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Lottery watch: Handicapping Boston's odds of earning a top draft pick

For the Boston Celtics, a team that was leading the Atlantic Division midway through the month of December (albeit with a 12-14 record), the possibility of finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA was a laughable idea for much of the season.

Four months later, thanks to injuries and underwhelming second half performances by the starting five, the Celtics have fallen further than anyone could have imagined. After dropping nine straight games, 14 out of 15, and 41 of their last 52 overall, Boston is now tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record in the league with just four games to play.

There is less than one week remaining in the regular season, which indicates Bostonís next four games will have a serious impact on their NBA Lottery odds. While many fans hope that the Celtics can hold onto the third-worst record for the rest of the way, there is also a serious chance that Bostonís position can shift considerably with a win or two. With that in mind, letís look at all of the possible remaining finishing spots and corresponding lottery odds for the Celtics this year.

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For the Boston Celtics, a team that was leading the Atlantic Division midway through the month of December (albeit with a 12-14 record), the possibility of finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA was a laughable idea for much of the season.

Four months later, thanks to injuries and underwhelming second half performances by the starting five, the Celtics have fallen further than anyone could have imagined. After dropping nine straight games, 14 out of 15, and 41 of their last 52 overall, Boston is now tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record in the league.

There is less than one week remaining in the regular season, which indicates Bostonís final four games will have a serious impact on their NBA Lottery odds. While many fans hope that the Celtics can hold onto the third-worst record for the rest of the way, there is also a serious chance that Bostonís lottery odds can shift considerably with a win or two. With that in mind, letís look at all of the possible remaining finishing spots for the Celtics this year and the corresponding lottery odds for those positions.

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.

As you can see, the percentages nearly double for the Celtics at earning a top pick if they finish with the third-worst record, compared to the six-spot. A tie with any team at the end of the regular season would also cause both squads to evenly split the odds (or ping pong) balls for their respective spots in the lottery.

While the top two spots in the lottery are tied up by Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the 3-6 spots are all still tightly contested.

Boston: 23-55
Orlando: 23-55
Utah: 24-54
LA Lakers: 25-53

Just two games separate Boston from the third-worst record to the sixth-worst record for the being. Which team has the inside track on securing the best lottery odds? Letís take a closer look at the schedules to handicap the race.

Celtics (23-55)
Games remaining: vs. CHA, @ CLE, @ PHI, vs. WAS.
Analysis:
Boston will be facing at least one team with something to play for, and that starts tonight against Al Jefferson and the Bobcats. Charlotte is still fighting it out with the Washington Wizards for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference currently. That race could be sorted out by the regular season finale, at which point Washington could rest their starters for the postseason, increasing Bostonís chances for a win there. That possibility is far from a given though, as is the prospect of any win from Bostonís roster down the stretch. The Celtics will be without Rajon Rondo in Cleveland (due to back-to-back games) and after 13 straight road losses for this group, a win in Philadelphia canít be counted on either. Overall, two wins arenít out of the question, but just one seems more likely.

Magic (23-55)
Games remaining: vs. WAS, @ BKN, @ CHI, vs. IND
Analysis:
At first glance, this is a much tougher schedule than Bostonís, but it is important to remember a couple factors. First, the Magic are ďsoaringĒ lately, winning four of their last seven games after dropping nine straight in March. All four of those wins came against above-average competition (Portland, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Minnesota) at home, which signals that the upcoming games against the Wizards and Pacers are very winnable. Indiana could also rest their starters in the regular season finale, increasing the odds for an Orlando victory. Just donít count off the Magic to pull off a road upset in Brooklyn or Chicago, as they have just one road win in the 2014 calendar year.

Utah (24-54)
Games remaining: vs. POR, @ DEN, vs. LAL, @ MIN
Analysis:
The good news here for Celtics fans is that third game on the schedule against the Lakers. One team has to win that game, ensuring that they will bump themselves down a little further up the lottery standings, increasing Bostonís chances of securing a better position. Outside of that contest, the Jazz will likely lose out as they host a Blazers team still fighting for seeding in the West and face a couple tough road matchups in Denver and Minnesota

LA Lakers (25-53)
Games remaining: vs. GSW, vs. MEM, @ UTA, @ SA
Analysis:
The Lakers are running low on bodies at this stage of the season, and they have mailed in their season for weeks now anyway. The Warriors and Grizzlies are fighting for their playoff lives, making any potential upset unlikely for those two games. The matchup with the Jazz will be pivotal as I mentioned earlier, and while the Spurs will rest their roster in the finale, Iím pretty sure San Antonioís third-stringers are better than the Lakers right now. A win against Utah is probably the best the Lakers will do.

Overall Outlook:
Barring an above .500 finish, the Celtics should finish with the fourth-worst record in the NBA and a bottom-three spot remains in play. The tightness of the race should give Boston fans a reason to keep watching this team until the end of the regular season as a better chance at drafting Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins hangs in the balance.