One night after the NBA’s “block heard round the world,” Lebron James and the Miami Heat seek to rebound and regroup against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. James was stuffed at the rim by the Nets Mason Plumlee to preserve an 88-87 victory for Brooklyn. With the loss, the 53-24 Heat are clinging to a half-game lead over the Indiana Pacers for the top playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As for the host Grizzlies, they need this win even more than Miami does. The 45-32 Grizzlies are chasing the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final NBA playoff spot out west. Memphis, trailing the Suns by a single game in the standings, cannot afford a single hiccup in their final five games if they hope to make the playoffs. The Grizzlies have won four of their last five home games against the Heat including the last two, and have split their last eight meetings with Miami. Like Coach Eric Spoelstra’s club, however, Memphis is also coming off a bitter loss. They were routed by the Spurs 112-92 on Sunday as part of the NBA’s weekend showcase.
One main advantage that Memphis has in this contest is that they are playing at home. The Grizzlies have won 11 straight at FedEx Forum heading into Wednesday night’s match-up with Miami. The will look to ride the hot hand of point guard Mike Conley, who scored 18 points and dished out six assists in the blowout loss to the Spurs, and the heart and soul of the team, Zach Randolph. Randolph, the team’s power forward and 12-year pro, is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in 74 games this season.
Following Monday night’s loss, the Heat will no doubt come to Memphis with a chip on their collective shoulder. James said following the loss to Brooklyn that he was fouled in the deciding play, and that Plumlee had, in fact, grabbed his arm as James went up for the winning dunk. Even with the loss, Miami has still won five of their last seven games down the stretch. They close out the regular season, however, with four of their last five games on the road, where the defending champs are just 22-16.
Along with trying to hold on to the NBA’s No. 1 seed in the East while playing a majority of their games on the road, Miami also has had to contend with their fair share of injuries. All-Star Dwyane Wade missed his seventh consecutive game Monday night with a nagging hamstring injury. While Udonis Haslem and Greg Oden both sat out with a stomach virus and a back issue respectively. All three players are questionable for the contest with the Grizzlies.
It will be interesting to see how Spoelstra decides to defend the Grizzlies. Memphis has dangerous scoring threats down low with Marc Gasol and Randolph, but Conley has also been known to light it up from outside. The Heat are hoping that Wade can play, but chances are that he will join big men Haslem, Oden and Derek Anderson on the bench. If that is the case, then James will most likely be forced to guard multiple positions again Wednesday as he has had to do pretty much all season.
Memphis will have to hold on to its hot hand at home if they hope to squeak into the playoffs. Along with Wednesday’s game with the Heat, the Grizzlies will also host the Sixers and the Mavericks, who they close the season against. Sandwiched between those home games are road contests against the Lakers and the Suns. The game in Phoenix may end up deciding the playoff fate of both teams.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika