Welcome to a very special Tuesday edition of While You Were Grinding. With a game Monday, there was the preview, gamethread, Grind Prophecies, and recap all going up in one day, so I decided it was best to push this back to Tuesday for this week.
Last week was a long week for Memphis. While the West Coast road trip is never particularly fun or easy, I always enjoy the timing of it. I'm a night owl, it is a rare occasion that I'm in bed before midnight, so I have no problem staying up late to watch the games, and with the late starts, I always appreciate the opportunity to be outside later and get all the chores and errands I need to get done earlier, much like the Grizzlies did during the first part of the road trip. While the 2-2 trip was supremely disappointing considering we could have, and probably should have, won the final two games, considering the timing, bench depth, and environments Memphis had to play in, 2-2 is something we not only live with, but gladly accept. Here's a look at what you might have missed while you were grinding.
GIF of the Week:
The Spurs went 3-1 this week, winning the one game Greg Poppovich cared about winning, the showdown at home with OKC. They rested a few players in a loss the following night to Minnesota, because that's the way Pop likes to do things, and then hung on for wins against Cleveland and Dallas. The Mavericks went 2-2 on the week, as they continue to battle to get a playoff spot, although they are still a few games below .500. Houston added two more wins to its total on the year, but lost the biggest game they played this week to Golden State, the team directly ahead of them in the standings, by 30 points, at home. I've yet to get a reply from anyone who covers the Warriors on what it feels like to win in Houston, but I eagerly await their response, as I'm sure it must be just the tops. The Hornets were on the road all week and took an 0-for. This is not an easy time to be a Hornets fan, but fortunately for them, they won't have to be much longer. Until such a time exists that they no longer have to be, we can keep reminding them how much fun it was to see this happen.
The Rest of the West:
If I remember one thing about watching wrestling growing up, it's that the term "nugget" was supposed to be an insult. The word now evidentially means "team that has a ridiculous home court advantage and never loses again ever." Denver was 3-0 on the week and has won 12 in a row and 13 of 14 since a three game losing streak (all on the road) in February. The West is stacked with teams just as hot however. There are seven teams that are 7-3 or better in their last 10 games, although that doesn't tell the whole story for all of those teams. The Clippers, for example, have seen themselves fall from 3rd place out West, down to a virtual tie for 5th, and then climb back to 3rd place again. That other team from LA, meanwhile, was playing pretty good basketball, vaulting themselves into the final playoff spot, until an injury caused a setback. By now, I'm sure you've heard, seen, and read about the Kobe Bryant injury more than you care to have done so. You may not have turned completely blue in the face, but it's a safe bet that there was some discoloration. Kobe was shooting a jumper to try and win a game against Atlanta, when he landed off the foot of Dahntay Jones and sprained his ankle. Kobe, ESPN, and the legion of Laker followers around the globe were quick to cry foul (both in the basketball sense and in the dirty play sense) and accuse Jones of purposefully trying to injury the Mamba, which is absurd. If this were to have happened to Chris Kaman, Luke Walton, or some other Joe Nobody, it would be a non-story, and it definitely wouldn't be considered a dirty play. Because this is Kobe Bryant, however, and because the NBA is more superstar driven than any other sport has ever dreamt about being, and because there is some brief history between he and Jones, he must have done it on purpose! You can watch the replays and determine for yourselves whether or not it was dirty. Logical thinking says no, but the producers at ESPN say yes. The Suns were 0-4 this week, losing them all in impressive fashion, by an average of 20 points per game, but they were responsible for this highlight, and for that we thank them. Sacramento was 1-2 on the week, with their only win coming at Chicago, who was the only team that could beat Golden State. The Warriors went 3-1, creating a smidgeon of breathing room for themselves in the race for the 6th seed. Minnesota split their four games this week as they continue to good really solid play from Derrick Williams. I'm intrigued and intimidated by the idea of a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio playing alongside the much improved Williams and Nikol Peckovic. Those are four very talented ball players, and with their other pieces, along with a truly great coach in Rick Aldelman, they should be playoff contenders next year. * The Jazz entered the week reeling, having lost seven of their last eight, but picked up two really solid wins this week to help themselves try and stay in the playoff hunt. Oklahoma City fell to the Spurs, in semi-embarrassing fashion, before winning its final three games of the week. The Thunder are interesting team, much like the Grizzlies, who have the capability to look like world beaters one night, and then expose several flaws (settling for jumpers, turnovers) the next. The Trail Blazers took advantage of two weaker and depleted Eastern Conference foes this week as they went 2-1.
As it stands right now, there are three battles going on out west: San Antonio vs OKC for the first and second seed, Memphis, LAC, and Denver for three, four, and five, and Golden State, Utah, Houston and the Lakers for the three final playoff spots. Crazy things could happen, Denver could make a run at the top spot and OKC could fall to sixth, but realistically, these are the three races to watch. With one game separating the top two teams, and only a half game separating the three teams behind them, we are in for a real treat of exciting basketball down the stretch. Every game will be important, and must watch. Pull up a chair basketball fans, but don't worry, you'll only need the edge of it.
The Eastern Conference
Well, Miami keeps winning. What's new? They're not just using LeBron James and Dwayne Wade though; these guys are getting contributions from Mario Chalmers all the way down to the Birdman. Their win streak has reached 22 games (23 technically now) and they are a legitimately unstoppable force. Boston went 2-1 on the week, although they did some of it without Kevin Garnett who has a deep thigh bruise, which I find weird because Kevin Garnett doesn't even have deep thighs. The Knicks were 0-4 on the week, a week they also spent on the West Coast. (2-2 sounds great compared to that!) Carmelo is hurting, Amare is out, and Tyson Chandler has missed the last few games. They're reeling a bit, but are still 3rd in the East. The Nets are sitting a full game back, two back in the loss column, but suffered losses at Philadelphia and home to Atlanta to keep themselves from gaining much ground. The 76ers were 2-1 this week, with the lone loss coming in the final seconds to Miami, and they got big games from both Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. They're suffering tremendously from the botched Andrew Bynum trade, but they do have some really nice young talent, I for one would definitely build around Young and Jrue Holiday, and aren't as far off as their record would indicate. The Bulls and Raptors have both really started to fall off. Chicago, a group many believed to be overachieving without Derrick Rose, lost by 42 (!!) earlier this week. Toronto went 1-2 this week, managing only to get a win over the mighty Bobcats. They're 10-12 since the big trade and are only 3-6 this month, but Kenny Smith is probably right about them being the 3 seed next year. It's more likely that Washington finishes with a better record than they do next year, especially if John Wall continues to improve. The Wizards were 3-1 this week, and are going to be a tough opponent down the stretch.
The rest of the Eastern conference is playing really, really bad basketball. Detroit hasn't won a game all month, the Pacers have lost three of four, same for the Cavs who are really struggling to compete without Kyrie Irving. The Bucks had lost 3 in a row and had started to fade a little since acquiring JJ Redick, but Monta Ellis exploded for 25 points in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando. Maybe that well get them on a roll, because they're going to need it over their next stretch of games (at Atlanta and Indiana coming up, and games against OKC and the Lakers at home). The Bobcats and Magic, who by the way, are in the same division as Miami, are just kind of playing for pride and trying to determine who is good enough to stick around as these teams try to build for the future.
WildCards for the Week
This week, we bid a fond farewell to the Big East Tournament, or at least the Big East Tournament as we know it. With the "Catholic Seven" forming their own conference and teams like Syracuse bolting for the ACC, the Big East, and the conference tournament, will never be what it once was. This is disappointing for Tigers fans, but it's truly just disappointing for college basketball in general. This tournament played a huge role in me becoming a bigger fan of not only college basketball, but basketball in general. I vividly remember where I was when Jonny Flynn and Syracuse beat Hasheem Thabeet and UCONN in that epic 6OT game. That game, that legendary, exhausting, late into the night game, gave me a greater appreciation and adoration for the sport, and I could not be more grateful. I really wanted Syracuse to win their final game, but alas, they played ‘Memphis Grizzlies 4th Quarter' style basketball, and were run out of the gym in the second half. Nevertheless, an unfortunate day for college basketball as a truly great tournament with several historic highlights is forever lost.
March Madness is officially here! Time to fill out your brackets and prove just how little we all know about basketball as pick after pick loses games and our brackets get busted. March is such a great time of year for sports, and the NCAA Tournament takes center stage. This year in particular, there isn't one team that sticks out and makes people say, "Yeah, these guys are definitely the favorites." I can legitimately see 10-12 teams that could cut down the nets when it's all said and done, and that means one thing: it is going to be a really great tournament to watch.
 My favorite part of the whole thing is that Kobe said he's only mad he has to "wait a year to get revenge." I'm sure that Dahntay is quaking in his boots, anticipating the day where Kobe comes in and drops 30 on him on 10-33 shooting.
 I really, really loved Jonny Flynn after this game. I spent over $400 on front row tickets twice when Minnesota came to town his rookie season. I wanted him to be so special.