I can't remember the last time the Clippers have been in such a tight, meaningful stretch of games this late in the season. Yeah, the Clips have played unevenly of late... but so have a lot of other teams.
The Clips have ten games remaining in the regular season. They're in third place in the Western Conference, 5 and 1/2 games behind leader San Antonio and four behind Oklahoma City. As of this morning they're 1/2 a game in front of Denver and 1 and 1/2 in front of Memphis. Starting tomorrow night, Friday, and finishing on Monday night, it's possible that those standings will look significantly different.
- the Clips face off against the Spurs in San Antonio. This is the team that whipped the Clips in the second round of the playoffs last year. This season the Clips muscled the Spurs in two early season meetings but SA butchered the Clips in February. A tough and hugely important game for the Clips... and an important game for the Spurs, who can still be caught by the Thunder. And oh, yeah, Tony Parker's back and Pop played him 35 minutes last night in a squeaker win against the Nugs. It looks like the "best coach in basketball" is beginning to take things seriously.
- Houston at Memphis. Marc Gasol missed only three games after doctors discovered a torn abdominal muscle and returned Wednesday to lose to the Carmelo-led Knicks, their third loss in a row. Houston is floundering around in the seventh seed but could still catch cold-hot-cold Golden State. If they can win a few games and simultaneously avoid the desperate grips of the streaking Mavs or the-who-the-hell-knows Lakers (or Jazz). A big game for both teams.
- Brooklyn at Denver. I can't see Brooklyn going into the mile-high spider's nest and doing anything but losing. Denver's home court advantage is stunning. The Nugs have a good shot at catching the Clips and burying the Griz in this one game.
- Clips at Houston - Second night of a back-to-back for both teams, with both teams traveling the night before... and both teams figure to come off tough games. Here's where the Clips depth helps them, if their coach actually chooses to use his reserves. The Clips have handled the Rockets this year, but both teams need wins and the Rockets play well at home (duh).
- Memphis in Minnesota. Second night of a BtoB for Memphis. Certainly not an automatic for the Griz. Minny has Adelman and a lot of pride. I don't think I was the only one ready to count Memphis out when Gasol went down... but he played 35 minutes against the Knicks and went 13/5.
- OKC at Milwaukee. Figure this one for the Thunder though they're a good/not-great 21-14 on the road... but the Bucks have lost their last four and look to be a lock in the eighth seed in the crappy Eastern Conference. If Oklahoma wins this game and the Clips can beat the Spurs, the Western Division crown is up for grabs because...
- Heat at Spurs. Everyone's watching this one. The Heat have finished their streak and are due to lose a couple of games, but as I said, Parker's back, and Pop looks ready to play (he even played the Ancient One for 35 minutes last night)...
- Spurs at Memphis. Second night of a BtoB against the Griz... who probably don't matter much to the Spurs. Maybe Pop let's this one go. But OKC is tapping them on the shoulder.
- Indiana at LAC. Clips beat Indy two weeks ago with no Roy Hibbert. They need to do it again.