“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
– John Allen Paulos, American Mathematics Professor
They start the season in late October, knowing with certainty that 82 games will be played. And then last year, because of the Boston Marathon attack, the Celtics and Pacers played 81. So even the certainty of 82 games in a modern NBA season is uncertain. Each NBA GM and coaching staff starts the season thinking it would take 46 or 47 wins to make the playoffs.” Only one NBA team in history has won 48 and been left behind to watch the playoffs from sunny beaches and remote mountain cabins. That team was the 2007-2008 Golden State Warriors, coming off a historic playoff upset of the #1 seeded Mavericks the year before. And yet this year, 49 wins may not be enough to slide up into the 8th seed in the brutal Western Conference.
With five games left of the likely 82, three teams remain in the lonesome crowded west (what’s Modest Mouse up to these days?) How will it all shake out? Jeff Hornacek, Dave Joerger and Rick Carlisle have been living with some level of insecurity all season. Hornacek and Joerger are first-year coaches. Hornacek has propelled the Suns to a spot in the standings not even rookie GM Ryan McDonough could have imagined, while Joerger inherited a club that advanced to last year’s Western Conference Finals, before being unceremoniously toppled in as tight a series as possible for a four-game sweep. In all honesty, the Grizzlies might have taken two of the first three games had Zach Randolph been able to connect on his free-throws. The philosophical divide between former coach Lionel Hollins and last year’s new GM/analytics guru John Hollinger was apparently too great to bridge. And thus…Joerger gets saddled with high expectations in his first year as a head man. The Gasol injury threatened to derail Memphis’ season early, but as they have done numerous times over the past five seasons, the Grizz dusted themselves off and went back to work. Rick Carlisle is in both a enviable position (coaching security that comes with the 2011 championship ring and 567 lifetime wins) and a tough spot (how do you get Calderon and Ellis to defend the perimeter with any level of decency?).
However you slice it, the next week will be filled with unstable feelings and a heaping portion of uncertainty.
Currently in 9th: Memphis Grizzlies (45-32)
After losing Marc Gasol early in the season, the Grizzlies are right there as always, lurking as a threat to the Spurs and Thunder if they are to crawl up into the ever-elusive 8th spot. The offense is more well-rounded than in years past, with Mike Miller and Courtney Lee providing spacing for the Gasol, the elbow operator, and Randolph smashing and bumping his way around underneath. Sometimes it seems as if Z-Bo prefers to ricochet around rather than have a clean, open look. Since March, the Grizzlies are on a very predictable roll, beating the mediocre and bad teams, but losing to the better teams on the road. A particularly tough-to-swallow loss at Minnesota last Wednesday may be their undoing. Still, it’s crazy to consider they were 10-15 in December after losing their versatile Spanish center. That 35-17 record since is the one that indicates the true level of this Grizzlies team.
Wed, Apr 9 vs Miami (ESPN) (Loss)
Fri, Apr 11 vs Philadelphia (Win)
Sun, Apr 13 @ LA Lakers (Win)
Mon, Apr 14 @ Phoenix (Win)
Wed, Apr 16 vs Dallas (Win)
If they can get by Miami, the Grizzlies have a legit shot at running the table and streaking into the second season. More likely, the either drop the Miami game or one of the Phoenix/Dallas season-ending combination.
Currently in 8th: Phoenix Suns (46-31)
Jeff Hornacek and the Phoenix Suns weren’t even supposed to be in this conversation. Playing two point guards and three long-range shooters at all times, the Suns have been a nightmare match-up for everyone, insisting teams bend to their up-tempo and unorthodox style. Goran Dragic is playing so well he gets a new nickname: “The Dragon.” P.J. Tucker becomes arguably the best glue-guy in the Association (with apologies to Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler and Shawn Livingston). Gerald Green can’t stop knocking down 26-footers. Eric Bledsoe fights off one injury or another and maintains his manic intensity and fearlessness. Watching the Suns beat the Thunder on Sunday night, I realized I’ve missed out this year. I wish I’d seen more Suns games. Their intensity and swagger was downright palpable as every loose ball seemed to find its way to P.J. Tucker, and every Gerald Green release was money. I’m a Memphis Grizzlies appreciation machine, but I can’t help it…I’m excited by the idea of seeing Phoenix vs. Oklahoma City at least six times.
Remaining schedule: (with predictions)
Wed, Apr 9 @ New Orleans (Win)
Fri, Apr 11 @ San Antonio (W – Pop rests half the Spurs in 2nd game of back-to-back)
Sat, Apr 12 @ Dallas (Loss)
Mon, Apr 14 vs Memphis (Loss)
Wed, Apr 16 @ Sacramento (Win)
My guess is they lose to Dallas on the second game of a back-to-back, and drop the Memphis game (0-3 vs. Grizzlies on season).
Currently in 7th: Dallas Mavericks Buyers Club (47-31)
The Mavericks streaked to a 9-4 start in November, feasting on the dregs of the East, before losing 4 of 5. At the halfway point, they were 24-17. Their season has continued on a positive trajectory, winning most of their winnable games and losing to the elite teams. In some ways, the Mavs are the inverse of the Grizzlies, depending heavily on their offensive balance to outplay opponents.
In a regular season game for the ages against Golden State last week, a game that ended in a 122-120 overtime loss, the Mavs simply couldn’t get the stops they needed. After a dominant second quarter in which they dropped in 41 points, the Mavs gave it all back in the third, getting outscored 32-19. The Warriors stifling defense included critical plays from Draymond Green and Jermaine O’ Neal. Even without anchor Andrew Bogut, Golden State held Dallas to 6 points in the first six minutes after the break. Stephen Curry’s clutch shooting and the relentless penetration of Monta Ellis in the fourth made for a memorable night. In the end, Dallas dropped a heart-breaker. Dallas has played a league-leading number of close games. In 20 of their 78, the games have been decided by 3 points or less. The Mavs are an even 10-10 in those games.
Compared to the others, Dallas has it easy these last nine days. The Mavericks face the Grizzlies in what is essentially a play-in, or play-into-insane-tiebreaker scenario on the final day of the season, Wednesday, April 16th.
Tues, Apr 8 @ Utah (Win)
Thu, Apr 10 vs San Antonio (Loss)* (This game will be fantastic. In Dallas, on TNT. Can’t wait)
Sat, Apr 12 vs Phoenix (Win)
Wed, Apr 16 @ Memphis (Loss)
So…if all three of these teams finish with 49 wins, the first tie-breaker goes to a team that won its division. None of these teams will do that. Second tie-breaker is record among tied teams. Phoenix would be the odd-team out, having gone 1-4 in games against Dallas and Memphis this year. Dallas would get the 7th seed with the 4-1 inter-team mark, while Memphis would squeeze into the 8th spot. How sweet would the revenge be for the Grizzlies if they were to end up facing the potentially #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs, and toppling them in 7 games after all of this drama leading up to the playoffs?
vs Phoenix (3-0)
vs Dallas (0-3)
vs Memphis (3-0)
vs Phoenix (1-1)
vs Dallas (1-1)* (The Phoenix vs. Dallas match-up on Saturday would determine the head-to-head winner in that series)
vs Memphis (0-3)
I hope you enjoyed this plunge deep down into the Western Conference Sun Bubble.
Here’s a little Chris Cornell to take you out…