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Preview: Grizzlies vs. Cavaliers, 4/23/12

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Tonight the Grizzlies host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the penultimate game of this lockout-shortened, up-is-down regular season. Case in point: Grizzlies fans spent last night hoping for the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the Lakers and for the Hornets to beat the Clippers, neither of which happened. It’s going to be hard now for the Grizzlies to take home court advantage away from the Clippers, but it’s still possible. If it’s going to happen, tonight’s game against the Cavs is a must-win, and so is Thursday’s final home game against the Magic.

The Grizzlies have, of course, been playing down to their opponents as of late, having to engineer miracle comebacks and crazy fourth-quarter heroics to beat the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers. Look for that trend to continue, especially as Coach Hollins tries to get the starters rest heading into the first round of the playoffs. Zach Randolph sat out the Portland game. I would expect Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, or ideally both to do a lot of sitting tonight, and my money says we’re going to see a lot more of Lester Hudson, especially with Gilbert Arenas trying to get over a torn ligament in his finger. Arenas has got to be at least close to healthy if we’re going to make a deep playoff run – his poise and his outside shooting were a big part of the week that saw the Grizzlies beat the Thunder, Heat, and Mavericks earlier this month.

Cleveland is on the second game of a back-to-back that saw them lose by 16 points to the Spurs in San Antonio. They’re a team with nothing to play for, which means they could be dangerous, but this year it looks like they just don’t have the weapons to deal with the Grizzlies’ stifling defense. The deciding factor of this game will probably be whether or not that stifling defense actually makes an appearance.

As for the playoff positioning implications of tonight’s game, it’s looking more and more like the Grizzlies are going to be facing the Clippers in the first round, although the Clippers are only a half game back of the Lakers for the 3rd spot. Either way, a series involving Los Angeles is looking fairly certain. To wrest the 4th spot from the Clippers, the Grizzlies would have to finish with a better record since the Clippers have the tiebreaker. With only two games left to play, the Grizz would need to win out and have the Clippers lose out to get home court. Not impossible, but it seems unlikely.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:00pm Memphis time. I’ll be there. So should you.