There is a very special game being played tonight, the final night of the NBA regular season, with so much more at stake than just a boring old postseason berth. The Heat and 76ers will meet, each seeking the same draft pick, each needing desperately to lose their game to secure it. Tonight in Philly: it’s Tanknarök.
The Sixers have the rights to Miami’s first-round pick (via Cleveland, by a convoluted route that includes the 2010 LeBron James sign-and-trade and the 2014 three-team Kevin Love trade), but it is top-10 protected, meaning the Heat keep it if it falls within the first 10 picks. Miami currently has the 10th-worst record in the NBA. You see the drama.
There are two scenarios in play:
- If the Heat lose to the Sixers tonight, they all but guarantee that they’ll get to keep their draft pick.
- If the Sixers lose to the Heat, and the Nets
beatlose to the Magic, the Heat would slip into a tie for the 10th-worst record. It’d come down to a literal coinflip, giving the Sixers a 50-percent chance of landing Miami’s draft pick at No. 11 overall, pretty much the best case scenario for Philly in what’s expected to be a strong draft.
In every sense, it is in the Heat’s and Sixers’ best interests to lose this game. (For any team without a realistic shot at a championship, it’s in their best interests to lose every night, but there’s something exquisite about seeing it play out on such an immediate, micro level, with one team attempting to wrest away the other’s prize, and both needing to fail on the court—against each other—to succeed in the larger struggle.) Tonight’s game isn’t merely about losing to get a higher draft pick; it’s about losing to get a draft pick, full stop.
Of course, you can’t force players to play badly. Tanking is a roster game played by front offices and not by the guys in uniform, many of whom, by definition of being bad players on a bad team, won’t be around next season and couldn’t care less about improving draft positioning. This is how you get farces like Derek Fisher being asked if he will apologize to Knicks fans for managing to beat the Hawks on Monday.
God bless SB Nation for bringing our attention to this high-stakes matchup, and God bless the NBA’s awful lottery system for making it all possible.