While You Were Grinding

USA TODAY Sports

This week, Dallas is lurking, playoff positions get clinched, and Jon Hamm is better than the rest of us.

Welcome to the second straight Tuesday edition of While You Were Grinding. Pretty rough week if you're a Memphis fan. The wins were daunting, and while they did provide lots of excitement, they also drained an incredible amount of energy. The losses were awful, just...I mean...awful, and they didn't just happen on the court, as it was learned that Marc Gasol would be out indefinitely. No word yet on how long Zach Randolph plans to stay gone too, but hopefully they both can get back sooner rather than later. Still, throughout all the ups and downs of the week, the Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot this week, with very little fanfare. After making the post-season three straight years, there are new goals and higher expectations for this team, and just getting in is no longer as big of a deal. We all knew we would make the postseason, so we'll save the party for a later date, when we have the opportunity to start making noise late into Spring. Here's a look at what you might have missed while you were grinding.

Trending Up: Wizards, top teams in the East, Tiger Wood's budget for Denny's

Trending Down: All other Eastern Conference teams, abdominal injuries

Southwest Division

Houston continues to put pressure on the Warriors, as they are now just a game back, two in the win column, of the sixth seed in the West. They picked up three wins this week, including a home victory over San Antonio, and are playing pretty good basketball overall. The Spurs saw the return of Tony Parker to their starting lineup after missing a few weeks with a bum ankle. They went 2-1 on the week, losing their lone road game, and haven't won on the road since February, albeit in only two attempts. The boys from Dallas are creeping, strong and silently, like a predator in the bushes at a Boy Scout retreat, and are now just a single game back in the loss column for the final playoff spot out West. Without anyone noticing, they've gone 9-4 this month to take themselves off life support, and put Utah and the Lakers on notice. Talk about a couple of Mavericks. Still, they aren't in the clear just yet. They've got the Clippers, Pacers, and Bulls at home to end the month, and then start April on a four game West Coast road trip. The Hornets, clearly enraged by my many backhanded comments at the end of each of these paragraphs every week, picked up three impressive wins on the week, including a blowout of the red hot Nuggets, and a dismantling of our beloved Grizzlies. I'll be more impressed when they can get Robin Lopez to get a hair cut and talk to a girl though, that would be a victory to hang your franchise name on.

The Rest of the West

Thanks to mediocre play, for the most part, the West is getting even tighter. Three teams are now vying for the final playoff spot, while the 7 teams already in are all jockeying for position. Denver's win streak is over after an absolute beat down by the bayou, and they are still only in fourth place. That's right. They won 15 games in a row, and when it was all said and done, moved up one place in the standings. They've only got 10 games left on the schedule, and only four of those on the road, so it's a safe bet that they plan on moving up even higher on this list.[1] Oklahoma City, despite a couple of losses and a "Must Win" game against Orlando, still are just a game and a half back of San Antonio for the top spot. Unlike the Spurs, who have proven they can win anywhere, the Thunder would really benefit, mentally and physically, from knowing the road to the finals runs through their building, especially considering how few games they've won against the top teams in the conference. The Blazers and Jazz are both still alive for the eighth seed out West, but are going about it different ways. Utah has lost five of six, and Portland has won two of its last three. Even with that, the Jazz are just a game out while Portland remains two and half behind L.A. Portland has a tougher schedule remaining, with 10 of their 12 games coming against playoff teams, and the other two coming against Utah. If they are going to make the playoffs, they'll have a tremendously tough time doing it, but they very much do control their own destiny in trying to do so. Word Recently came out of Minnesota that Kevin Love might miss the remainder of the season, and that was met with a resounding, "Wait...that wasn't already established?" The Wolves have nothing to gain by playing a non-fully healthy Kevin Love, and I wouldn't want to risk having him suffer through a few meaningless losses, especially when he had publicly talked about being unhappy in and with the franchise before his injury. Do yourselves a favor, Minnesota, keep him on the shelf, buy him a nice ticket to Bora-Bora for the summer, and make sure he knows that no good can come from doing knuckle-pushups.

The Lakers saw the returns of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and disappointing loses this week, as they continue to create more drama than ESPN can shake a bad analyst at. They finish this month on a road trip, all against teams with worse records, but with this Lakers team, that doesn't mean anything. The other team from LA won 2/3 this week, and in their victory at home over Brooklyn, Chris Paul showed glimpses of his 2012 playoff self, the guy who just flat out took over the ball game in the fourth quarter, and by will and skill and cheap fouls carried his team to victory. It was frightening. Most people say this team isn't as good as their record indicates, and they'll only go as far as Paul can take them, and that may be true, but don't for one second underestimate how far he can and will take them. Golden State's lone loss this week came at the hands of the Spurs, and that serves as the only blemish on their record in the last five games as they continue their playoff push.

As of this week, the city of Sacramento has improved their offer to keep the Kings, and that's great, I'm really, truly happy for them. The fans are incredibly passionate about their team, and deserve to keep them. I can't help but feel terrible for Seattle though. I really want the Sonics to be back in the NBA, and the city and fans there deserve to have their franchise back, just not at the expense of stealing it from Sacramento.


The Eastern Conference

Miami continues to roll through the rest of the NBA, having now won 27 games in a row, including doing the last two without Dwayne Wade. Whether you love or hate the Heat, or just hate their poser fans[2], this streak is historically good. They may not make the all time record of 33, they finish the month with three road games including at San Antonio, but even if they fall a few games short, they've sent a message to the league, they aren't settling for great, they want to be legendary. Atlanta was 2-3 on the week, and is finishing up a long month that saw them go 5-9. Washington continues to play improved basketball, and have the fifth best record in the East since John Wall returned to action. They can't make the playoffs this year, but they are going to have so much fun playing spoiler down the stretch, and if Monday night was any indication, they'll also be pretty good at it. Orlando and Charlotte continue to do battle of futility, with the Magic holding a slight edge because they took an 0-for this week, and Charlotte picked up what I can only assume is a season high two straight victories. [3] These two teams play each other Wednesday night, and I for one will be glued to my TV, watching literally anything else that is on. The Knicks are back. They've won four in a row, Carmelo looks healthy and less pissy, and they are getting contributions from everyone, including 40 year old Kurt Thomas who had 3 blocks in a game this week. Boston seems to be going the other way, as they've now lost four in a row as they prepare to face the Knicks Tuesday night. The Celtics have some good young pieces to build around (Green, Bradley, Rondo) but you have to wonder if they would have been better off trading Garnett and/or Pierce for something to help them moving forward. Both of these future hall of famers can still play, no question, but they don't have much time left in the NBA, and Boston clearly isn't winning the title with the team they currently have. Brooklyn won three of the four games they played this week, all of which were on the road, including a game against a quietly hot Dallas team. Philly continues to muddle through a season stolen by poor trade choices, and I think it'd be really neat if the Grizzlies could rescue Thaddeus Young from them. The Raptors have lost four straight, including a game in Charlotte, and are now considering shutting down Rudy Gay for the rest of the season. I'm not sure if that's necessary though, as they could just give him the ball, tell him the game is tied, and there's two minutes left to go in the game, and he'll shut himself down. Indiana has caught fire again, as they won four of five this week, and is on the verge of getting Danny Granger back again. The Bucks, Cavs, Pistons and Bulls went a combined 4-10 on the week. Cleveland continues to play without Kyrie Irving, who says he will return before the end of the season, and Chicago continues to play without Derrick Rose, who continues to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge questions about when exactly he'll be back. Rose looks terrified. On the bench, in interviews, he looks completely frightened to take the court again. He's in the middle 30 minutes of a Will Ferrell movie, after the rise to glory and before the return. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him blindfolded and driving a car with a live cougar in it through the outskirts of Chicago. Still, until he is fully confident in himself and in his knee, he has no business trying to compete again, and for his sake, I hope the Bulls see that.

WildCards for the Week

Not sure if you've noticed, but March Madness officially got underway this week, and what an exciting week of basketball it's been. Whenever I suffer my first loss, and the ever elusive perfect bracket is officially finished, I start rooting for chaos, so to see all the bracket busting, including a number 2 and a 1 go down this early, well it did this old soul a bit of good, I'll tell you that. Georgetown, Gonzaga, Kansas State, and New Mexico all went home early, and there is a possibility that three of the four teams in the final four will be a double-digit seed. Florida Gulf Coast is stealing the hearts of millions and the educations of several hundred. This is the farthest a 15 has ever advanced in the tournament, and I'm fully on board with letting this Cinderella dance all night long.

Tiger Woods regained the world's number one ranking this week with a victory at Bay Hill, and he is officially back. He's still yet to win a major, but he has that look in his eyes that just says "Wash your hands before you eat at Denny's." This is great for golf, better than knowing that anyone on any given day could win a tournament. I understand what the guy did was pathetic and disgusting and seriously something straight out of How I Met Your Mother, but when he is dominating, and hitting greens down the stretch while his opponents are only finding water, golf fans nationwide are more excited and more likely to tune in. Although, something tells me if we could see more shots like this one from Sergio Garcia, it would help catch the eye of several different types of viewers.

As Mad Men nears it's season six debut, Jon Hamm was in the news this week for something other than acting. It wasn't a big problem, but it was a big problem, and not the first time he and the show have been mentioned together in the news as part of a package deal. The show has made him a huge star, but they are just trying to make sure we don't see too much of him. It's not a reason his kids would want to hear about him being in the news, although I'm sure 'Jon Jr.' is thrilled with the publicity. (If you're having trouble deciphering these innuendos, just Google it, although not at work) This all just goes to serve as a reminder that Jon Hamm is better than all the rest of us. He's got it all; a great television show, classic good looks, likability, the in with several other celebrities, and now we learn that he has to get scanned especially close at every airport. We get it, Jon Hamm, we get it; you're better than all the rest of us. Stop rubbing it in. (SILVER PLATTER ALERT!)

Finally, a special shout-out to DJ Stephens of the Memphis Tigers, who were eliminated by Michigan State Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament. DJ is a really good ball player, but an even better (and humble) guy. I wish him the best of luck as he heads into the next chapter of his life. I know he has terrible asthma problems, but you can't tell me this kid can't help an NBA team. He is 100% hustle and heart, and while he may never be a star or ever be able to play big minutes, he can definitely contribute to some team, and I really hope he gets his chance. He's earned it.

*Sidenote, next weeks 'Grindings' will be up on Tuesday afternoon as well, because Monday is Opening Day, which means I'll be in Atlanta watching some Braves baseball!

______________________________________________________


[1] I honestly don't care where they end up, just please, DON'T be the first round matchup for Memphis.

[2] If you didn't see it, when the Heat went to Cleveland, a crazed fan ran onto the court wearing a self-made "Come Back in 2014" shirt he wanted to show LeBron. This was largely just stupid, but also incredibly scary. Security at NBA games is good, but people always find ways around everything, and just as easily as he ran out to show LeBron how psychotic he was for him, he could have assaulted him or anyone else on the floor.

[3] Did the research, and they won three in a row and five of six way back in November, with their lone loss in that stretch coming to Memphis.

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