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Final Stretch: Memphis Grizzlies Western Conference Playoff Update

Things continue to get interesting in the Western Conference Playoff race... and much more confusing. What is the most likely and beneficial scenario for the Memphis Grizzlies, and how can they avoid a first round matchup with the Spurs?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

There are only two games left in the regular season for Memphis, and the Grizzlies' first round playoff matchup couldn't be more undecided. The Western Conference is being shaken up daily, and teams are moving back and forth in the standings as one or two teams pick up a win or loss each night. Right now, the Grizzlies are the fifth seed and are matched up with the Portland Trailblazers. During the past couple of weeks, the San Antonio Spurs are dominating, the Rockets just dropped two in a row but have otherwise been solid, the Clippers are rolling, and Memphis is dealing with a sudden flood of injuries. Although Beno Udrih has stepped up in Mike Conley's absence, the Grizzlies could not overcome the Clippers Saturday night as they were also without Tony Allen and Marc Gasol. Plus, Jeff Green is one bad move away from igniting his lingering back spasms. The Grizzlies have been playing much better in the past week or so, outside of the Washington Wizards loss on the 4th of this month. However, questions of health plague Memphis. Should they rest their players and possibly sacrifice home court advantage, or should they rush Conley, Allen, and Gasol back onto the court in an attempt to grab the two seed? Andrew Ford discusses whether Memphis should rest or play Mike Conley in his article here.

Here are the updated matchup odds in the West:

Currently, the Grizzlies only have a 3.8% of playing the Spurs in the first round. That's a good thing.

Memphis' most likely matchup is the Portland Trailblazers, against whom the Grizz swept the season series. The Trailblazers won their division, so they're guaranteed a top four seed. However, if Memphis finishes at the fifth seed with a better record than Portland, then Memphis would have home court advantage. That's also good news.

If Memphis does advance against the Trailblazers, they will more than likely have to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. That's not so good. However, Golden State is a much better matchup than the San Antonio Spurs, and Memphis will likely have to face at least one of these two teams if they want to reach the Finals.

To make matters more confusing, if the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Grizzlies end up in a three-way tie (which is possible), the Spurs would win the tiebreaker, even though Memphis has the tiebreaker against these two teams individually thanks to their better division record. In addition, the Los Angeles Clippers are in the mix and could easily end up the third seed. It's even possible for Memphis to end up in sixth, given the remaining schedule of their opponents and the Grizzlies' current lack of health. Surely, Memphis fans would relish a matchup against the infamous Floppers.

Most of all, Memphis needs to avoid San Antonio. Here's the following scenario that would result in Memphis playing the Spurs in the first round: Clips win out, Spurs lose to the Pelicans, Rockets go 1-1, Grizz lose out.

Here's the remaining schedule for the Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, and Grizzlies:

Memphis- @ Golden State Warriors, Home vs. Indiana Pacers

Rockets- @ Charlotte Hornets, Home vs. Utah

Spurs- @ New Orleans Pelicans

Clippers- Home vs. Denver Nuggets, @ Phoenix Suns

By far, Memphis is in the toughest division in the league, and there's a possibility that all five teams from the Southwest division will make the playoffs. Memphis' hopes of winning their division are slipping away. However, if they could win out the next two games, their hopes might remain alive. They would need the Spurs or Rockets to drop a game, though, so that they don't end up in a three-way tie, in which case, as I already mentioned, the Spurs would win. The Spurs could end up 9-7 in the division, but Memphis has the better conference record.

If Memphis splits the next two games, which is likely if Conley and Gasol sit out Monday night, then they would finish with 55 wins. And if the Rockets, Spurs, and Clippers win out, then Memphis would be bumped to sixth place, as the other three teams would all have 56 wins. The same is true if Memphis loses the next two games and the other teams win out; they'll end up at the sixth seed. Therefore, the Grizzlies would have to play the third seed, which would be the Los Angeles Clippers as the Spurs would win the tiebreaker, and Houston would move to fifth against the Blazers.

Is your head spinning yet?

The Grizzlies can still somewhat control their fate, but they'll need a little help from the Pelicans, Suns, and Jazz if they still want the two seed. It's times like these that Memphis' losses to the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons seem extremely detrimental. In the end, though, Memphis is going to the playoffs, and they've always performed well in the "underdog" role. Let's hope they rise to the challenge come playoff time, no matter who they're playing, and let's hope that health will return to the Grizzlies.