On April 19, 2006, the Memphis Grizzlies were preparing for their franchise record third playoff appearance and sitting in fifth place in the Western Division with a record of 47-33. The team was surging at the end, and hopes rang high that – at the very least – the Grizzlies could get rid of the donut that hung at the front of their franchise playoff record: 0-8. After consecutive sweeps against the Spurs and Suns, there was a now-or-never feeling about the upcoming postseason and a collective plea from the fans: "Please just don't get swept."
That night, the Los Angeles
Donald Sterlings, er, Clippers rolled into town with a record of 46-34 and a singular mission: lose this game by any means necessary. The convoluted NBA Playoffs seeding structure today is nothing compared to how it was back in 2006, when division champs were automatically given a top-3 seed in the playoffs (though not home court), so the 6 seed (occasionally even the 7 seed!) could end up with home court advantage if a division or two was crappy enough. And boy howdy, was the Northwest Division crappy that year. With a combined winning percentage of 42.4%, the division's eventual "champion," the Denver Nuggets, entered the 2006 playoffs with an identical record as the eighth-seeded Sacramento Kings (44-38). Home court was a lock for whomever landed in the 6th spot. Waiting in the wings for the poor bastards with the 5 seed? The mighty, 60-win Dallas Mavericks. The same team with Dirk Nowitzki in his absolute prime that would lose in a huge upset in the NBA Finals to Dwayne Wade and SHAQDADDY (as opposed to "Shaq" and then "shaquille?" as he was known later in Cleveland and Boston). Most people probably remember that series best for Shaq inviting a certain former teammate to tell him how his ass tastes after they won, but they forget how monumental an upset that was. Dallas was BEASTLY that year. And because of stupid divisions, they were the 4-seed.
Without going too far down the historical rabbit hole, let's just state this for the record: Jerry West was a terrible general manager for the Grizzlies. Before the 2005-2006 season, he signed Brian Cardinal to the fifth worst free agent contract in NBA History (according to Basketball Insiders), traded away James Posey, Bonzi Wells, and Jason Williams because they hated Mike Fratello, who, it should be noted, was hated by nearly everyone who ever played for him. In return, they received Damon Stoudamire and a bunch of guys we don't need to mention. Nevertheless, Pau Gasol was so good that the Grizzlies were on the cusp of another playoff berth, and a playoff run wasn't out of the question as long as West and Fratello could figure out a way to avoid the flame-throwing Mavs. Cleverly, the West/Fratello brain trust decided to put Pau on the inactive list with a "sore foot" before the game, to which the Clips responded by sitting out Chris Kaman and Sam Cassell, the two best players they'd ever had in the history of the franchise to that point. The counterpunch so flummoxed Fratello that he essentially decided, "Screw it, let's win this for Jerry!" Behind an 18-point performance by Jake Tsakalidis against an invisible Clips front line, the Grizzlies won and secured their fate. The Clippers would go on beat the Nuggets in 5 games and then lose a game 7 to the 2-seeded Phoenix Suns over the coming weeks. The Grizzlies, predictably, got swept by Dirk & Co. and wouldn't notch the franchise's first playoff win for another 5 years and 3 days.
*Some have argued, incorrectly, that the smart thing to do would have been to rest the starters and lose so we could stay on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. These people are stupid. Marc Gasol, Jeff Green, Tony Allen, and Mike Conley are all banged up and playing a series with home court gives them extra time to get healthy in their own rehabilitation facilities. The team won't travel for nearly two weeks. Not to mention, Portland is arguably the best possible first round opponent aside from New Orleans (After Dirk announced his impending retirement, they became a lot scarier). They're also nursing numerous injuries, and they should be the 6-seed according to their record.
Obviously, getting home court was the most important reason, and I would definitely argue that the Blazers are a more favorable matchup than the Clippers right now. Still, I couldn't help thinking back to 2006, when the Clippers outmaneuvered the Grizzlies and wound up going on a nice little run in the playoffs while the donut at front of the Grizzlies playoff record got bigger and bigger. In 2006, the Spurs had the top seed, but most people would have argued that the Mavs were the scarier team going into the postseason. I don't know that you could objectively classify the Spurs as scarier than the Warriors right now, but the Spurs are scary as hell. Before their loss to the Pelicans, they'd won 11 straight games with an average point differential of 15.4. Kawhi Leonard looks like a top-5 player. This is totally accurate:
This NBA season has been a house party with blaring music, keg-stands and broken furniture. Then the Spurs' Volvo pulled up in the driveway— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) April 9, 2015
I have no idea how these playoffs are going to turn out. The Blazers might sweep the Grizzlies and Marc Gasol might leave for the Knicks* or we could sic Z-Bo and Dray Green in the 2nd round and pull off an upset for the ages. All I know is that we should relish this moment: nine years from now, Clippers fans will be talking about the time the damn Grizzlies unfairly** served them the Nightmare Spurs in the first round. After the Grizzlies unfairly had to play the 2006 Nightmare Mavs, things went downhill in a hurry when Pau broke his foot, Jerry West traded for Shane Battier for Rudy Gay, and they subsequently lost almost every game for the next two years. I'm not saying that's going to happen to the Clippers, but I hate the Clippers, and DeAndre's a free agent this year, and Doc might be a worse GM than Jerry West, so you know, it's not out of the realm of possibilities.