With their win over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night, the Los Angeles Clippers moved into fourth place in the Western Conference standings and vastly improved their chances of having home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. However, with only two games left for most teams, there are still four different potential first round opponents for the Clippers.
It's still most likely that the Clippers will face the Grizzlies in the first round, whether they open in STAPLES Center or FedEx Forum. Memphis has two games remaining, on the road at Dallas and at home against the Jazz. The Mavs have been eliminated from playoff contention, but still have pride (in a very concrete form) to play for. Dallas has had a losing season since 2000, and has had a winning record every year that Mark Cuban has owned the team. The Mavs can finally climb back up to .500 today (they currently have a big lead over the Hornets) to get to 40-40. It would be the first time they've been at .500 since they were 11-11 on December 12, and they would finally get to shave off those stupid beards. They'll have to start growing them again if they lose to the Grizzlies, and no one wants that. Memphis' final game against the Jazz could be vital for the Jazz in their quest to sneak into the final playoff spot in the West. In other words, neither of Memphis' final two games are gimmes.
If the Clippers lose a game next week while the Grizzlies keep winning, then L.A. will probably have to head to Memphis to begin the playoffs. If on the other had the Clippers win out in games against Portland and at Sacramento, they will have home court advantage in the first round, but they won't necessarily be playing the Grizzlies. If Denver (who beat Portland Sunday to win their 22nd consecutive home game) loses one of their final two games at Milwaukee or against Phoenix then the Clippers can move past the Nuggets into the third seed. It doesn't seem likely -- neither the Bucks nor the Suns have anything to play for -- but if it's going to happen, it would be Monday night in Milwaukee, with the Nuggets on the road in the second game of a back-to-back. The Bucks are locked into the eighth seed in the East, which means their season is essentially over already since they'll be facing the Heat in the first round, and they've been resting starters Larry Sanders and Brandon Jennings lately. Might they play their starters in an effort to sharpen up in advance of the playoffs? Not likely.
If by some chance the Nuggets do lose a game, the Clippers could find themselves facing either Houston or Golden State in the first round. The Rockets and Warriors are currently tied in the loss column, with Houston owning the tie breaker. The Rockets close the season on the road against the Kobe-less Lakers, who will have plenty to play for, but may not have enough to get it done. If the Clippers do make it to third, it's most likely they'll open against Houston, but there's a good chance that the Warriors could be the opponent as well.
The final possibility seems the least likely, but the Clippers could also face the Nuggets in the first round. If both Denver and the Clippers stumble in their final two games and the Grizzlies rise to the third seed, the Nuggets and Clippers would face each other in the first round, most likely with Denver having home court advantage. Obviously the Clippers do not want that to happen.
By the way, feel free to use this post as your open thread if you're watching the Mavs, the Rockets or the Lakers tonight.