The Memphis Grizzlies find themselves in an interesting position today heading into the Dallas-San Antonio nationally televised game tonight.
They will be cheering for San Antonio.
If San Antonio wins the game, the Mavericks falls into a tie with the Grizzlies in the loss column with one more head to head matchup remaining on the last day of the season. That would not only make the playoffs more achievable but keeps in place the potential for a first round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of the Spurs.
The Grizzlies have had more success lately against the Thunder than the Spurs in case you didn’t know. Also, that rock under which you’ve been residing must be getting old, eh?
If Dallas wins the game they nearly clinch a spot in the playoffs and keep the chance for a possible 6th place finish very much alive. Golden State is only a game ahead of the Mavericks after all. However that puts the onus on the Spurs to win Friday night at home against the Suns. The Spurs don’t want to go into the playoffs losing four of their last 7 games with a road tilt at Houston still on the schedule, especially with two of the losses being against potential first round opponents (Phoenix and Dallas). The Spurs also have yet to clinch the top seed, so they are still playing for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Clearly, they’d love to have that.
Dallas is really more than one loss ahead of the Grizzlies of course. They own the tie-breaker against the Grizzlies. However, the Mavericks have to keep winning-their last three games are against San Antonio, Phoenix and at Memphis.
Likewise, Phoenix must continue to win games. Their remaining games are at San Antonio, at Dallas, home against the Grizzlies (their 3rd game in 4 nights) and on the road again at Sacramento to end the season. One loss drops the Suns into 9th place and out of the playoffs. Two losses will nearly eliminate Phoenix from playoff consideration even if they defeat the Grizzlies.
One thing is certain. Whichever team fails to make the playoffs will set a rather dubious mark. They will likely have the best record ever for a team not in the NBA playoffs. That record currently is held by Golden State who won 48 games in 2007-08 but failed to qualify for the post-season. The only other team to win at least 46 games and not make the playoffs is Phoenix who accomplished that during the 2008-09 season. All three teams are guaranteed to win at least 46 games this season.
All this leads me to the point of this blog. What would be the best outcome for the Grizzlies?
I believe most fans would agree the best outcome would be for the Grizzlies to slide into 7th place in the Western Conference and meet OKC in the first round. After all, the Grizzlies have had success against the Thunder this season and knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs last season.
But would it be best to try and win out and qualify for the playoffs, if doing so means the potential of a four game sweep at the hands of the Spurs? The Grizzlies have already been swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs twice after all and have lost 8 straight games to the Spurs dating back to last season. Is the hope for a first round matchup against Oklahoma City worth the real potential of a 3rd playoff sweep at the hands of a divisional rival?
Failure to make the playoffs has a rather handsome reward this year too. Instead of possibly picking in the bottom third of the draft, the team failing to make the playoffs would pick in the lottery with a slim (1.8%) but still possible chance at a top 3 pick. At worst the team would pick 14th. In a draft as deep as this one is reported to be, that could have long term implications on the success of the franchise.
I have always been a believer that there are two seasons in the NBA: the regular season and the playoffs. The objective of the regular season is to make the playoffs. In the playoffs strange things can and often do happen. Remember that qualifying for the playoffs may not be that bad a draft spot as it appears after all today. Currently both Toronto and Chicago have identical records as the Grizzlies. If they win one more game than the Grizzlies and Memphis still makes the playoffs the difference between the lottery and the playoffs would only be 5 spots not 7.
It seems clear that the Grizzlies should strive to win every game the rest of the season (and not just because I predicted the team would win 50 games this year). The team can actually make noise in the playoffs but only if they reach the playoffs. I like Memphis’ chances in a 1st round matchup with the Thunder. I like their chances in the 2nd round against either the Clippers or Warriors. That puts the Grizzlies in the Conference finals against someone else and that puts them just four wins away from the NBA Finals.
Surely that is worth risking five draft spots.