Note: I'll have a season-ending column in this week's print edition of the Flyer and will have a playoff-series preview and other end-of-regular-season/beginning-of-playoffs content up later in the week.
The Lead: The Grizzlies ended their home regular-season slate in style, with a win against division and playoff-seeding rival New Orleans that was so thorough and decisive that the entire Grizzlies starting five sat for the entire fourth quarter. The win, in which the team shot better than 60% and every Grizzlies player scored, with seven players notching between 8 and 18 points, sent a large crowd home happy and set the stage for a playoff run, though the seeding and opponent is still very much in doubt.
Are the Grizzlies ready? I asked Tony Allen, who has more significant playoff experience than anyone on the team. He smiled and shrugged. "It's here," Allen said. "There's no looking back or nothing. It's here. You got to get prepared for it."
When the time comes, the spotlight may be brightest on Lionel Hollins, who will be making his first post-season appearance as a head coach, and point guard Mike Conley, who will not only be running the team but will be doing so for probably 40 minutes a night given that his two back-ups — discounting an injured Jason Williams — are both rookies.
Conley said after the game that he was glad to get some extra rest tonight and would welcome reduced minutes in the team's final two games if it made sense, but that knew he'd be carrying a heavy burden in the post-season.
"I've been here for three years and I'm ready for that moment," Conley said. "I'm ready to show everyone what I can do on that stage. There's a lot of buzz right now. The team's excited."
"Playoff basketball is different," Hollins said. "You're playing multiple games against the same teams and players get to know each other. There's more holding and grabbing. It can get chippy, but that's the playoffs.
Man of the Match: The wildcard for the Grizzlies heading into the playoffs is O.J. Mayo. If he can stretch defenses and give the team a scoring boost off the bench, it will make the Grizzlies much more dangerous. Mayo has been erratic all season, but has been showing flickers lately and was very good tonight, scoring a team-high 18 points in 26 minutes — he hit threes (2-6, but still), hit mid-range shots and pull-ups, made plays (only two assists, but two other good passes lead to teammates being fouled), and got after it defensively (three steals).
Mayo lead a second unit that was good from top-to-bottom, with Greivis Vasquez, in particularly standing out with a career-high 13 points (5-5 shooting) and 5 assists in 23 minutes. Vasquez hit two threes and connected with favorite target Darrell Arthur of three alley-oops. All three of these players combined for one of the best sequences of the season: Mayo dove for a steal and passed the ball to Arthur while lying on the floor. Arthur flipped it to Vasquez and then raced to the rim. Vasquez drove deep and then floating a high pass straight up, which Arthur finished with a dunk. Pretty.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies pounded the Hornets inside, outscoring them in the paint 56-28. Frequently the Grizzlies found Sam Young being guarded by shooting specialist Marco Belinelli and Marc Gasol being guarded by under-sized power forward Carl Landry. The Grizzlies exploited this size/strength advantage repeatedly, Gasol and Young combining for 30 points on 10-14 shooting, with Zach Randolph (six assists) setting them up for several buckets.
The Match-Up: What are the odds that Chris Paul would play 29 minutes and get outscored 13-0 by Greivis Vasquez, who played six fewer? Well, that happened.
The Jacob Riis Report: Despite his rough night tonight (he did have 10 assists and only two turnovers), major kudos to Chris Paul (seemingly playing hurt all season) and young rookie coach Monty Williams for having this Hornets team firmly in the playoff picture all season. Honestly, even before David West got injured, I thought this was the least talented of the eight remaining Western Conference playoff teams. And with West out, I don't think it's that close. I suspect the Hornets will be the easiest out come playoff time, especially if they have to face the Lakers or Spurs, but the fact that they still have a chance to finish as high as #6 is a testament to their star guard and their impressive young coach.
Arena Action:The Grizzlies players — including Rudy Gay, in a sling — hung around to give autographed jerseys to a group of long-time season ticket-holders. Owner Michael Heisley addressed the crowd before hand. American Idol finalist Alexis Grace sat in with the house band.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies moved to 46-34, still in the eighth slot due losing a tiebreaker with the Hornets (now also 46-34).
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies could still move up to 6th by winning their final two games (at Portland Tuesday, at the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday) and having the Hornets lose one of their final two (home against Utah tomorrow, at Dallas Wednesday). At this point though, it's unclear what opponent a 6 seed would get you and the race for 2-4 among the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder is tightening up (as I write this, anyway, with the Thunder up on the Lakers).
Announced Attendance: 17,041. With that, the Grizzlies' average home attendance this season should end up being 14,650, still bottom five in the league but more than 1,100 better than last season. I think the team should be shooting for at least a 1,500 average increase for next season, which would get the team above 16,000.