Two teams, one playoff spot (04/14/14)

By John Ewing
Two teams, one playoff spot. Which team, the Memphis Grizzlies or the Phoenix Suns, will earn the last playoff spot in the Western Conference?

The Memphis Grizzlies are one win away from clinching a playoff berth. The team standing in their way, the ninth place Phoenix Suns. With two games to play, this is a playoff game for both teams, especially for Phoenix who trails Memphis by one game.
The Grizzlies and Suns opposing styles of play clash on Monday night for the last playoff spot. Phoenix likes to run-and-gun, the Suns are 7th in the NBA in offensive efficiency according to our most recent Power Rankings. Memphis is 17th. The Grizzlies’ grind-it-out style ranks 7th in defensive efficiency, Phoenix is 14th.
Memphis is 3-0 against Phoenix this season and has won by an average of 10.7 points. Will the Grizzlies sweep the season series and punch a ticket to the playoffs?
After 50,000 simulations, Phoenix is the most likely winner defeating Memphis 69.7% of the time by an average score of 102 – 95. The Suns are 3.5 point favorites at home tonight.
The Suns win tonight, but which team makes the playoffs? According to our rest of season projections, Memphis is the most likely team to claim the final spot in the Western Conference.
A Phoenix victory on Monday night pulls the Suns even with the Grizzlies in the standings. Both teams would be projected to win the season finale; however, based on tiebreakers, Memphis would advance due to their record in head-to-head games.
The rest of season projections assume that all teams are fully motivated. That could prove false as Sacramento and Dallas, the opponents for Phoenix and Memphis respectively in the season finale, could lack the proper encouragement to play hard. For Sacramento, the Kings have been out of the playoffs for some time and are looking toward the draft. Dallas has a chance for the sixth seed but Golden State only needs to win one more game to clinch that spot. It is likely that the Mavericks could be resting their starters when they face Memphis on Wednesday.
In the end, if everything plays out like we project, Phoenix wins the battle tonight but loses the war as Memphis earns the last playoff spot.