Sixers vs Kings: Lottery Ball Superbowl

The 76ers will take on the Sacramento Kings and embattled head coach George Karl tonight in Philadelphia. The Kings have lost 8 of their past 9 games.

George Karl and the Sacramento Kings have lost eight of their past nine games, leading to uncertainty about Karl's future with the team | David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

George Karl and the Sacramento Kings have lost eight of their past nine games, leading to uncertainty about Karl’s future with the team | David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

George Karl is still the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

For now, at least.

Marc Stein of ESPN reported on Monday that the Kings had decided to fire Karl after a 1-8 skid left the Kings with a 21-31 record, a full five games back of the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

That decision was reversed on Tuesday when, after a meeting between Karl and general manager Vlade Divac, Karl reportedly pledged to make changes to how he handles his defensive schemes, practice policies, and other points of frustration from within the organization.

 The Details:

What: Sixers (8-44) vs Kings (21-31)

Where: Wells Fargo Center

When: 7:00 PM

Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups: 

Sixers: Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel

Kings: Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins

(Note: official starting lineups will come out about an hour before the game. Until then, these are our best guesses).

About The Opponent:

Oh, the Kings.

You would be hard-pressed to find a team with more turmoil year in and year out than the Sacramento Kings.

After a 2014-15 season that saw the Kings go through three head coaches — Mike Malone (11-13), Ty Corbin (7-21), and George Karl (11-19) — the Kings hoped the veteran Karl would come in and provide the stability that has been lacking in the organization since Rick Adelman left the team following his remarkable run, which ended after 2005-06 season.

Instead, Karl has been on the hot seat almost from the moment he sat on Sacramento’s bench. In an awkward situation where he was hired (February 2015) before his boss, Vlade Divac (March 2015), and with multiple feuds with DeMarcus Cousins, Karl’s long-term future with the Kings has seemingly never been on solid ground.

Over the last nine games, the Kings have allowed 111.7 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark in the league over that span. That play has gotten worse of late, where the Nets (scored 128 against Sacramento on Friday), Celtics (128), and Cavs (120) have all dropped huge numbers on Karl and his squad over the last three games. Teams have absolutely killed the Kings from the perimeter of late, where the 45.9 percent they’ve allowed teams to shoot from three point range over the last nine games is easily the worst in the league.

Some individual players for the Kings are still performing well, at least at the offensive end. They’ve been led by DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game over the last nine games for Sacramento, albeit with 4.6 turnovers per game and shooting just 43.7 percent from the field. He’s joined by Rudy Gay (17.2 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting), Darren Collison (14.9), Rajon Rondo (12.8), Marco Belinelli (12.1), and Omri Casspi (11.9) in double figures in scoring over that stretch.

What To Look For:

Ping pong balls!

By virtue of the Sixers owning the right to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings after this year’s lottery, today’s game, the second of the two meetings between these teams this season, could have consequences for the Sixers come May’s NBA lottery.

The majority of the Sixers’ ping pong balls will come from their own draft pick. As it stands, the Sixers would have 250, out of 1,000, ping pong balls if they retain the worst record. But the Sacramento Kings skid over the past two weeks has dropped them from having the 11th worst record to the 9th worst, and they’ve moved to within 1.5 games of the 6th worst record in the NBA.

The 11th worst record in the NBA would give the Sixers 8 additional ping pong balls, the 6th worst 63. Such a fall by Sacramento would move the Sixers odds at having a top-2 pick from 44.8% to 56.1%. That’s substantial.

The Kings skid also adds another layer of value to the Sixers. The Kings owe the Sixers a future first round pick, which is top-10 protected in 2018. However, if the Kings pick falls inside the top-10 this season that means the Kings will owe the Bulls a conditional first round pick in the 2017 NBA draft, which would push the pick the Kings owe the Sixers to 2019, where it would become unprotected.

The 2018-19 season is the year after DeMarcus Cousins’ contract expires. With Cousins potentially bolting in free agency, and the pick becoming unprotected, guaranteeing that the first round pick will come in 2019, and not 2018, would be a win for the Sixers, even if they have to delay the returns another year.

It presents a little bit of a win-win for Sixers fans. Yeah, beating the Kings would move the Sixers to within two victories of the Los Angeles Lakers for the second worst record in the league, but it would also continue the downward spiral for a team the Sixers have a vested interest in seeing collapse. The difference between Sacramento finishing with the 11th worst record and the 6th worst record, if they continue their fall, would more than make up for the Sixers’ moving out of that worst-record spot, and it would keep the best possible (realistic) scenario in play, which is the Sixers finishing with the worst record and Sacramento with the 6th worst record.

In terms of the game, it should be one in which the Sixers’ perimeter shooters should be able to get back on track after a tough 6-25 showing against the Clippers. It also features another traditional frontcourt for the Sixers to continue the Okafor-at-power-forward experiment, as the Kings have been starting a frontcourt of Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins of late.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.