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With Two Games Left, Lottery Race Heating Up For Celtics

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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The Boston Celtics line up prior to a game against the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics line up prior to a game against the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are again battling as rivals, but this season there something a little different is on the line: Ping pong balls.

The Lakers dropped to a 25-55 record Sunday night with a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, putting them into a tie with the Boston Celtics for the fifth-worst record in the NBA. Both teams are now neck-and-neck as they compete for the best lottery odds in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft.

Boston was the only team out of the league’s bottom six franchises that came out of the weekend with a win. While it may have helped team morale to snap a nine-game losing streak, back-to-back wins over the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers sacrificed a couple places in the lottery standings for Boston.

With two remaining games to play, however, the Celtics can still finish within a wide range in the NBA Lottery race. Here are the current standings:

1. Milwaukee 15-65
2. Philadelphia 17-63
3. Orlando 23-57
4. Utah 24-56
5. Boston 25-55
5. LA Lakers 25-55
7. Sacramento 28-53

It wasn’t all bad news over the weekend for the Celtics chances. Sacramento won Sunday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which guarantees that the Kings will finish the season with a better record than the hometown team. That means the very worst spot Boston can finish in the lottery race is sixth. Here is a reminder of what the lottery odds are for each possible Celtics’ landing spot:

Third-worst record: 15.6% chance at #1 pick. 46.9% chance of top 3 pick.
Fourth-worst record: 11.9% chance at #1 pick. 37.8% chance of top 3 pick.
Fifth-worst record: 8.8% chance at #1 pick. 29.2% chance of top 3 pick.
Sixth-worst record: 6.3% chance at #1 pick. 21.5% chance of top 3 pick.

With the Kings out of the picture, Boston fans should turn their focus to the Lakers, Jazz, and Magic over the final three nights of the season. In order for the Celtics to improve their odds, one or all of these teams have to win one of their final two games.

WHERE WILL THE CELTICS FINISH?

Let’s examine the closing schedules:

Orlando: At Chicago, vs. Indiana
Utah: vs. LA Lakers, @ Minnesota
Boston: @ Philadelphia, vs. Washington
LA Lakers: @ Utah, @ San Antonio

Catching the Magic for the third spot seems somewhat improbable at this point, as I anticipated last month. Orlando faces Chicago Monday night and Indiana on Wednesday, two playoff teams that are still trying to win games as they battle for seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs. There is virtually no chance Orlando goes 2-0 in those contests, so say goodbye to the three spot.

The fourth spot in the lottery is very much in play though for the Celtics, despite the fact the Lakers and Jazz have combined to lose 11 straight games. I can guarantee that streak will come to an end Monday night though when the two cellar dwellers face off in Utah.

In spite of the best interests of both of those teams, I’m pretty sure someone will have to win that game. If it’s Utah, the Celtics, Lakers and Jazz could all be in a three-way tie for the fourth spot in the lottery, assuming the Celtics lose on Monday night in Philadelphia.

If the Lakers beat Utah Monday night, Boston probably won’t catch the Jazz in the lottery standings, but they will increase their chances of finishing with at least the fifth best lottery odds, ahead of the Lakers.

All of these scenarios hinge largely on Boston losing their last two games. That’s far from a certainty given the team’s improved play lately, as well as an awful opponent Monday night (Philadelphia 76ers).

As we saw two weeks ago, Boston is fully capable of dropping games to the lowly Sixers, but this group is still playing with pride for Brad Stevens. They still want to win and on paper, even with all the injuries to Rajon Rondo, Jerryd Bayless, and Jared Sullinger, they are better than Philly.

Boston finishes up their schedule Wednesday night against a Washington Wizards team that may or may not have something to play for, seeding-wise. We won’t know about that until Tuesday.

The bottom line for Boston fans is a Celtics win tomorrow against Philadelphia means you can probably say goodbye a top-4 lottery spot. A loss keeps those top-4 hopes alive. Stay tuned for what could be a frantic finish at the bottom of the league.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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