fact that, using point differential, the Sixers look to be clearly the worst team right now of the trio.

Tanking Rankings

5. Philadelphia - a win over the Magic, even if the Magic were shorthanded, knocks them down a rung for now. Besides, they still have the 3rd best record in their own division.

4. Utah - hey, Trey Burke is a real point guard

3. New York - Motion to call the Knicks-Nets game the Charity Bowl. Combined, the teams are providing nearly 4.4 million dollars to each of the other teams in the NBA in order for them to build contenders! Meanwhile, they're also giving everyone else wins! In the holiday spirit, since they're so giving, why not give them a chance to win themselves? It's only right.

2. Brooklyn - Lawrence Frank: Staff Accountant

1. Milwaukee - Larry Sanders is still out after suffering an injury in a bar fight. It would not be the worst idea to extend his absence. Next step for the team is to clean house and establish a focal point going forward (hint: it should be developing Giannis Antetokounmpo).

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