The Heat is visiting the Philadelphia 76ers tonight in the final game of the NBA regular season. And it might just be the weirdest/worst/most ridiculous game ever played. Because both teams need to lose. Like, on purpose.
Because tonight, the loser wins!
Since being officially eliminated from the playoffs Tuesday night, the Heat is now in contention to land a top-ten selection in the upcoming NBA draft lottery. But the best way to secure that spot is to lose tonight.
Only problem: The 76ers have the Heat's rights to a first-rounder after Miami signed LeBron James in 2010, which they got from Cleveland. The pick is top-ten protected, which means Miami gets to keep the pick only if it finishes the season among the worst ten teams. That means the 76ers too must lose.
So the stage is set for a night of terrible basketball of craptastic proportions.
For the Heat, it's simple: Lose and be guaranteed a top-ten selection.
If the Heat wins, things get downright wacky. Because the Heat's top-ten draft pick would go to the 76ers if they win and finish in the bottom 11, instead of the bottom ten. Thus rendering what has been an abysmal season for Miami all the more horrid.
Now things get even more cray. Because if the Heat win and the Brooklyn Nets lose to the Orlando Magic, then Miami and Brooklyn would be tied in the standings. And then the draft order will have to be decided by a coin flip. Does your brain hurt yet?
No worries. It's quite simple, really. Both the Heat and the 76ers need to lose tonight for that coveted top-ten pick.
How exactly that all plays out tonight is anyone's guess.
The Heat has long maintained that it's a proud franchise that folds to no one. But a win tonight would be utterly and completely meaningless. A loss, on the other hand, would help its future, because it'd secure a top-ten draft pick in a deeply talented 2015 draft class. The Heat could either keep the pick and draft a young college stud or use it as a bargaining chip for a big-time trade.
The 76ers, meanwhile, remain among one of the worst teams in the NBA and, as they blatantly showcased last season, are very much all about tanking to get a better draft spot.
Of course, because the NBA draft lottery system is so stupid, anything is possible for all teams involved.
Unlike in all other sports, where the team with the worst record is guaranteed to pick first in its respective draft, the NBA operates via a lottery system. The bottom ten teams get their names written on a bunch of Ping-Pong balls, and then a lottery machine randomly selects them. The worst the record, the more balls a team gets, helping their odds. But this has proven to be mostly an ineffective system over the years.
Still, one has to look no further than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs, or even the Chicago Bulls — all terrible one year, only to instantly become playoff and NBA Finals contenders thanks to the stupid draft lottery system the next year and beyond.
A franchise's fortunes can change for the better by simply sucking just enough.
And that's what the Heat needs to do tonight. It needs to suck just enough and get that top-ten pick.
Which means the Heat should sit its starters and send out guys like Zoran Dragic, a random dude off the street, a member of the Golden Oldies, and Mario Chalmers to play against Philly tonight.
That's it. Just those four, and Mario Chalmers, would guarantee defeat.
At last check, the 76ers are a two-point favorite.
In 2003, the then-lowly Heat was in a similar must-lose situation during the last game of the season when it faced off against the equally sucky Toronto Raptors. At stake that night was where each team would be selecting in the '03 draft. Loser got the higher pick.
The Heat ended up winning that game, which meant the Raptors leap-frogged it in the draft, where they selected one Chris Bosh. The Heat then had to settle for some guy named Dwyane Wade.
But then the Heat got Bosh anyway seven years later.
Which means, win or lose tonight, the Heat will end up with Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns in seven years anyway, no matter who drafts him this summer.
Because having Pat Riley on your team trumps whatever draft pick you have forever.