Apr 23, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (11) dribbles the ball up the court during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-101. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
It all comes down to one last night in the NBA regular season. And by "it all" I mean "a few important matters but mostly just sad lottery positioning." The Hook breaks down the impacts of all 13 games slated for Thursday.
The NBA has one more glorious night this regular season before trudging off toward what should be a spectacular postseason. With 13 games and seven NBA playoff seeds still in question, there's plenty really at stake on Thursday. Then there's the ... less important matters, like draft lottery positioning, the scoring title and whether or not DeMarcus Cousins will continue his tradition of getting kicked out of finales against the L.A. Lakers.
To help prime you for the night of action, The Hook is breaking down the impacts of every game -- in the standings, in the record books, in NBA lore.
Nets at Raptors, 7 p.m. ET
This is a huge matchup in the Ping Pong Derby, but not one other teams gunning for No. 1 will necessarily care about. (The Blazers are excepted.) The Nets and Raptors each have 22 wins, which would currently rank No. 6 in the Derby. Ergo, the loser of this game can finish no lower than No. 6 in the lottery odds going into the May 30 lottery. The winner would move down to No. 7 at least ... but even worse, a likely tie with 23-win Golden State. The lottery combination for the Nos. 7 and 8 spots would be combined, and a coin flip would decide who would be ahead in the default draft order. It'd be the biggest coin flip in Warriors history! Add in this other advantage to losing: three teams are bunched at 21 wins. If any of them win, the odds for the Nets-Raptors loser in the lottery would improve. This game has the continent to itself for the first half; Twitter should be a riot of antipathy.
76ers at Pistons, 8 p.m. ET
The Sixers need a win and a Knicks loss to land the No. 7 seed, which will draw the Miami Heat in the first round in lieu of the Chicago Bulls. I'm not exactly sure which opponent is preferred, though the Heat smoked Philly in the first round a year ago. The Sixers are expected to barely contest this game, so the Dud Factor is high. The only lottery impact for Detroit is that a loss and a Warriors win would improve the Pistons' odds a bit and potentially move them up to No. 8 in the default draft order after a coin flip. But there's no way the Warriors are winning on Thursday, so ...
Bucks at Celtics, 8 p.m. ET
The suddenly unwatchable C's are still "fighting" for home court advantage in the first round against the Hawks. They apparently don't care, as of the Big Four only Paul Pierce played on Tuesday, and even then he quickly made way for scrubbier types. A Boston win and Atlanta loss gets the Celtics home court advantage in the first round. It's unlikely that anyone in Kelly Green actually cares.
Heat at Wizards, 8 p.m. ET
There is one thing at stake here, and shockingly, it has nothing to do with the Wizards. (They are locked into the second-worst record in the league despite experiencing a beautiful little winning streak.) Media members across the nation are filling out their award ballots, so LeBron James should probably not say anything to offend anyone's sensibilities in pre-game or post-game interviews. In fact, maybe he doesn't show up at all; vast swaths of the media seem to be pretty sensitive.
Knicks at Bobcats, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
That TNT didn't beg off of this game earlier in the year is absolutely hysterical. A Knicks win would guarantee the No. 7 seed for New York, setting up a high-ratings series against Miami. (We'd potentially see Disney execs kneecap a Bobcat if any Bobcat were worth kneecapping.) A Sixers loss would do the same, and since Philly isn't interested in winning, this game has relatively low playoff impact. The bigger storyline is that a Charlotte loss would clinch the worst winning percentage in NBA history for the Bobcats. This is a storyline bigger than basketball itself. This is a story of unavoidable doom. Fitting that it would happen in the year of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
Mavericks at Hawks, 8 p.m. ET
And now, the game TNT wishes it were showing. With a Dallas win and Nuggets loss, the Mavericks would claim the No. 6 seed in the West, which comes with a date with the L.A. Lakers in the first round. If Dallas loses, it instead draws the Thunder. The Hawks, meanwhile, can clinch home court advantage over the Celtics with a win. Enormous Consequences!
Cavaliers at Bulls, 8 p.m. ET
Fans of the Kings and Hornets are hoping that the Bulls don't want home court advantage over the Spurs badly enough to contest this game. The Cavs are tied with the Kings and Hornets at 21 wins, which is third-worst. If any of those three teams win, they'll join the loser of Nets-Raptors in the next tied tier. A Bulls win would clinch the No. 1 overall seed; Chicago beat San Antonio in the teams' only match-up this season. A Bulls loss and Spurs win would give No. 1 overall to S.A. by virtue of a better record.
Magic at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET
This game wasn't supposed to mean anything, but the Clippers dropped their final two games to open the door for Memphis to win home court advantage in their first-round matchup with L.A. All they need to do is beat the no-reason-to-compete Magic, who are locked into a series against the Pacers. A Grizzlies loss gives the Clippers the No. 4 seed and HCA.
Hornets at Rockets, 8 p.m. ET
Why yes, almost every game does start at 8 Eastern! The Hornets are in that Kings-Cavs tie; another win could end up landing them as low as No. 7 in the default draft order, depending how things shake out. A loss would guarantee a range of No. 3-5 in the default draft order. The Rockets are totally jostling with the Suns for the No. 13 pick!
Nuggets at Timberwolves, 8 p.m. ET
Denver can clinch the No. 6 seed and a date with the Lakers with a win. A loss combined with a Dallas win would set the ray to OKC. I'm not sure Denver has tons of confidence against either team, but there's a pretty clear difference in generally accepted fear here. The No. 6 seems worth fighting for. There are no implications for the Wolves' lottery position, and not just because the Hornets own their pick. That pick is locked in at No. 10 before the lottery.
Blazers at Jazz, 8 p.m. ET
There are absolutely no implications whatsoever! The Jazz will own the No. 8 seed and a series against the Spurs; the Blazers are locked at No. 11 before the lottery. One problem about Utah's insane depth, though: who do you play to avoid injury? Even the bench players are largely vital to the mission. Last-minute D-League call-ups, ahoy!
Lakers at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
This might legitimately be the most entertaining game of the night. Kobe Bryant needs 38 points to take the scoring title from Kevin Durant. The Lakers have nothing to play for as a team -- they are locked in at No. 3. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and possibly Ramon Sessions will likely sit. So the only reason for Kobe to play is to achieve the individual accolade. After five titles, Finals MVP awards and Olympic gold ... we could still see him chase an individual honor that doesn't even come with some sentimental trophy! If he plays, I sincerely continue to hope the Kings put four guys on him, let Andrew Goudelock do work and laugh like hyenas.
The Kings are in that three-way tie for third-worst record, but not even the most pragmatic fans would complain about a win over the Lakers. There's also the opportunity for a last-ditch arena revival meeting between Kevin Johnson and George Maloof on Thursday to turn ugly; that could bring out some heat at the game. And finally, DeMarcus Cousins needs only 247 rebounds to claim the rebounding title. Seems doable.
Spurs at Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET
We know Gregg Popovich has a sense of humor, right? While it makes no sense to strengthen the Jazz (who could end up with Golden State's lottery pick) or concede potential home court over the Bulls in the Finals, how great would it be if Pop not only rested his stars but actively tried to lose? Kawhi Leonard at point guard, a Matt Bonner-DeJuan Blair pick-and-roll, Tim Duncan vs. Tony Parker three-point contest (Big Fun would be the favorite), Manu Ginobili taking all jumpballs. Stick it to the sad sack tankers!
A loss here would leave Golden State's lottery fate largely to a coin flip. A win here would be absolutely devastating if combined with a Pistons loss. I don't think the Spurs will actively tank, and San Antonio's third string is better than what Mark Jackson has been trotting out. But my fingers are crossed.
The Hook is a twice-weekly NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.