There are 12 days until the start of the playoffs. Until the postseason starts, I will break down the burning questions that the regular season hasn't answered. I'm starting the countdown with a look at the race for the 8th seed.
The San Antonio Spurs sit at first in the Western Conference which isn't likely to change as the season comes to a close. That will put them up against the 8th seed, which looks to be either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Phoenix Suns. If the season ended today, the Suns would take the final spot.
In the three contests with the Spurs this year, the Spurs are 2-1. Their most recent meeting took place on February 21st in the US Airways Center. This was the Spurs last loss before their 19-game winning streat and Suns took the game by 21 points. Remember that the Spurs were missing Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, and the Suns were missing Goran Dragic. It was a weird game that featured sloppy offense and a good bit of lazy defense on the Spurs side.
The previous two matchups don't provide a good footing for the potential playoff matchup. Their first game took place back in November and the second in December. The best sample we are going to get is this Friday when the Suns come to San Antonio for the final showdown.
It is clear the Suns have fared better against the Spurs compared to Memphis. They possess an explosive point guard in Dragic as well as a solid front line in Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye. What sets them apart is their impressive bench play. According to hoopstats.com's bench statistics, the Suns rank 4th in points and 6th in efficiency. They have size and scorers coming off the bench which can be very dangerous.
How does this compare to the foe in Memphis? Well, if the game on Sunday night is any indicator, the Spurs still seem to be hanging on to Memphis' number which they've had since the 2012 NBA season began. Overall, the Grizzlies' wings are average (to below-average) with their biggest strength coming from the twin towers in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The Grizzlies score 49.3% of their points inside the paint which ranks 3rd in the NBA. Points in the paint may seem like an excellent way to score, but the only two teams that rank higher in percentage of points in the paint are the 76ers and the Pistons -- not great company.
Memphis isn't much of a threat to outscore the Spurs, and you can't beat the Spurs by just shutting them down with defense. The reason the Thunder have had so much success is their ability to spread the floor and score points. The formula is to establish offense and contain them defensively, but the Grizzlies' offense just doesn't scare anyone.
A big reason that the Suns are more of a threat than Memphis is their ability to shoot the three. Phoenix ranks 5th in percentage of points from three pointers with an impressive 26.9%. The 2012-2013 Warriors made 23.8% of their points from beyond the arc. That Warriors team knocked off the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs last season with the backbone of a stellar guard and three point shots.
The reality is we are unsure exactly how Phoenix matches up with San Antonio at this point of the year. It will be informative to see these two squads compete on April 11th, even if Parker doesn't play. For now, the tables have turned since 2011 when Memphis seemed to lose some late games in order to choose a series with San Antonio, and it appears that a number of people in San Antonio would welcome the Grizzlies taking the 8th spot in the Western Conference.