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.

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

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Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the national title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.” 

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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AP

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

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NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you spend billions of dollars to build it, they will come.

Three times over.

The NFL awarded Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, three cities that made significant financial investments in new stadiums or recently upgraded an existing one. Atlanta will host the game in 2019, followed by Miami (2020) and Los Angeles (2021), it was announced Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

"I think if they find guys like me that are willing to do it, I think they want to show them that it is worthwhile," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

Atlanta will host its third Super Bowl, but the first at its new $1.4 billion stadium which opens in 2017. The previous two were at the Georgia Dome.

Miami will have its record-setting 11th Super Bowl following a $450 million stadium renovation.

Los Angeles, which gets the relocated Rams this season, has not had a Super Bowl in the area since 1993 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game will be played at the new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, which opens in 2019.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans were also in the running to host a Super Bowl (see full story).

Steelers: Bell believes Bengals targeted him
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell considers the first injury of his NFL career -- a sprained foot in a preseason game three years ago -- a freak accident.

The last two? Not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict twisted Bell awkwardly as the two tumbled out of bounds just a few yards away from where Bell's 2014 season ended after taking a shot to the same knee from Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.

Burfict celebrated openly as Bell writhed in pain, a memory that lingers even after Burfict reached out on social media in March to express support as Bell worked his way through rehab.

"Obviously it looked like they were happy about it," Bell said. "I'll take the liberty of just thinking everybody plays just football to love the game. But people aren't out here playing like that. People are playing to take people out. Obviously I know that now" (see full story).

Cardinals: Fitzgerald not thinking beyond this season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald has been an Arizona Cardinal all 12 of his NFL seasons, breaking every franchise receiving record along the way.

Now, he enters the final year of a two-year, $22 million contract, and he said Tuesday that he doesn't even think about whether he will play football beyond this season, with the Cardinals or anyone else.

"We're just in OTAs right now, man," he said. "We've got training camp and minicamp and the regular season. We've got a long ways to go before that's even a point of discussion. So I'm enjoying this. I'm trying to make it the best year yet."

Fitzgerald will turn 33 before next season begins. And last season proved he remains one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

"I think Larry has a lot of tread left on the tire," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Obviously he's in the last year of his deal. That's out of my pay scale. But obviously I think he's still got juice in the system" (see full story).