Winning the NBA's first draft lottery last year did nothing to prevent the New York Knicks from finishing with the league's worst record.

But the Knicks, who used a "lucky horseshoe" last year, are trying again. Trying hard.

When the NBA holds its second draft lottery today in a midtown Manhattan hotel (at halftime of the 76ers-Bucks game, WDVM-TV-9), the Knicks plan to bring a white-spotted rabbit named "Lucky Pierre" as this year's good luck charm.

Luck aside, the Knicks are only one of seven teams that will have its name drawn to decide the order of selection for the June 17 draft. The league faces the potential embarassment of having one of three playoff teams -- Boston, Philadelphia or Dallas -- win the top pick, which would surely infuriate the three others that did not make the playoffs, Golden State, Indiana and Phoenix. (Cleveland, given a selection by the league, will pick behind Dallas, but no higher than third and will not have its name drawn.)

The fallout from today's proceedings will be substantially less than last year when the Knicks were put in the envied position of drafting Georgetown's Patrick Ewing.

Certainly, there is no player of his stature in this year's draft pool. Last year, it seemed every team other than the Knicks was a loser after the lottery.

This time, however, it will take at least a full season of on-court performance to tell if the team that wins the lottery is any better off than the team selecting seventh. As General Manager Bob Ferry of the Washington Bullets said earlier this week: "There are several impact players, we think, in the draft."

The anxiety level of NBA scouts was eased considerably as several prominent underclassmen -- Walter Berry, William Bedford, John Williams, Chris Washburn and Pearl Washington, to name a few -- decided to leave school early.

"The heading on the lottery should be 'The Young and the Restless,' " Tom Newell, Indiana's director of player personnel, said. "All of a sudden with these players, the lottery becomes an exciting extravaganza . . . "

And General Manager Jan Volk of the Boston Celtics said: " . . . No matter where we end up in the lottery, we'll get a good pick . . . "

If there is any justice in this year's lottery, the Knicks, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Cleveland will have the fourth through eighth picks; Golden State, which got the seventh and final pick last year despite being the worst team in the league, will join Phoenix and the Pacers in the top three.

Next year, the league plans to modify the lottery so that the bottom four teams will be assured of one of the top four draft positions.

Scouting may be as valuable as winning the lottery this year. Even if the playoff teams -- Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas -- were to wind up selecting in the top three positions, players such as Berry, Williams, Bedford, Washington, Chuck Person, Kenny Walker, John Salley, Brad Sellers, John Dawkins and Ron Harper would be available for the teams that didn't make the playoffs.