1. Griz Win Desperate Struggle To Avoid Spurs
Monta Ellis' wide-open 18-footer at the buzzer bounced off the back iron and off the rim, sending yellow and gold streamers down from the FedExForum ceiling and sentencing the Mavs to a first-round series against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
The grit-n-grind Grizzlies, who won 50 games despite stumbling out of the gates to start the season and missing center Marc Gasol for a couple of months, will open the playoffs in Oklahoma City after emerging with a 106-105 overtime win in a regular-season finale that felt like a Game 7. After the Thunder struggled down the stretch, splitting their last eight games of the regular season, a Memphis team that has the NBA's third-best record since the calendar flipped to 2014 might be a trendy upset pick.
The only people who pick the Mavs to upset the Spurs will be either on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's payroll or have blue paint on their faces.
"I don't think anybody is afraid of anybody," Cuban said about an hour before watching two teams desperately battle for the privilege of spending the weekend somewhere other than San Antonio.
The Mavs might not fear the Spurs, but it feels like forever since Dallas defeated its Interstate 35 rival.
Heck, Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets' head coach with a streak of gray in his beard, had a double-double for Dallas the last time the Mavs beat the Spurs. That was way back on St. Patrick's Day of 2012. There's nothing lucky about the Mavs being matched up in the first round with a foe that has nine straight wins over Dallas.
Now, the Mavs must fool themselves into believing they can win four games in a series against a 62-20 San Antonio team that has lost a grand total of five times since the All-Star break, including Wednesday's mail-in outing against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"The standings are 0-0," Ellis said, dismissing a question about how the Mavs could muster up any confidence against the Spurs.
The fact that 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki played 46 minutes, including every second of the fourth quarter and overtime, is overwhelming evidence of how important it was for the Mavs to seize the No. 7-seed and avoid the Spurs.
But the big German, who scored 30 points against the Grizzlies despite bruising his right knee in the first half, isn't about to wave the white flag before facing the Spurs in a playoff series for the sixth time in his career. Never mind the Mavs' nine-game losing streak to the Spurs.
"I think eventually we'll win one," said Nowitzki, who has twice emerged victorious after playoff series against the Spurs, including a classic 2006 Western Conference semifinals that ended with his 37-point, 15-rebound performance in a Game 7 overtime win in San Antonio. "So why wouldn't it be Game 1 or Game 2? We'll go down there and let it all rip in Game 1. We've got to compete like we did tonight.
"When we compete and we grind, I like our chances anywhere. We'll just let it all hang out. They're a great team. I mean, after the All-Star break, they've been rolling. They've been shooting the ball well. They're a very, very good team. They're definitely the favorites in this series. I think that's pretty obvious, but we're going in there to compete and see what happens."
As Cuban put it pregame, "Obviously San Antonio's got to be considered [the overall favorite], but it's still the Western Conference playoffs. Strange things happen all the time."
Like the Mavs, the Grizzlies didn't have any real tangible reasons to believe they could shock the Spurs in the first round.
Sure, Memphis pulled off an 8-over-1 upset of San Antonio in 2011. But the Grizzlies have lost 14 of 16 games against the Spurs since then, including sweeps in last season's Western Conference finals and this season's series.
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, if they see the Spurs again this postseason, it means they've made it back to the conference finals. That's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for a 7-seed that has won a franchise-record 14 consecutive home games and is 37-15 since Jan. 1, a better record than every team in the league except for the Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.
"We have to take this momentum into playing Oklahoma City," Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said after putting up a 27-point, 14-rebound line against the Mavs. "Oklahoma City is a great team. We have had a lot of battles over the last couple of years. We are going to continue to battle."
This marks the third time in four seasons that Memphis has met Oklahoma City in the playoffs. The Thunder won the 2011 West semifinals in seven games. The Grizzlies beat an OKC team missing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook in five games during last season's West semis.
"They're a completely different team with Russell Westbrook than the team that we saw last year in the playoffs," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "It's going to be which style is more forceful. If we can play them slow, get them to play slow and in the mud as Zach always says, [it benefits the Grizzlies]. Or if they turn it into a racehorse game, that's going to be tough for us."
Keeping the Spurs from running wild in transition is one of the many problems the Mavs must figure out over the next few days.
"We'll be OK," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "I feel good about our team. I really do. Tonight is a good indication of the fight that we have in us. We're going to take that fight with us to San Antonio."
Davy Crockett might have said the same thing before heading to the Alamo. That's about how the Mavs' odds of escaping the first-round feel.
2. Around the Association
MVP: Will Barton. With starters mostly resting, the offensive-minded forward got a longer leash than usual. He finished with a team-high 23 points (on 20 shots) to go with 10 rebounds.
Turning point: The rarely used Victor Claver scored eight of his 12 points in the last three minutes and the Blazers won going away.
That was ... a healthy year. After recent seasons have seen the Blazers decimated by injury, this season four of the five Portland starters -- Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez -- played all 82 games.
MVP: Zach Randolph played like a man on a mission, wreaking havoc on Dallas' interior to the tune of 27 points and 14 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. The Mavericks simply had no answer for his strength and skill on the block.
LVP: Dallas needed a big game from Sam Dalembert, but due to foul trouble and turnovers he played only eight minutes in regulation. With Dalembert out of the game, Memphis feasted on the Mavericks' front court to the tune of 20 offensive rebounds.
X factor: Grit-'n'-grind basketball got the Grizzlies to the line 25 times against the Mavs (compared to just 11 attempts for Dallas). Two of those attempts came in the form of game-tying and game-winning makes from Mike Conley with 1 second remaining in overtime.
MVP: Trey Burke's 3-pointer with 1:03 to go in the second overtime gave the Jazz a five-point lead, and he was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line after that. He finished with 32 points and nine assists in 48 minutes of action.
LVP: Is it cruel if I say Kevin Love? The Wolves' star forward shot a dismal 4-for-15 from the floor and was dominated on the defensive end by Jeremy Evans. He missed a big free throw with 57 seconds to go in the final overtime that would have made it a one-possession game, as well.
That was ... unexpected: Both teams slept through the first three quarters, but the game became fun, all of a sudden, down the stretch in the fourth and through the two overtime periods. A crazy end to a long season for both franchises.
MVP: On a night when no other player from either team passed the 20-point plateau, Brandon Knight repeatedly darted to the rim on his way to 31 points. He also pitched in seven rebounds and four assists, but could not keep the Bucks from losing a franchise-record 67th game.
X factor: Atlanta's balanced ball movement. The Hawks held a 29-25 edge over the Bucks in assists despite no single player getting five assists. DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott and Kyle Korver led the team with four each. Atlanta consistently swung the ball to the open man, routinely beating the rotating defense with crisp passes.
That was ... a fitting sendoff: Bucks owner Herb Kohl got a standing ovation from the BMO Harris Bradley Center crowd during a first-quarter timeout. Earlier in the day, Kohl announced that he had sold the team to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens (pending league approval) for $550 million and donated $100 million toward construction of a new arena.
MVP: Jordan Hill was aggressive early and often against a Spurs team sitting Tim Duncan. Hill finished with game-highs of 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor and 14 rebounds.
X factor: With the Spurs resting or limiting some of their key rotation players, offensive rhythm was scarce. San Antonio finished the night shooting just 41 percent from the field.
That was... something of a high-note finish for the Lakers' season: It has been anything but a fun ride in Lakerland this season, but a solid victory against the team with the league's best record is a fine way to kick off what will be an interesting offseason for Los Angeles.
MVP: Tyler Zeller put the icing on a much-improved sophomore campaign, which saw him drastically improve his shooting percentages from almost every zone. He finished Wednesday night with 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, two dimes and two swats in just 26 minutes.
X factor: Who says Kyrie and Dion can't share the Cavs' backcourt? They both logged 27 minutes Wednesday with Kyrie converting 6 of 12 shots and Dion 7 of 12. They led a balanced attack that put the Nets to bed early in the third.
That was.... definitely a Nets squad lacking some calories: Whether motivated by rest or seeding (they will face the Raptors instead of the Bulls), the Nets weren't too interested in winning this game. They bookend a roller-coaster season with losses at the Q.
MVP: Cole Aldrich set career highs with 16 rebounds, five blocks and 40 minutes played and tied a career high with 13 points and two steals. His shot may look like it's operated with a hand crank, but for one night at least, Aldrich was a dominant force in the paint.
Turning point: After trailing by as much as 21, the Knicks ran off a 22-2 run covering the end of the second and the beginning of the third quarter, aided greatly by a slew of sloppy Raptors turnovers.
That was ... third in the East: It seems like someone told Dwane Casey that the Bulls' loss to the Bobcats meant that, regardless of the outcome, they had locked up the third seed, as Toronto went deep into its bench for the final 12 minutes.
MVP: Bradley Beal dropped a game-high 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting, scoring in a variety of ways. Boston's perimeter defenders struggled to stick to him around an assortment of smart cuts and screens.
X factor: Boston attempted a somewhat stunning number of 3-pointers, shooting 7-for-30 from behind the arc. Washington, meanwhile, shot efficiently inside the arc, finishing 62 percent on 2-pointers.
That was ... mutually beneficial: With Washington's win and Brooklyn's loss, the Wizards clinched fifth in the Eastern Conference. Boston, meanwhile, finished tied for fourth in the lottery odds with Utah after the Jazz beat Minnesota in double OT.
MVP: Tyreke Evans played bully ball against the Rockets' smaller guards, getting into the lane anytime he wanted on his way to 25 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. On a team that was missing its four leading scorers, Tyreke made it a priority to get guys who can't create for themselves some wide-open looks.
X factor: A common narrative last season was that Austin Rivers had one of the worst seasons for a rookie in NBA history. Tonight he capped off a sophomore season in which he improved greatly, scoring 18 points on 11 shots while dishing out eight assists.
That was ... a nice rest: Houston gave James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons the night off as the team prepares to host the Portland Trail Blazers this weekend in Round 1 of the playoffs. In a series that will feature two of the three highest scoring teams in the NBA, fresh legs might make the difference.
MVP: Kemba Walker did go 0-for-6 from 3-point territory, but he was still solid against Chicago's stout defense. His 22 points and eight assists without a turnover meant that Charlotte had some offense down the stretch, unlike the Bulls.
That was ... surprising: Carlos Boozer played only 24 minutes Wednesday, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau opted to use Taj Gibson instead. Boozer scored 14 points, but Gibson scored only four and was not up against a tough PF to defend anyways.
X factor: Al Jefferson headed to the locker room in the third quarter with a knee contusion. He returned to play in the fourth quarter, but was largely ineffective with just 10 points total, raising uncertainty about Charlotte's playoff hopes.
MVP: With coach Frank Vogel electing to rest most of his starters except George Hill and Roy Hibbert, who both played in the first half, that gave players such as Evan Turner and Luis Scola a chance to shine.
LVP: You hate to harp on the big fella because it isn't all about scoring, but you have to think that Vogel would have liked to see Hibbert (four points, 1-for-7 shooting) have a more productive game offensively.
That was ... a purposeful defeat: With the loss, the Magic clinched the third-best odds in the 2014 NBA draft lottery. They can only hope that the pingpong balls can bounce in their favor to secure the No. 1 pick.
MVP: It was a battle of rookie shooting guards and the Suns' first-year player came out on top. Archie Goodwin finished with a career-best 29 points on a scorching 11-of-13 shooting. He bested Ben McLemore, who posted career highs in points (31) and assists (five).
X factor: The Suns powered their way to victory on the shoulders of a hot fourth quarter. Phoenix shot 12-of-17 for better than 70.6 percent from the field. They also outscored the Kings 33-25 in the last quarter.
That was ... an excitingly meaningless game. Both the Suns and Kings are on the outside-looking-into this year's postseason field. However, they put on an entertaining show for a sold-out Sleep Train Arena crowd. Also, this was the first game in four years that fans didn't have to deal with the specter of relocation looming over Kings.
MVP: Thaddeus Young. In the final game of the season, and potentially Young's last game with the Sixers, the forward showed what makes him so valuable. Young did a bit of everything on the floor for Philly, putting up 20 points while pulling down 9 rebounds.
Defining moment: The third quarter. The Sixers got out in the passing lanes a caused several Miami turnovers that they were able to convert. The SIxers outscored the Heat 29-15 in the quarter, and coasted for the win in the fourth.
That was ... familiar: The Sixers started their historic (in several ways) season with a win against the defending champion Heat, and they end it the same way. There was no LeBron James or Chris Bosh for Miami, which made it a little easier for the Sixers.
3. Wednesday's Best
Kevin Durant, Thunder: The likely 2013-14 MVP put a nice cap on his regular-season campaign, scoring 42 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, as the Thunder secured the No. 2 playoff seed in the Western Conference playoffs by beating the Pistons 112-111.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Milwaukee Bucks: On the night they finished with the NBA's worst record, the Bucks found out they were being sold. Before losing to Atlanta 111-103, Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl came into the locker room and addressed the team before the game. The Bucks finished 15-67, but prospective new owners are planning to build a new arena.
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6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"If this was Coach's last hurrah, it's very disappointing. When you don't show up the first three quarters, that's what happens."
-- Wolves guard Kevin Martin, on losing to Utah in what might have been Rick Adelman's last game as a coach
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