A Reason to Watch Every NBA Regular Season Finale
Well NBA fans, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the NBA regular season is coming to a close. The good news is that this means the NBA playoffs are right around the corner. But before we whittle the league down to the final 16 teams, we still have one last day of regular season games, and boy is it a doozy.
Tonight's slate of contests features every single team in the NBA, which means there are 15 games for all of you basketball junkies to try and keep up with. For 16 teams, tonight is just a warm-up for a playoff run. But for those other 14 fan bases, tonight brings the sad realization that they won't get a chance to watch their team for another six months.
Yes, I'll admit, some of the 15 games have more compelling storylines than others, but no matter who you root for or who their opponent is, there are reasons to pay attention to every single game on tap tonight. Below is a list of something to keep your eye on from each of tonight's 15 games, just in case you need a little extra motivation.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Dallas Mavericks
Why you should care: A fight for the seven seed in the West
Both the Grizz and the Mavs are now locked into the playoffs, but with both teams sporting a 49-42 record, tonight's matchup will determine who gets the difficult task of facing off against the top-seeded Spurs in the first round. Or, of course, who has the honor of facing the Western Conference's second seed, whether that be the Thunder or the Clippers (we'll get to that in a minute).
Memphis has been red hot of late, riding a four-game winning streak including a hard fought 97-91 victory over the Suns to clinch a playoff berth. But defeating a Mavs team that has won five out of their last six games will be no picnic. The PF matchup between Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph could be key. Expect a close game featuring a bunch of sweet fadeaway jumpers in what should be a truly fun game to watch.
Charlotte Bobcats vs. Chicago Bulls
Why you should care: Huge impact on Eastern Conference playoff seeding
Besides the fact that this will be the last regular season game before the Bobcats once again become the Hornets, this game has serious playoff implications. As Russell Peddle explained yesterday, depending on the result of this game, and whether or not the Raptors and/or the Wizards are able to take care of business against inferior teams, the Bulls could end up as the three or four seed while the Bobcats could become the six or seven seed in the East. What makes this game even more interesting is that if all falls into place these two teams could find themselves facing off in the first round of the playoffs.
All things considered though, if these two teams end up squaring off in the playoffs, I don't think anyone would complain about getting the chance to see Big Al Jefferson and Joakim Noah battle for another four to seven games.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards
Why you should care: The Wizards can still be the 5, 6 or 7 seed in the East
The Wizards have the most complicated playoff seed scenarios out of any team in the league. Depending on the result of their matchup with the Celtics, the Bobcats' game against the Bulls and the Nets' battle with the Cavs, the Wiz could still end up as any seed from five to seven. A win against the Celtics ensures that they will not have to face the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, so Washington will do all they can to win this game. Tonight will be a great opportunity for John Wall to prove that he is ready to perform on the big stage, but if he struggles, it could be a bad sign for the Wizards' hopes of advancing past the first round in the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets
Why you should care: The Nets struggling down the stretch
Although the Nets have been impressive since the All-Star break, they've lost three of their last four games, including an embarrassing blowout loss to the Knicks last night. Tonight, the Nets travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavs. If the Nets are unable to bounce back and win tonight in Cleveland, not only could it mean that they fall to the six seed in the East, but it could truly destroy all of the momentum that they have built up with their impressive play in the second half of the season. The good news for Brooklyn is that the Cavs have been struggling recently themselves, losing four out of their last five games. I expect the Nets to come out on top tonight, but if they don't it could mean trouble.
Portland Trailblazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Why you should care: Trying to grab momentum heading towards the playoffs
Both the Clippers and the Blazers are headed to the playoffs and, unless the Thunder somehow lose to the Pistons, both teams are pretty much locked into their seeds. With the Clippers as the three seed (as I expect) and the Blazers as the five seed in the West, these teams would not meet again unless both make it to the Western Conference Finals.
What makes this game interesting is that both teams are trying to gain as much momentum as possible heading into the playoffs. These teams come into this game as two of the hottest squads in the Western Conference. Portland is currently riding a four-game winning streak, having won eight of their last nine games, while the Clippers have won seven of their last nine and 20 out of their last 24 games. Unfortunately for the Clippers, Blake Griffin will be serving his one-game suspension for picking up his 16th technical foul of the season and won't play. This bodes well for LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers. A confident Portland team could be a very scary matchup for the Rockets in the first round.
New York Knicks vs. Toronto Raptors
Why you should care: Melo drama
One of the biggest questions of this offseason will be whether or not Carmelo Anthony will resign with the Knicks. Unfortunately, Melo will be riding the bench tonight in what will potentially be his last game in a Knicks' uniform. Yes, I realize that a win for the Raptors means that they might be able to grab the three seed in the East, but this game has blowout written all over it so the drama surrounding Anthony is much more interesting to me.
Those of you watching on MSG will have the pleasure of listening to Mike Breen and Walt Frazier discuss whether or not Melo will stay in New York and how Phil Jackson's presence effects Melo's decision. I'm curious to see how engaged Anthony is in the game, what his body language says and whether or not some of the Knicks (few) young players are able to step up in his absence.
Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns
Why you should care: Suns swan song
Coming into this season, the Suns were considered to be one of the worst teams in the league. Popular opinion was that Phoenix was simply tanking in order to best position themselves for a top draft pick. Well, nobody told Jeff Hornacek or the Suns players. The Suns were not only surprisingly good this season, but they were one of the most fun teams to watch all season long. Although tonight's game against the Kings is meaningless as far as the playoff picture is concerned, basketball junkies should jump at the opportunity to get one last chance at watching this young, fun Suns team.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Detroit Pistons
Why you should care: The Thunder want the second seed in the West
Although Russell Westbrook's status is still up in the air for tonight, Kevin Durant is locked into the Thunder's starting lineup. What this says to me is that Scott Brooks wants to make sure that the Thunder win tonight and lock down the second seed in the Western Conference. Considering how loaded the West is, two rounds of home court advantage could make a huge difference for OKC's run to the Western Conference Finals and beyond. Expect KD to look for his shot early and often against tonight en route to a dominant win against the lowly Pistons.
Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors
Why you should care: How will the Warriors fare without Bogut?
One of the reasons why the Warriors were so successful this season is because their rim protector, Andrew Bogut, was healthy for the majority of the season. Unfortunately for Golden State, Bogut will miss the remainder of the season with a fractured rib. While Jermaine O'Neal has been effective when filling in for Bogut, he got absolutely destroyed to the tune of 23 points and 29 rebounds by Timofey Mozgov last time these two teams met. O'Neal needs to be a defensive rock for the Warriors if they expect to make a run in the playoffs, a nice bounce-back game against the Nuggets would go a long way to proving that is possible.
Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers
Why you should care: Are the Pacers fixed?
After looking like the best team in the NBA early in the season, the Pacers have fallen off a metaphorical cliff. Since capping off a five-game winning streak with a win against the Jazz on March 2nd, the Pacers have lost an embarrassing 13 of their last 22 games. Over that period, they have looked dejected and defeated. We've seen coaches call players out publicly, players fighting in the huddle and the Pacers' entire starting five benched for a win against the Bucks. The good news for Pacers fans is that they are coming off of an impressive win against the Thunder, but was that win enough to get their their heads right heading into the playoffs? Tonight's game against the Magic could help answer that question.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Why you should care: Spurs' dominance
For years, we've watched Coach Pop and Tim Duncan dominate the league, especially in the regular season. This season, every team in the Western Conference is looking up at another 60-win Spurs team at the top of the standings. Although the Spurs have struggled at times against the NBA's elite (particularly the Rockets and Thunder), they've absolutely excelled against teams that they are "supposed" to beat. San Antonio only lost four games against non-playoff teams this season, and they get a chance to finish their season against another bottom feeder in the Lakers.
It's probably a safe bet to assume that Coach Pop will rest most - if not all - of his starters, but it almost doesn't seem to matter who starts and who sits for the Spurs this season. Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green and Boris Diaw have all been impressive this season, whether in the starting lineup or off the bench. Expect the Spurs to assert their dominance and blowout the Lakers to end their regular season with a bang.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Houston Rockets
Why you should care: A look at the Pelicans' bench
The Rockets are already locked into the four seed in the West and the Pelicans' have little to play for. What makes this game interesting is that with both Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon shut down for the year, we should get a chance to see what kind of talent the Pelicans have off of their bench. With guys like Alexis Ajinca, Austin Rivers and Jeff Withey playing big minutes tonight, we should get a sneak peek into what New Orleans is working with moving forward, especially since they traded away their first-round pick to Philadelphia. With that said, the Rockets should dominate this game from start to finish, even if their starters don't play much.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Utah Jazz
Why you should care: One last look at Dieng
Considering this is the last time we will see either of these teams for the next six months, this game is all about the future. Although the Jazz do have same nice, young pieces, the most compelling player to follow in this game is Gorgui Dieng. Dieng was one of the most surprising players in the league after the All-Star break, while filling in for oft injured Nikola Pekovic. In just 14 starts this season, the former Louisville Cardinal recorded double-digit rebounds 10 times, including a monstrous 21 rebound performance against the Rockets. Dieng is the rim protector the Wolves have craved and is primed for a breakout season next year. The Timberwolves' center should have no problem grabbing 10-plus rebounds once again tonight against a Jazz team that struggles to defend the big man.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks
Why you should care: Hawks building confidence for the playoffs
The Hawks have been one of the streakiest teams in the league all year long. Most recently, they won five of their last seven games, but before that they were coming off of a six-game losing streak which had everyone wondering whether or not they were even going to outlast the Knicks for the final playoff spot in the East. Although this game has no effect on their playoff seeding, ending the season with a win against anyone (even if it's the team with the worst record in the league) will give Atlanta a nice confidence boost going into their first round series with the suddenly vulnerable Pacers. We have seen eight seeds upset one seeds in the past - in fact I'm pretty sure Dirk still has nightmares about B-Diddy and the 2006 Warriors - considering Indiana's recent struggles that opening series could be very interesting if the Hawks continue to play with confidence.
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Why you should care: Which Sixers players will make next year's roster?
Despite the fact that the Heat may rest all of their starters, this game is a blowout waiting to happen. The Heat are playing at home and want to end their season on a high note heading into the playoffs, while the 76ers seem to have checked out since January. With Philadelphia in complete rebuilding mode, the most interesting aspect of this game is whether or not some of the Sixers players are able to end their season with a decent performance in order to help their chances of making the roster next year. This game will not be pretty, but that doesn't mean it won't be interesting.