The Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers have played 81 games each this season, but both their playoff hopes hinge on the results of one final night of NBA regular season action. The Nets looked poised to take as high as the seventh seed a mere week ago, but a few losses coupled with the resurgence of Indiana with Paul George’s return have diminished the Nets hopes significantly. While the Pacers hold the edge heading into the season’s 82nd and final game, the Nets season is not completely over yet.
Indiana holds a one game lead over the Nets, holding a 38-43 record to the Nets 37-44 mark. However, the Nets hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pacers, winning the season series 2-1. If the Nets and Pacers finish with the same record, the Nets will qualify for the playoffs. This can only happen if the Nets defeat the Orlando Magic at home and the Pacers fall to the Memphis Grizzlies on the road. Any other combination of wins and losses by the teams will result in the Pacers making the playoffs.
How does each team stack up in the final game of the season? Can the Nets take care of business in the Barclays Center? Will it even matter if the Pacers also pull out a win?
Orlando Magic (25-56) at Brooklyn Nets (37-44) 8 PM
The Orlando Magic are a young, gritty team, capable of being slightly superior teams like the Nets on any given night.
But this isn’t any given night. This is the Brooklyn Nets 2014-2015 season on the line. If the players can’t show up for such a big game, Brooklyn doesn’t deserve to advance into the postseason.
Another motivating factor for the Nets could be former player Paul Pierce’s comments made towards the team last night. The current Washington Wizard said:
If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.
These comments come completely unprovoked, and hopefully will light a fire under the Nets players to prove Pierce wrong.
As far as the matchup with the Magic, the Nets have taken each of the first two contests this year, though only by a combined ten points. The Nets defeated the Magic 104-96 on November 9, as well as 100-98 in Orlando on January 2 behind a near double-double by Mason Plumlee.
Again, the Magic have the talent to pull some improbable wins. In the past couple months, Orlando has etched out wins over the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, and Portland Trailblazers.
But inconsistency is the Magic’s overall downfall as of late. Despite these impressive wins, the Magic have dropped 17 of their last 23 games and are looking towards a lottery pick in this year’s draft. Coupled with Orlando’s 12-28 road record, the Nets should like their odds against the Magic.
While the Nets have a favorable matchup here, they cannot by any means overlook the Magic or play for any less than 48 minutes. The ultimate stab in the heart to Nets fans would be if the Nets drop the game to the Magic and the Pacers lose in Memphis, representing a completely blown opportunity.
Expect a huge effort from Brook Lopez, the longest-tenured Net in what could potentially be his last game for the franchise. Veterans like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack also need to set the tone early, and motivate younger players like Markel Brown and Mason Plumlee.
The Nets should win their regular season finale against the Magic. They are the better team and have much more to play for. However, even after a win, the Nets would have to wait about 90 minutes to see the results of the Pacers-Grizzlies game. 90 grueling minutes that will decide the fate of the Nets season.
Prediction: Nets 105 Magic 87
Indiana Pacers (38-43) at Memphis Grizzlies (54-27) 9:30 PM, ESPN
There’s a lot on the line for both teams here, which should make for a thrilling game on national television.
For the Indiana Pacers, obviously this means extending their season or packing it up for the offseason immediately after the game. The Pacers have propelled themselves to the East’s eighth seed on the virtue of a six-game win streak, the last two games being an impressive victory over the hungry Oklahoma City Thunder and a double-OT nail-biter against the Wizards.
However, four of these six wins came in Indiana, a location where the Pacers are 23-18 this season. Away from home, the Pacers are 15-25, which places them in the bottom ten in terms of road wins. This will complicate things in Memphis, as well as the Pacers early season 97-89 loss to the Grizzlies.
But the Pacers have so much to play for and are bolstered by All-Star Paul George’s return. The eighth seed wouldn’t just be a consolation for the Pacers, it would be an interesting opportunity. The core of this Indiana squad has been on some deep playoff runs, and who says that can’t knock-off a potentially vulnerable Atlanta Hawks team that recently lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season? If the Pacers experience and talent translates to a first-round win, they’ll take the path of the number one seed, playing the weaker of the opponents and not having to face the Cleveland Cavaliers until potentially the Conference Finals.
A deep playoff run is definitely looking too far ahead, but it’s a possibility. The Pacers aren’t playing to get swept in the first round, there is potential to extend the season further. The Pacers have a whole lot to play for.
But that’s not to say this game doesn’t hold some astronomical weight for the Grizzlies as well. Memphis has been extremely consistent and looked locked into the second seed in the West. However, as the Grizzlies dropped six of ten, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers went on eleven and seven game win streaks, respectively. The Grizzlies may have went from holding home-court against all opponents but the Golden State Warriors to hitting the road to play the red-hot Spurs, a matchup no one wants this time of the year.
Although the Spurs and Grizzlies split their season series 2-2 this year, each taking a home and road game, the Spurs are a dangerous team come playoff time. The Grizzlies would love to at least move up in the standings, if not secure home-court advantage for the first round.
With both teams playing for something important to them, the better team may be the victor. And in this case the Memohis Grizzlies are vastly superior overall. However, this is hampered by some Grizzlies injuries that may decide the outcome of the game.
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are both questionable for the season finale, and Tony Allen has already been ruled out. Factor in another injury to Jeff Green who will play but is not 100%, and the Grizzlies are a much less intimidating team.
Gasol, Conley and Allen make up three of the Grizzlies top six scorers this season. If Gasol or Conley join Allen on the bench, it’s hard to see the Grizzlies finding ways to consistently score against the Pacers, who have the best defense in terms of opposing points per game in the East.
The Grizzlies are a system-team that don’t rely on one star to carry them. If multiple pieces are missing, the offense that already is the lowest among Western Conference teams may sputter even more.
This will be a defensive battle in all likelihood, and come down to the fourth quarter, leaving the Nets playoff hopes dangling by a thread. Ultimately, Paul George and the timely shooting of C.J. Miles may be enough to defeat an under-manned Memphis team
Prediction: Pacers 89 Grizzlies 84