Thursday, March 27, 2008

Countdown to Ping Pong Balls

Well the NBA is entering the home stretch of the NBA season and while all the pundits are arguing over who will win the Western Conference (Lakers, Spurs, Suns, Rockets or Hornets) and who will be left out in the cold (Nuggets, Mavs or Warriors), I am going to deal with the real race in the NBA...the Ping Pong Ball Battle!

The P2B2 as it is more commonly known (Okay I made that up but it looks kind of like something someone would make up and use so bear with me here) is incredibly tight heading into the final 11 or so games of the season.

It is difficult to even handicap the field after Miami who has all but wrapped up the season crown for ping pong ball accumulation. The Heat have a 4 game lead with only 11 games remaining. What makes matters worse is that Miami only has to play one other team competing for the season crown, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Heat can beat the Grizzlies and still have a three game cushion. The only other dangerous games are at Indiana, Chicago at home and Atlanta at home. Miami dodged a big bullet with their overtime loss to New York on Wednesday night so the team can relax somewhat the last two weeks of the season. Miami also plays more road games than home games down the stretch. It truly looks like the team with no healthy stars and no coach should coast to victory this season.

So who is left and what do their schedules look like?

Seattle is currently in 2nd place. Seattle is entering a dangerous stretch of games however as the have 5 consecutive home games and the first three are against lottery bound Charlotte, Sacramento and the LA Clippers. It is difficult to imagine the Sonics not getting unlucky and winning at least one if not two of these games. With only a half game lead over Minnesota and Memphis any slip up could cost them big in ping pong balls. The good news for Seattle is after these three games the rest of the schedule is filled with playoff caliber teams that are fighting for every win they can get their hands on. It should be easy for Seattle to lose every one of these games assuming Dallas and Golden St, Seattle's last two opponents, haven't clinched their playoff position by that point of the season. So the schedule is relatively friendly for Seattle to hold onto 2nd place.

On the negative side, Seattle has to consider that they were one of the winners last season coming from 5th place to get the 2nd pick and Kevin Durant. Will the Lottery Gods allow a team about to move from Seattle to win back to back lotteries and then move the team. Fate can't be that cruel can it? Seattle could finish in 2nd place, like Boston last year, and still only get the 5th pick in the draft.

Tied for 3rd place is Memphis and Minnesota. Since this is a Grizzlies blog I will allow visitors to go first (we Southerners are so conscious of manners after all).

Minnesota has some clear sailing for the time being but does have a few bumps on the road to the 3rd seed. Their next 5 games are against elite teams (San Antonio, Utah twice, Detroit and Phoenix). It isn't very likely that Minnesota will win any of these games. Then the schedule gets trickier. Memphis comes to town followed by a road game at Charlotte. An accidental win could happen in either of these games. Minnesota finishes with road tests at Orlando, Memphis and Detroit before finishing at home against Milwaukee. With Orlando and Detroit already locking up their playoff spots and two lottery teams left it is a very dangerous stretch of games for Minnesota. The TWolves have been trying to be the worst team in the league since July. They have to feel a little like Mitt Romney. They thought all season they were in good shape suddenly the votes come in and they are tied for 3rd place.

Memphis likewise has a dangerous path to the lottery. Friday night's battle at the Lakers would be a lock if not for Gasol's absence plus Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton's return to LA. The next night the Grizzlies have a major roadblock in the LA Clippers who are returning from Utah to play while Memphis stays in town. The schedule doesn't ease up either. Atlanta, New York, Miami, Minnesota twice and Portland all remain on the schedule. That is a schedule full of land mines for a young team that not only doesn't know how to win close games against good teams but how to how to lose close games to bad one's either (5-2 against the bottom three teams). Expectations of Casey Jacobson, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins playing the entire 4th quarters with an Andre Brown appearance or two may be the only way Memphis gets through the hardest schedule of any team fighting to be on the bottom at the end of the season.

Next up are the New York Knicks. Perhaps no team outside of Miami, who sent their coach to scout college players instead of coaching games and shelved their best three players around the all-star break, has been more naked in their desire to reach the top of the bottom of the standings than the Knicks. The Knicks don't have an easy schedule remaining and will have to dedicate themselves to losing the way the Heat have to move up far in the draft. While only a game out of a three way tie for 3rd place, the Knicks have some tough road contests (at Atlanta who just lost Mike Bibby, at Milwaukee who has no one left to lose and at Memphis). Not a good time to slip up. The good news for New Yorkers is that the Knicks only have 4 home games remaining so the Knicks can put up putrid efforts without fans having to pay for the right to see them play very much.

Finally you have the dark horse in the contest. The LA Clippers are very experienced at tossing games for lottery position and have stars who are legitimately injured and stars who are honestly selfish. A winning combination for a team fighting hard to lose games. The Clippers can honestly give their best effort and still lose all of their remaining games. Consider their home game against Memphis. Memphis plays the Lakers Friday night while the Clippers are in a different altitude playing Utah. Who's going to get less sleep? After that game there are only two games remaining against non-playoff teams and both of them are on the road. The Clippers are 4.5 behind Seattle for the worst record in the conference. That may be too much ground to make up in only 11 games but Minnesota and Memphis are both within the Clippers reach.

So it should be an exciting end of the season for all of these teams. Can Miami and New York continue to refuse to put an NBA caliber team on the court? Can Memphis and Minnesota survive all of the games against equally futile teams? Can the Clippers collapse enough to make up the space needed to reach the Ping Pong nirvana?

And will it matter at all on the night the lottery is held anyway?

BallHype: hype it up!


ht said...

have you guys caught wind of this? i'd like to see what you think

no way iavaroni would be ousted so soon. at least i hope not

ChipC3 said...

I think it is strange but not out of the question.

The team announced that they wanted to rebuild via the draft. Larry Brown is notorious for not playing rookies. Darko was banished to the bench in Detroit when Larry Brown was the coach. Marc Iavaroni is on the first year of his contract and buying him out plus paying big money to get Larry seems contrary to Heisley's desire to cut expenses.

But then again, who knows with Heisley?