The Memphis Grizzlies must wish they got to play in the Eastern Conference. Under first-year coach David Joerger, the Grizz are a game behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, even after their huge 107-102 home win against the world champion Miami Heat last night. Memphis is in danger of missing out on the playoffs despite having a 46-32 record.
To put that in perspective, the Grizzlies would be currently be tied with the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls for third place if they played in the Eastern Conference. For this reason, it's tough to blame the Grizzlies and their fans for thinking about how surprisingly close Memphis seems to the Atlantic Ocean right about now.
So what, then, is the silver lining for basketball fans knowing that either the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, or the Grizzlies will be forced to miss the playoffs while the vastly inferior Atlanta Hawks (currently sporting a whopping 35-43 mark) will play either the Indiana Pacers or the Heat in a best-of-seven series on national television? The fact that Western Conference playoff basketball will be coming a week early thanks to the NBA's regular season schedule to close out the season.
The Grizzlies, Suns and Mavericks will each play each other one more time before it is decided who will be in the West's final field of eight at the commencement of the playoffs. The tiebreakers and situations are fairly simple when broken down, which will make the home stretch games between the three contenders even more fun to track.
Here are the remaining schedules for all three of the teams:
Dallas (48-31): San Antonio (tonight, 8:00, TNT), Phoenix (4/12, 8:30, NBA TV), @ Memphis (4/16, 8:00, ESPN)
Phoenix (47-31): @ San Antonio (4/11, 8:30), @ Dallas (4/12, 8:30, NBA TV), Memphis (4/14, 10:00), @ Sacramento (4/16, 10:30)
Memphis (46-32): Philadelphia (4/11, 8:00), @ L.A. Lakers (4/13, 9:30, NBA TV), @ Phoenix (4/14, 10:00), Dallas (4/16, 8:00, ESPN)
Phoenix and Dallas are tied at one apiece in their season series; if their records are tied at the end of the season, the tiebreaker will be their game on Saturday. Dallas already owns the tiebreaker over Memphis, after beating them all three times that they've played so far. Memphis has beaten Phoenix all three times that they've played, so if the Grizzlies and Suns are tied at the finale, Phoenix would be the odd team out.
The Mavs have won four straight, all on the road, starting with a 113-107 win at the Los Angeles Clippers, a potential first-round playoff opponent should the Golden State Warriors falter in the coming days. Shooting guard Monta Ellis, who is day-to-day with a tailbone injury, is expected to play tonight against San Antonio, according to rotowire.com (via ESPN.com).
Ellis has been integral to the Mavs' success in the home stretch of their playoff push, averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists over his last ten games. The Spurs have beaten Dallas in all three of their previous meetings this season, so the Mavs will be underdogs at home tonight. By that logic, then, the Mavs must be favored at Memphis next Wednesday night in their season finale. However, the Grizz were without Mike Conley and Tony Allen in that game. They will have Allen and Conley against the Mavs, but small forward Tayshaun Prince is day-to-day.
Health has been a running factor with each of these teams throughout the season. The Suns were without Eric Bledsoe for a good deal of the early part of the season, but he has contributed just as the Suns had hoped he would down the stretch, averaging over 17 points, five assists and four steals this season.
Memphis, meanwhile, began their second-half resurgence immediately after the return of last year's Defensive Player of the Year, center Marc Gasol, from a knee injury. As he demonstrated last night against Miami, with a 20-point, 14-rebound performance, any effects from a sprained ankle (suffered the last time the Grizzlies played the Heat) seem to have disappeared. Memphis will need him at full strength at this point in the season.
If home court is to be taken into consideration, then Dallas will be favored over Phoenix. Phoenix has had home-court advantage in their first two meetings, and Dallas will be looking to defend home court in their last meeting of the regular season.
Until Memphis proves they can figure out Dallas, they will have to be considered the underdogs in each meeting. However, the Grizz have beaten the Suns all three times they've played this season, and the Suns, like the Mavs, still have a meeting with the Western Conference-leading Spurs on the docket.
My prediction: The Mavs will retain the seventh seed, and the Grizzlies will leap-frog the Suns for the eighth seed.
That's the beautiful thing about this game, though. Projections are utterly meaningless. If the season was decided based on prognostications, the Suns would have never made it this far in the first place.
Thankfully, the West will be decided on the court. I would highly suggest all basketball fans stay tuned and keep their eyes peeled. When it comes to the West, every team is a contender.