As bad as the Clippers have been this season, it's nonetheless been several months since they've been where they are tonight: 30th out of 30 teams in the NBA standings.
Sacramento's overtime win over the Thunder tonight (hey, somebody had to win), coupled with the Clippers loss in Washington last night, leaves the Wizards and Clippers as the only two teams in the NBA with 10 wins. In fact, the Wizards and Clippers have identical records at 10-37, but if the proverbial season were to proverbially end proverbial today, the Clippers would be last as a result of the head-to-head loss to Washington.
There's still a lot of season left, and I still think it's much better to strive for major improvement down the home stretch of the season, given the number of injuries the Clippers have had. But I must admit, I never thought they'd sink this low: not with Washington and Oklahoma City and Sacramento and Memphis around. Of course, a two game winning streak and you move from 30th to 26th, and a mildly tepid close to the season (forget about getting hot) probably moves you past several more teams.
If a healthy squad really can manage to finish out the season in competent fashion, we'll all be happy with the ping pong balls lost along the way. I'd much rather be the team that finished the season strong and picked 10th than the team that stunk all year and picked third (bearing in mind of course that there are no guarantees in the lottery no matter how badly you tank). The worst of all possible worlds is undoubtedly what will end up happening - a relatively healthy Clippers team will win enough games to move out of prime draft real estate, but not enough to justify any but the most optimistic playoff hopes for next season.
While we're looking at the standings, it's worth pointing out another interesting subplot. The Clippers are still owed a first round pick by the Wolves from the Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric trade in 2005. That pick remains top 10 protected through 2011, meaning that the Clippers own it outright in 2012. Entering this season, with the Wolves still in full rebuild mode, it seemed impossible to imagine that the Clippers could get the pick this June. But the Wolves started 2009 as the hottest team in the NBA, winning 10 of 12. They've since lost three straight, but that's not surprising against the Pistons, Lakers and Celtics. At any rate, their spurt took them from last in the NBA to 24th - or from 1st pick to 7th pick counting backwards and basing the draft strictly on the odds. If their 10 for 12 streak is anything but a fluke, it's easy to imagine them catching a few other teams. The Wolves currently have 16 wins - the likes of Charlotte (19), Indiana (19), Toronto (19) and Chicago (21) are all well within their reach if they keep winning.
Of course, this drama may continue through May. The Wolves have essentially no shot at the playoffs, no matter how hot they get. The hole is just too deep in the West, where they have 10 more losses than 8th place Phoenix, and 8 more losses than 9th place Utah. But if they finish anywhere from 8th worst to 14th worst among the non-playoff teams, we still won't know who gets the pick until after the draft lottery. If they are 8th, 9th or 10th, they could get leap-frogged by teams and pushed down a rung or two or three (although more than one rung would be highly unlikely at that level of the standings) and the pick could end up with the Clippers. If they finish 11th through 14th, the odds would favor the Clippers getting the pick, but they could win the lottery and keep the pick (as Atlanta did with the Al Horford pick a couple years ago).
On the continuum of best possible outcome to worst possible outcome regarding the final resolution of the Minnesota pick, the best possible would have to be an extra first overall pick, even if LA has to wait until 2012 to get it. The worst possible outcome would be to wait until 2012, and to suddenly have Minnesota get good that season, such that the pick is not even in the lottery. But the second best outcome would be to get the 11th pick this year. Right now, that looks possible, though still unlikely.
So all told, the Clippers could have two picks in the top 11 this June.
Even so, it's no fun being in last place in February.