Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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Bernstein: Bulls Unlikely To Catch Cavs In Tank Race

The bottom three teams receive the best lottery odds, and the Bulls are fourth-worst.

Dan Bernstein
March 13, 2019 - 2:28 pm
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(670 The Score) It took a moment to make sure I didn't misread the outcome, but indeed the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Raptors, 126-101, on Monday night. It was win No. 17 for the Cavs, rekindling faint hope that their total in that category could meet or exceed that of the Bulls, which stands currently at 19.

Long story short, it's a tall order.

Let's refresh what's at stake here, amid new rules imposed by the NBA to discourage losing on purpose that may or may not have worked enough as expected for league officials. In the NBA Draft lottery, the bottom three teams each have a 14 percent lottery shot at the top pick, and the fourth-worst has a 12.5 percent chance. The chances down gradually from there all the way to the 14th slot, which has 0.5 percent odds at landing the top pick. The maximum drop for anyone is four spots, limiting the downside of bad lottery luck.

Related: Bulls' already spotty defense showing more cracks

The website Tankathon.com does the best job keeping up with it and making sense of it, providing inverted standings accompanied by an instantaneous simulation of the lottery that can be reset and repeated ad nauseam or until you get to see your team with the opportunity to nab Zion Williamson.

The Knicks have just 13 wins and are headed for the top (bottom) total. The Suns have 16 wins to hold down second, and then it's the Cavs and Bulls. With 23 wins, the Hawks appear far enough away that those aforementioned four are set in some order, and now we look inside the schedules to assess likelihoods.

Among the too-winnable games remaining for the Bulls are at the Suns, home and away against the Wizards and home and away against those lowly Knicks. That's five possible victories outside of the varying chances against higher-quality competition, with three more all but assured. Cleveland's slate features more likely to be losses, with the soft spots just in Orlando and at Phoenix and potentially against a "load-managed" Golden States lineup on April 5.

So there's not much to be done to maximize the Bulls' chances to add that extra 1.5 percent at this point, is the conclusion.

Now let's click the simulator 20 times and see which pick the Bulls get.

6th
1st
5th
7th
1st

3rd
4th
4th
7th
3rd

2nd
4th
5th
7th
3rd

6th
7th
5th
1st
1st

That went better than I thought, lucking into a 20 percent hit rate on the big prize. Small random samples can be encouraging if we imbue them with outsized representative meaning.

Reality is likely to diverge, of course, and the Bulls have been clear in making the reasonable point that the development of their core players can get them closer to big-picture success as much or more than anything else. The problem with that now is that Wendell Carter Jr. is out, Zach LaVine is dealing with an injury of his own, Lauri Markkanen is in a dreary shooting slump and Kris Dunn has seemingly played his way out of a job.

So these games have little value to that end now, and though the best way to get closer to winning a championship is maximizing every last chance to draft a transformational talent, it's now too late to act on that even if the Bulls tried.

Last year's overt tanking attempt didn't work, and this year's passive-aggressive one probably won't either.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​

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