One very, very important thing to remember about this Sixers season

One very, very important thing to remember about this Sixers season

Yeah, I know. Hard to imagine there's anything left for me to preach about regarding the Philadelphia 76ers after the 5000-plus-word torrent of a team preview I unleashed yesterday, for a team that most people probably don't care to read more than a couple sentences about. Still, there was one more point that I wanted to make, one that I believe it critical for every Sixers fan to properly process before tonight's tip-off, one which I thought was important enough to give its own article. And that point is this:

The Philadelphia 76ers are probably not going to get Andrew Wiggins in the draft next June.

That's not optimism, me predicting that the Sixers are somehow going to exceed their limited talented level and end up with a final record that will place them well out of draft lottery contention. That's not cynicism either, me feeling like the Sixers are too incompetent or cursed a franchise to properly pull off a tank job. That's just math, pure and simple.

Let's start with the obvious, a point that I already made in my preview yesterday: The Sixers are not going to be the only really, really bad team in the NBA this season. Phoenix has vaulted themselves to the top of the Tanking Rankings--really--with the Marcin Gortat trade. Boston has already jettisoned two future Hall-of-Famers in the name of a full-on rebuild. The Bucks made more off-season moves than anyone and just ended up with an incoherent mess of a roster. The Kings haven't been good in almost a decade, the Bobcats haven't been good...ever, pretty much. Having to fend off all these teams at the bottom is a challenge tantamount to what Miami faces in Three-peating--even if they're the favorites, you can better believe they'll be tested every step of the way.

But OK. Let's say for arguments' sake that the Sixers easily win their game of one-downsmanship with all of those anti-contenders, and by May they can basically coast to the finish and even win a garbage-time game or two, secure in having the league's worst record. Let's say that they walk into the lottery May 20th with the most ping-pong balls out of anyone, and therefore the best chance of anyone at grabbing that #1 pick. Do you know what their odds would be, in that case, of actually getting that #1 pick?

25%.

One in Four.

That's right--even if the Sixers do everything right (by doing everything wrong) and leave Phoenix, Boston and everyone else in the dust for the worst-overall record, they're still 3:1 underdogs to actually get that #1 pick. In fact, not since the Magic took Dwight Howard in 2004 has having the most ping-pong balls actually led to being awarded the top-overall draft slot.

Since '04, the team that has won the lottery has been the team that's finished (respectively, in order) 6th, 5th, 7th, 10th, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 4th and 3rd from the bottom in the standings. You'll also notice that no team to finish second from the bottom has won either since '04--you have to go back to our own 76ers, back in 1996, to find the last team who won the lottery with the second-most ping-pong balls. (In the '03 draft, where Cleveland landed LeBron, the Cavs and Nuggets both had a 22.5% chance, after finishing with the same league-worst record in the regular season.)

Over those nine drafts since 2004, the team with the most ping-pong balls has ended up picking 2nd five times, 3rd once and 4th three times. (Due to the way the draft works, with only the first three picks determined by lottery selection, it's mathematically impossible for the team with the most ping-pong balls to draft lower than fourth.) And--somewhat stunningly--of those nine picks made by teams with worst-overall records, zero of the players selected have yet made an All-Star team, with the Grizzlies' Mike Conley probably coming the closest among a group that also includes plenty of flame-outs, like Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Tyrus Thomas.

Now, this all isn't to say that the math doesn't still favor ending with the season's worst record as the way to end with the best odds at getting the top-overall pick, or to suggest that the Sixers should actually avoid ending with the season's worst record, since it clearly never leads to the #1 selection. It's just to say that securing the worst-overall record is not the same thing as securing the first-overall pick, and that in fact, the correlation between the two has been practically non-existent the last decade.

And if you want to get a little sinister, there might even be another factor at play here. It's long been believed by NBA conspiracy theorists that the draft is rigged, going back to the infamous "Frozen Envelope" hypothesis that suggests that David Stern engineered the 1985 draft so that college star Patrick Ewing would end up going to the Knicks, and persisting to this very day, where believers maintain that New Orleans and Cleveland won the last couple lotteries because Stern wanted to sell the league-owned then-Hornets and make it up to the Cavaliers for allowing "The Decision" to happen.

I don't believe in all that--though it wouldn't exactly shock me if you told me it was true--but if you do, you have to think that new commissioner Adam Silver will not want to reward a team like the Sixers for treating the '12-'13 regular season like an 82-game-long tryout for next season's less-terrible squad. Silver has already said to have been perturbed by the Sixers' actions this off-season, and if you believe that he has the final say on who picks first come June, you can bet that he'll want to disincentivise future tanking efforts by awarding #1 to some team that actually fought to make the playoffs. (Assuming there's even one left, anyway.)

So dream of Andrew Wiggins all you want, but even if the '14 Sixers end up making the '73 Sixers look like the '83 championship squad, the chances are against Wiggins coming to Philadelphia.

But you know what? That's OK. Really.

This isn't going to be a one-player draft. It's not going to be a two-or-three-player draft either. There are at least a half-dozen players that have been tabbed by scouts and experts as potential franchise players, and probably another half-dozen that could easily enter that conversation with strong play in the upcoming college and international seasons. If Wiggins was the only real prize in the draft, you wouldn't see nearly as many teams attempting to bottom out so dramatically this year, because most smart GMs know that it's not worth planning your team's entire future around a 1 in 4 chance--especially when so many other teams are trying to do the exact same thing.

Now, if the Sixers do end up with the worst-overall record, and their team logo is only the fourth-to-last placard pulled out by the NBA's next Deputy Commissioner, I'll be bummed for sure--even if there's a chance that the guy taken with the #4 pick ends up being as good as the guy taken first overall, you always want to at least be able to make the choice for yourself. But there's plenty of shiny new toys to go around among all the greedy little NBA children, and so long as the Sixers don't finish outside the bottom three or four--which, HAH--they and we should end up just fine.

Bottom line: Don't wig out over Wiggins, guys. You can be damn sure Sam Hinkie won't.

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty had four goals, Brian Flynn scored twice during a six-goal first period and the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.

Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen each scored against Calvin Pickard in the opening 7:12, and then Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn each had a goal among the first four shots on Semyon Varlamov.

Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the captain seven goals in his last four games.

Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal, which has shown no drop-off without injured scoring leader and first-line center Alex Galchenyuk. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16 (see full recap).

Malkin, Crosby lead Penguins past Lightning 4-3
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby had another eventful night.

The Penguins star returned after passing concussion protocol following a first-period hit to get his 20th goal, and that stoked Pittsburgh's rally for its latest victory.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored their second goals on third-period power plays, helping the Penguins come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday.

Crosby was shaken up by Luke Witkowski's check with eight minutes to go in the first but returned for the start of the second period (see full recap).

Late barrage helps Blue Jackets beat Islanders 6-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift (see full recap).

Matthews, Hyman score in 2nd, Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1
BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to overcome a poor opening period.

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.

"The last three games the first period kind of did us in," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't start on time. We were able to hold on. It still wasn't the first period we wanted, but we didn't give up the goals and we were able to execute a little bit."

After managing only two shots on goal in the first, Toronto was happy to get to the dressing room with the game scoreless (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).