The NBA Regular Season Is Not Over Yet…

Fifteen outstanding regular season games to keep an eye on

Picture courtesy of: http://i.cdn.turner.com

The doldrums of the NBA regular season are well upon us, as we scratch and claw our way toward the playoffs in just one week. The annual resting season has begun, tanking is full speed ahead, and everyone is waiting for the games to kick up a notch. With a week left, here’s where things stand:

  • Chicago, Washington, and Houston are not eliminated from the playoffs yet- but they will be. Houston has the best shot but needs to go 3–0 against a soft schedule and have Dallas go 1–3 or Utah go 2–2 (or worse). All of that looks pretty unlikely. We have our 16 playoff teams.
  • There’s basically nothing left for the Cavs, Raptors, Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers to play for. All are locked into their seeds, so expect plenty of rest. Except of course for that whole 73 wins thing.
  • The West 5–8 seeds are up in the air. You want the 5 to play the Clips if possible, or else the 6, or else the 7. Each spot matters if you want to have any chance. Memphis is the 5 seed as of Friday afternoon, but things could get very grim by Wednesday night.
  • The East 3–6 seeds are TBD with Atlanta in pole position and Boston with the best chance to keep home court but Miami and Charlotte are both in the mix. 4 gets a home series, and 3 avoids Lebron until the East finals too.
  • Indiana and Detroit will tussle for the East 7 and 8 seeds.
  • The Suns and Nets are tied for the 3rd worst record, and the Pelicans are trying to catch the Wolves for 5th worst. There’s some intrigue here, but the top 2 lottery teams are locked in, so no lotto-bearing games here.

There’s plenty still at stake over the final week. So instead of catching some Zs, pay attention to the Zs- the Jazz and Grizzlies hold the most intrigue this final week. Here are the 15 games left on the schedule to watch for…


Friday

#4 Grizzlies @ Mavericks

This will set the tone for the entire bottom half of the Western seeds. The Grizz sit tenuously as the 5 seed with 4 games to go, but they are in trouble. They finally broke a 6-game losing streak- with 57 minutes combined from Jarell Martin, JaMychal Green, and Xavier Munford. Conley and Gasol are out for the year and the Grizz are barely holding on. They do get PJ Hairston back tonight, but the fact that that’s a highlight sums up the team right now.

Still, if they can somehow scrap together a win here, they may keep some hope. One win clinches at least the 7 seed (no Warriors!) and gives them a shot at the 6 and hope for the 5. A loss instead means they are tumbling. Memphis would lose any tie at that point to both Dallas and Utah and, with two Warriors games left, would have a good chance to fall all the way to 8.

For the Mavs, they still need the win to move toward a clinched playoff spot and they’ve got a good shot to get to 7 or even 6. Lots on the line.

#8 Wizards @ Pistons

The Wizards aren’t officially eliminated yet, but they will be if they lose this one. Still they’d need to win out and have Detroit lose out, and the Pistons are playing well down the stretch. This should be the nail in the Wizards’ coffin.


Saturday

#5 Celtics @ Hawks

Atlanta is in good shape to keep the 3 seed. The 3 gets a home playoff series and likely avoids the Celtics and Heat in round one. More importantly, it avoids Lebron and the Cavs until the Eastern finals. Atlanta is a half game up but both teams will probably be tied heading into this one. That’s because Boston should get a win tonight but will be coming off a back-to-back and playing on the road here, so Atlanta has the edge. A Hawks win gives them a great shot at the 3. A Boston win instead unlocks a bunch of games down the stretch as that 3–6 grouping gets even messier. This is a terrific game between two of the teams we’ll be rooting for to take down Cleveland in a few weeks.

#10 Wolves @ Blazers

This is about sheer entertainment value and future and fun. The Wolves are finishing the year well, and Portland has been blazing since the All Star break. These teams are the future out West with Dame-CJ already dominating and KAT-Wiggins-LaVine ramping it up lately. Portland has been as good as any mortal team at home, and a win here basically wraps up the 5 seed and a series with the Clippers. It should be high-flying entertaining basketball, and KAT will need to bring his best if the Wolves are to steal another one.

#12 Warriors @ Grizzlies

Any Ws game makes the list now, and the Grizz carry the above intrigue too. But it would take something of a miracle for Memphis to pull this one out, so it’s intrigue in name only. This is not the team that took a 2–1 lead over the Ws one year ago. Shareef Abdur-Rahim ain’t walkin’ through that door.


Sunday

#1 Warriors @ Spurs

There’s a pretty high chance this turns out to be a dud- the Spurs are locked into the 2 seed now and are already resting Parker, Manu, Green, Kawhi, LMA, and Diaw on Friday. There’s no reason to believe Pop does anything otherwise here. But until that’s certain, this is still the game with the best combined winning records all time AND the Spurs last hurdle to being the first team ever to go 41–0 at home AND the Warriors chance to win #72. Until Pop officially sits his guys, this is the marquee game on the schedule.

#13 Jazz @ Nuggets

This has trap game written all over it. The Jazz are 15–22 on the road and will have their thoughts on the next day’s game against the Mavericks, and the Nuggets’ season is over. But Denver is always a tough visit, and this team seems to have just the right mix of big guys to match up well against Utah. This has the look of the monkey wrench that could throw things off out West.

#15 Mavericks @ Clippers

The Mavs will want this pretty badly. They may still need it to clinch a playoff spot, and seeding is still up for grabs too. But the Clips are in resting mode- Friday they’ll sit CP3, Redick, Blake, DAJ, Green, Wes, and Rivers. There’s no reason to believe they’ll try here; they’d probably be happy to help anyone but the Blazers get to the 5 seed. This one matters but may not be pretty.


Monday

#2 Mavericks @ Jazz

This Mavs-Jazz game should have a playoff feel to it. Depending on where things go over the weekend, it could have some high stakes for the winner. The two have split 1–1 so the winner here gets the W and the tiebreaker. Utah might not have even clinched a playoff spot at this point, but it could also see a win here vault them all the way to the 6 seed if things bounce right. A Dallas win could push the Mavs to the 6 or even the 5. The loser of this game almost certainly gets the Ws or Spurs in round one, a death sentence. Buckle up.

#6 Hornets @ Celtics

The Hornets have quietly been one of the NBA’s best second half teams, and they have a great closing schedule too. The other three games are eminently winnable so they could hit 49 wins if they get this one. And 49 has a pretty good shot of giving the Hornets their first home playoff series since, well, since they were the Hornets the first time. The Bobcats never even won a single playoff game, so this Hornets re-brand thing could really be working.

As for the Celtics, they’ll either be fighting to keep hold of their 3 seed they’ve just stolen from Atlanta over the weekend, or they’ll be digging in their heels just to keep a home playoff series at all. These are two of the teams playing the best ball outside of the usual suspects and this should be a great game.

#11 Hawks @ Cavs

Cleveland is in full rest mode, so this one probably won’t be as fun as it looks. We may have to wait for the real thing- in either round two or three, depending on how Atlanta does here and over this final week.


Tuesday

#14 Grizzlies @ Clippers

The regular season’s penultimate night doesn’t offer much outside of a TNT Thunder-Spurs that will probably turn into a Boban-Heustis showdown. This game is Memphis’s best chance for a win with the Clips likely resting their guys, but even LA’s backups may keep this one close. It feels like a loss here would almost certainly doom Memphis to the 8 seed.


Wednesday

#3 Grizzlies @ Warriors

Let’s not pretend this will be close. Can we also stop pretending the Ws will stop going for 73? When they’re this close and only have to win twice against the Grizzlies YMCA team and once against Spurs backups? This one matters for history either way- the Ws will either be looking to tie the record at 72 or beat it at 73. As an added bonus, a win could guarantee them four more easy Grizz games in the first round- all the rest a weary team could ever hope for.

#7 Heat @ Celtics

This certainly looks like the crown jewel of the final night… for now. A lot of scenarios can render this game useless for one or both teams, and there’s a good chance the two will meet in the first round a few days later too. That is to say that we probably shouldn’t get high hopes here just yet. It could be a showdown to see which team secures home court in the series between the two, or it could even send one of them to the 3 seed or one to the 6. And it could be a terrific game between two good teams. It probably will be a rest fest. But the result is pretty likely to matter either way.

#9 Jazz @ Lakers

This is on ESPN to end the season- yes this one, and not the Warriors record-clincher- and it’s of course because of Kobe. A long and storied career comes to a close, and that means that there’s really no way to know what to expect here. The Jazz will almost certainly still have something to play for, at least positioning and maybe even a playoff spot if things go poorly the next few days. There’s a good chance a win here would help them avoid the Warriors or Spurs, and it’s near certain that this final game will give us the last piece of the playoff puzzle. Does Kobe have one last magical performance left in him?


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