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Lotto Fever

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The odds of winning the California SuperLotto jackpot are 1 in 41,416,353.

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The odds of the Clippers winning tonight’s NBA draft lottery are not quite as infinitesimal at 1 in 200, but still seem highly unlikely. The prize? It’s not quite a gazillion dollars, but in basketball terms, it is close: the chance to choose either 35-year old Ohio St. center Greg Oden and Texas swingman Kevin Durant, two of the most hyped players in several years to enter the draft, whom many believe have the ability to singlehandedly turn a franchise’s fortunes around.

When we last left the Clippers, they had kept their season alive until the last game, when a win by the Golden St. Warriors officially eliminated the Clips from playoff contention. What that meant was that the Clippers were the best team not to make the playoffs, and consequently given the lowest possibility of winning the draft lottery (only teams that finish out of the playoffs are eligible for the lottery). In other words, they sucked just bad enough to not put themselves in a position to get better.

For non-basketball fanatics, the NBA draft lottery is used to designate the top three picks in the June 28 draft. The teams are ranked based on reverse order of finish, with the team with the worst record getting the highest number of combinations of a set of four ping-pong balls. Each subsequent team gets fewer combinations, and thus a lower probability of winning.

This NBA season featured more outright tanking than usual because of the potential of drafting Oden and Durant, with teams like Memphis, Boston, and Milwaukee purposely resting their best players in order to lose games. However, while Memphis had the worst record and received the best chance of getting the number one pick, the Grizzlies only have a 25% chance of actually winning it. It is, however, 50 times better than the Clippers' odds.

The good news for Clipper Nation in an otherwise disappointing season is that the draft is extremely deep. Last year's implementation of an age minimum, which prevented high schoolers from going directly to the pros, created an artificially-strong class of rookies for this upcoming season. So with the Clippers likely to pick 14th overall, barring a lottery miracle which vaults them into the top three, there will still be some quality players available that can help the team immediately.

And the team certainly needs help. The Clips obviously took a major step back by not advancing to the playoffs after their breakthrough 2006 season. The biggest hole appears to be at point guard, preferably one who can shoot the three-pointer given the team's lack of outside shooting ability (29th in made 3-pointers). After the horrific injury suffered by Shaun Livingston, the Clippers are suddenly super-thin at the position, with Livingston's recovery uncertain and Sam Cassell barely able to stay upright. Jason Hart did an admirable job filling in after being picked up off of waivers, but he's better suited for a backup role, as is Daniel Ewing. The problem is that the draft is relatively weak at point guard. However, some mock drafts are projecting All-American point guard Acie Law IV as the pick here, a gutsy player who plays more like a combo guard with his shooter's mentality and terrific scoring ability.

Of course, the Clips could also use another frontcourt player to take some of the pressure off of Elton Brand. The team tied up big money in long-term contracts for starting center Chris Kaman and backup center/forward Tim Thomas, and they both played like ass all year. Although the team likes the potential of rookie Paul Davis, it could use a more versatile athlete that can play the power forward or small forward. Potential picks here could be Georgia Tech freshman Thaddeus Young, a raw forward with a ton of upside but questionable drive; Florida St. senior Al Thornton, a 3rd team All-America and dynamic scorer from both the post and the wing; and Georgetown junior forward Jeff Green, also a 3rd team All-America with less explosiveness than Young or Thornton but great all-around skills.

While the draft lottery used to be an annual rite of passage for GM Elgin Baylor and the Clippers, the franchise is no longer a bottomfeeder and doesn't need a savior. What it does need is a player that can contribute right away and help propel the team back into the playoffs and out of the lottery next season. Given the Clippers' recent track record with first round busts, this is no small task. But if the Clips somehow manage to buck the odds and hit the lottery tonight, they'll be in a position that even Baylor will have a hard time screwing up.

The NBA Draft Lottery results will be revealed prior to the Spurs-Jazz game on ESPN at 5:30 pm tonight.

Flickr photo by MarkyBon

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