NBA Standings as of 4/11/10 - from ESPN.com http://espn.go.com/nba/standings
What a fun ride it's been, huh? As noted by many, this Hornets season has quite possibly had more ups and downs than any season for any professional team in recent memory. Why would the final week of the season be any different? For even the most die hard Hornets follower, it is difficult to keep track of all of the potential outcomes regarding playoff seeding and opponents. Therefore, I feel that it is our duty here on At The Hive to explain exactly how, as Hornets fans, you should be rooting for these final two days to play out. After the jump, you'll find my best attempt to explain where the Hornets currently stand and where they should hope to end up.
(Note: You'll see that this is a very detailed post, outlining nearly every possible scenario that the Hornets may face. While I think that it is all important to know, if you want to just skip to the bread and butter - "The Final Verdict" - you should be able to learn a lot from that alone.)
First, it bears mentioning that the Hornets find themselves at a huge disadvantage heading into the final day of the season on Wednesday. Their game against Dallas occurs at 7 PM central time, which is before both Portland and Memphis play their final regular season games on the west coast (9:30 PM central time). As a result, both the Blazers and Grizzlies can adjust their game plans according to how the Hornets fare against Dallas in order to achieve the seeding that they would want most. This sort of predicament makes me wonder whether or not all games should be played concurrently on the final day of the season; that way, no team can gain an unfair advantage by being able to see the results of prior games just because they play on the west coast. However, that is a discussion for another time (or in the comments section, perhaps?).
To Finish 6th:
After the Hornets' rather embarrassing loss to the Jazz, very little hope remains of earning the 6th seed. The only way that this can happen is if the Hornets can pull into a 3-way tie with Portland and Memphis; by doing so, the Hornets would jump to 6th thanks to owning the tie-breaker over both teams. For this scenario to come to fruition, ALL of the following events would have to take place:
- The Grizzlies beat the Trail Blazers in Portland on Tuesday night
- The Hornets beat the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday night
- The Grizzlies lose to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night
- The Trail Blazers lose to the Warriors in Oakland on Wednesday night
Obviously, the chances of each of these four outcomes all occurring are very low. Therefore, we can now focus on whether we should be rooting for the Hornets to finish as the 7th seed or the 8th seed. First, let's take a look at how the Hornets can achieve either spot.
To finish 7th:
Scenario A - Blazers over Grizzlies, Clippers over Grizzlies
If these two results both happen, the Hornets' game against the Mavericks on Wednesday is rendered totally meaningless. The Hornets would be unable to catch Portland, and would finish ahead of Memphis thanks to owning the tie-breaker. Unfortunately, the Hornets won't know the result of the Grizzlies/Clippers game until after they play Dallas.
Scenario B - Blazers over Grizzlies, Hornets over Mavericks, Grizzlies over Clippers
Because of the timing of the Wednesday games, if Portland beats Memphis on Tuesday night and the Hornets want the 7th seed, they're going to have to play to win. As stated above, they can still land the 7th seed by losing if the Grizzlies lose to Los Angeles as well, but if they truly want that #7 seed, they'll play to win the game in Dallas.
Scenario C - Grizzlies over Blazers, Hornets over Mavericks, Blazers over Warriors OR Grizzlies over Clippers
If the Grizzlies can go into Portland and win on Tuesday night, the Hornets would need to win and then have either the Blazers OR Grizzlies win their final game. If both Memphis and Portland won on Wednesday night, the Hornets would finish as the 8th seed; if both of those teams lost on Wednesday night, we would see the first scenario presented above which would give the Hornets the 6th seed.
To Finish 8th:
Scenario A - Grizzlies over Blazers, Blazers over Warriors, Grizzlies over Clippers
This is the other scenario in which the Hornets' fate is taken out of their hands. If the Grizzlies beat the Blazers on Tuesday night, both teams will own a one-game lead over the Hornets in the standings. Should this happen, then New Orleans could still finish anywhere from 6th through 8th entering their game in Dallas on Wednesday night. If both Portland and Memphis win their games on Wednesday night, the Hornets will be locked into the 8th seed no matter how they fare against Dallas.
Scenario B - Grizzlies over Blazers, Mavericks over Hornets, Clippers over Grizzlies, Blazers over Warriors
This scenario is very similar to the one above; the only difference is that if the Clippers can upset the Grizzlies, the Hornets (retroactively, of course) would control their own destiny in regards to the 7th or 8th seed. Beating Dallas would give them the 7th seed, but losing would drop them to 8th. Too bad their crystal ball is currently on the fritz.
Scenario C - Blazers over Grizzlies, Mavericks over Hornets, Grizzlies over Clippers
If the Hornets really want the 8th seed, this is probably the least optimal way that they can get it. If the Blazers beat the Grizzlies tomorrow night, The Hornets will control their own destiny for the 7th seed; however, ironic as it may seem, the Grizzlies will control their own destiny for the 8th seed. If Memphis decides that the 8th seed presents a better match-up than the 7th seed, they can simply tank their game against the Clippers on Wednesday night, and there is nothing that the Hornets can do about it.
Whoa! Alright, now that all that is settled... what exactly is at stake in the Memphis/Portland game?
This game essentially counts double for either team, as the season series is tied 1-1, so a win would give the victorious team the tie-breaker. If that team is Memphis, then both teams would be tied in the standings, one game ahead of the Hornets; however, the Grizzlies would jump to the 6th seed thanks to earning that tie-breaker. If Portland wins, they clinch the 6th seed and give Memphis the power to throw away their last game to clinch the 8th seed if they so choose. Memphis winning this game will give the Hornets a great deal more flexibility in regards to where they would rather finish in the standings between 7th or 8th, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Hornets should be blindly rooting for the Grizzlies, as you'll see below.
There is another very important game that tips off in Los Angeles just a half hour after the Grizzlies and Blazers. After winning tonight in Houston, the Dallas Mavericks have jumped out to a 1/2 game lead on the Lakers, but the Lakers still control their own destiny. If the Spurs can beat the Lakers on the road, however, everything changes. Dallas would immediately become the overwhelming favorite to grab the #2 seed, because all they would have to do to clinch it is beat the Hornets at home. If things play out this way, the Hornets will be kicking themselves for kicking away the Jazz game. If they had beaten Utah on Monday night, they likely would have been able to punt away this Dallas game and lock themselves into a first round series with that same team, widely believed to be the Hornets' ideal first round opponent. Instead, all New Orleans beating Dallas would likely do is ensure a first round match-up with the Lakers.
The Final Verdict
After looking at all four possible outcome combinations of the Grizzlies/Blazers and Spurs/Lakers games on Tuesday night, I honestly cannot think of a single scenario that would give the Hornets a reason to play to win on Wednesday night. The one Tuesday night sequence of events that would likely spell doom (and by doom, I mean a Hornets vs. Lakers first round playoff series) for the Hornets would be a Blazers win followed by a Lakers win. If this combination were to occur, Portland would be locked into the 6th seed and Los Angeles would be the heavy favorite to land the 2nd seed. Memphis losing to Portland would unfortunately give the Grizzlies the ability to tank and land the 8th seed if they wanted to avoid the Lakers. The Hornets may as well lose Wednesday night to try to help bump the Mavericks up to the 2nd seed, although they would need the Kings to somehow pull out an emotional victory over the Lakers in what may be their last game ever in Sacramento. Should this happen, the 7th seed (Grizzlies if Memphis wins, Hornets if Memphis loses) would play Dallas, not Los Angeles.
And that's about it... I think.
I know this is a TON of information to take in, but if you can get through it, you should have an excellent grasp on every outcome you should be rooting for as a Hornets fan. If there are any other questions or if you think that any of my claims are incorrect, post a comment and let's talk about it. Go Hornets!