Tonight's game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Cleveland Cavaliers is on NBA-TV starting at 5 PM Pacific.
The Grizzlies final seven opponents of the season are a combined 27-59 in the month of April. And more than half of the wins on that list come from the New Orleans Hornets, whom they've played twice. Without the 7-5 Hornets, the other five opponents are 13-49. And let's not forget that the Hornets are a mere 20-44 overall, and that New Orleans actually managed a split with the Grizzlies in their two meetings.
The rest of the teams Memphis plays are either tanking to increase their chances in the lottery, or in complete disarray, or in some cases both. Now, there's no conspiracy here -- it's just the luck of the draw. And let's face it, a game against Charlotte this season is a win no matter when it occurs, and the Grizzlies just happened to play the Bobcats for the first time in the final week of the season. Their timing in facing Cleveland and Minnesota and Portland -- all teams that have done everything within the rules to improve their chances to lose games lately -- has been impeccable. And then there are the All-NBA players that they are NOT facing -- Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard among others missed or will miss late season games against Memphis with injuries.
With two games left in the regular season for the fourth place Clippers and the fifth place Grizzlies and one for the third place Lakers, let's recap one last time exactly where the Clippers are. In short, the magic number for the Lakers vis-a-vis the Clippers is one, and the magic number for the Clippers vis-a-vis the Grizzlies is also one.
- There is one and only one scenario in which the Clippers can finish the season as the third seed -- if they win both of their games and the Lakers lose at Sacramento.
- There is one and only one scenario in which the Clippers can finish the season as the fifth seed -- if they lose both of their games and the Grizzlies win both of their games.
Cleveland could do the Clippers a huge favor by beating the Grizzlies tonight. That would take the pressure off in the remaining games in Atlanta and New York. The Clippers might still want to chase the Pacific Division title, try to win out and give the Kings a chance to be a spoiler in what could be their final game in Sacramento. But if Memphis would oblige and lose tonight, home court advantage in the first round would be assured and the Clippers could at least contemplate resting some guys in advance of the playoffs.
What's interesting about this string of cupcakes the Grizzlies have been facing is that Memphis has been far from impressive. They lost by double digits to New Orleans. They trailed the Timberwolves and the lowly Bobcats in the fourth quarter. They blew a 14 point fourth quarter lead against Portland, allowing the Blazers to close within two points with the ball and a chance to tie in the final seconds. The "team that no one wants to face" in the playoffs has not looked good -- at all -- in the final weeks of the regular season.
But they probably don't have to play well to win tonight.