In most years, this would have been the ideal scenario for the Los Angeles Clippers: All they have to do is lose. Now that they’re headed to the playoffs, they say they won’t — at least not on purpose.
The Clippers visit the Memphis Grizzlies tonight, the most intriguing matchup in a playoff race that remains murky going into the final days of the season. The loser would appear to have more to gain than the winner. A better postseason draw awaits the team that finishes lower in the standings. “I don’t think anybody’s going to do anything intentionally to try and lose a game because there’s too much pride in this locker room,” Clippers center Chris Kaman said. “I think (coach) Mike (Dunleavy) is way too competitive for that. He gets mad over the smallest detail on defense, so how could he ever be like that?” Memphis (47-33) is a game ahead of Los Angeles for fifth place in the Western Conference, and each team has two games remaining. The Grizzlies will clinch the No. 5 seed with a victory tonight. But should they want it? The No. 5 seed will likely open the postseason at Dallas, which has the second-best record in the West but falls to fourth because it is in the same division as San Antonio. The three division winners get the top three seeds. Meanwhile, the sixth-place team would have home-court advantage in a series against No. 3 Denver, and wouldn’t have to face either the Spurs or Mavericks until the conference finals. The Grizzlies — who have never won a postseason game — are a combined 1-7 against the two teams from Texas. “You try to mess with the basketball gods, they punish you in the end,” the Grizzlies’ Shane Battier said last week. “All the talk of massaging and losing games, that’s not in our minds right now. We’re trying to win every single game every time we step on the court.” NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that the league would not give any instructions about playing hard to the teams. “Adequate attention has been focused on this issue, for which we’re appreciative,” he said. However, Stern and outgoing deputy commissioner Russ Granik have said the league may discuss changing the way the top four teams are seeded. A similar issue happened last year, when Indiana drew the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and beat third-seeded Boston, which won the Atlantic Division but had two fewer victories than No. 4 seed Chicago. “The league needs to step in and take away any perceived incentive to lose,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “But also, I don’t think you do yourself any good trying to pick who you’ll play. Sometimes, you try to set yourself up for something that may not work out. But I think that just the idea that you could be better served to lose rather than win probably needs to be taken care of.” NEXT, PLEASE The Nuggets will be the third seed in the playoffs, but they won’t have home-court advantage in the first round. They will play either Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers, whichever team finishes as the No. 6 seed. The Nuggets could possibly host a playoff series if they advance past the first round and play either the L.A. Lakers or Sacramento Kings. Seed, team Record Games left 5. Memphis 47-33 LAC, MIN 6. L.A. Clippers 46-34 at Mem, at Dal