Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers should be cheering for the Buffalo Braves to lose the rest of their regular-season games.
Because if the Braves end up with one of the two worst records in the NBA, Portland, which owns Buffalo's first-round draft pick, has a shot at the No. 1 selection in the June draft. And that most likely would mean Phil Ford joining Bill Walton and crew next year.
"Give them Phil Ford to go along with what they have and watch out," said Bullet coach Dick motta. "That would be an incredible team."
Although the final days' struggle for playoff berths is occupying most of the NBA headlines, there is another equally important battle going on within the league concerning positioning in the draft.
A complex assortment of trades has left only 12 of the 22 league teams with their own No. 1 picks. The rest have been dealt away, sometimes moving through two or three squads. As a result, many of the stronger clubs also have some very high draft choices.
Portland, for example, also has the rights to Detroit's No. 1 selection, so the Trail Blazers could have two of the top seven picks. They also have held onto their own first-round choice.
Boston, Washington, Atlanta and Milwaukee have two first-round selections, while Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles have none.
If the league had ended Sunday, this is how the first round would have shaped up:
New Jersey would have finished with the worst record. The Nets' pick is owned by Kansas City in a deal for Tiny Archibald.
The first selection in the draft would have been determined through a coin flip between the Nets and the second-worst club, either Buffalo or Houston. Portland, as mentioned, owns Buffalo's choice in the Moses Malone trade, while New Jersey owns Houston's selection through a complicated compensation deal.
Indiana, which has its own choice; Kansas City, which owes its pick to Golden State, and Boston, which as its own, would have placed No. 4 through No. 6.
New Orleans, which owes its selection to Boston, would be No. 7; Detroit, which sent its pick to Portland, is No. 8, and Atlanta and Chicago, both of which retained their picks, are Nos. 9 and 10.
The Bullets would have the No. 14 and No. 18 from Denver in the Bo Ellis deal selections. Since this year's college crop is not considered good, General Manager Bob Ferry has spent weeks on the road, searching for another sleeper selection like Truck Robinson, whom he plucked out of Tennessee State on the second round in 1974.
A lot of what Washington does in the draft will depend on its postseason trade decisions, the retirement plans of Wes Unseld and the health of Phil Chenier.
Motta would like to pick up a defensive guard and there is also the continuing need for a dominating center, which usually aren't available by the 14th pick.
"I think you will see a lot of maneuvering by teams after the season," said Motta. "Because of the way the draft shapes up, you have to look at other avenues to help yourself. Of course, everyone would love to work out a deal that would give them a shot at the very first choice."
Among the top college players available are guards Ford and Butch Lee and center Mychal Thompson. When Washington had the No. 4 selection last season, both Ferry and Motta were interested in Thompson until the Minnesota player decided to return to college for his senior year.
According to the league office, this is the status of each club's No. 1 draft pick:
Atlanta has its own; Boston has its own; Buffalo's belongs to Portland; Chicago has its own; Cleveland's belongs to Milwaukee; Denver's belongs to Washington, and Detroit's belongs to Portland, which can decline it and take the Pistons' 1979 pick. If that happens, Seattle then would get Detroit's 1978 selection.
Golden State's is owned by New Orleans; Houston's is owned by New Jersey; Indiana has its own; Kansas City's is owned by Golden State; Los Angeles' is owned by Atlanta; Milwaukee has its own; New Jersey's is owned by Kansas City, and New Orleans' is owned by Boston, Philadephia, Phoesnix, Portland, San Antonio, Seattle and Washington all have their own picks.