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Trail Blazers Have Enormous Stake in Tonight’s Clippers-Pelicans Game

A whole lottery pick may hang in the balance of a single play-in contest.

Toronto Raptors v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

An enormous game looms on the horizon tonight for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Blazers aren’t even playing in it. When the New Orleans Pelicans face off against the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ll carry with them a 2022 NBA Draft Pick that might belong to the Blazers, or might not, depending on the outcome of the game.

At February’s NBA Trade Deadline, Portland exchanged star guard CJ McCollum, currently averaging 24.3 points per game for the Pelicans, for Josh Hart, assorted fill-in players, and a potential pick in this year’s draft. The pick is protected for positions 1-4 in the lottery. It’s also promised to the Charlotte Hornets if it falls in the 15-30 positions. The only way Portland gets the pick is if it falls between 5-14 in the draft order.

When the Pelicans play the Clippers tonight, they will be vying for the 8th seed in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. The winner will get that position and, as a playoffs team, will not participate in the draft lottery. That would make a 5-14 draft position impossible.

If New Orleans wins tonight, their pick will go to the Hornets, not the Blazers. If the Pelicans lose tonight, they will become part of the lottery drawing and Portland could still get the pick.

The Pelicans would have roughly a 9.5% chance of being promoted to the Top 4 in the May 17th lottery event. If they drew a spot in the first four, they would retain the pick instead of Portland.

If the Blazers do not get New Orleans’ pick this year, the next option is a 2025 first-round first owned by the Milwaukee Bucks, also protected for Picks 1-4. If the Blazers do not get Milwaukee’s first-rounder in 2025, they receive no further compensation.

Long story short, it’s important for the Blazers that the Pelicans lose to the Clippers tonight. That situation has been complicated by Clippers forward Paul George entering health and safety protocols. He will not play for L.A.

If the Blazers own their own lottery pick and New Orleans’ entering the draft, they have plenty of flexibility. They might use one pick to restock their talent pipeline, but trade the second for veteran help alongside Damian Lillard...say, the oft-rumored Jerami Grant. Or they could jump start a rejuvenation by using both picks themselves. In certain scenarios, they could even trade both picks for good players, fast-forwarding a leap into contention.

If Portland has only one pick, that becomes an either-or choice. They’d have to decide between mortgaging their future for a highly-speculative run at contention over the next 2-3 years or starting a rebuild now and leaving Lillard to languish on a young team. Either way, they’d be banking their bet on a single player, not two or more.

The Pelicans and Clippers face off at 7:00 PM, Pacific tonight on TNT.