There’s one playoff berth remaining in the NBA, and the Memphis Grizzlies have all but wrapped it up.
They only need to defeat the visiting Sacramento Kings on Friday night to make it official and end a four-year postseason drought.
The Grizzlies (44-34) have closed in on their first berth since 2005-06 by going 25-11 since Jan. 20, tied for the league’s fourth-best record in that span.
Memphis, eighth in the Western Conference, lost 82-81 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday in its only game this week but has been helped by back-to-back losses from ninth-place Houston. The Grizzlies are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Rockets, meaning the only way they won’t make the playoffs is by losing each of their remaining four games while Houston wins its final three.
They have a chance to finish as high as sixth in the West, but must play better than they did Tuesday. Memphis blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and was held to two over the final two minutes to the visiting Clippers.
The Grizzlies had a four-game winning streak snapped and also saw a season-high six-game run at home come to an end, losing in Memphis to a sub-.500 team for the first time since falling to New Jersey on Dec. 21.
“It was a tough game all around,” forward Zach Randolph(notes) said. “I don’t think we came out ready. (We) came out taking this team too lightly. Let them stick around in the game. And you see what happened.”
Memphis doesn’t want to do the same thing against the Kings (23-55), owners of the West’s second-worst record.
They had won two straight and six of eight before facing conference-best San Antonio on Wednesday. Memphis led shortly after halftime but gave up 41 points in the third quarter en route to a 124-92 loss.
“We got beat by a great team, did some good things, learned from the bad things,” coach Paul Westphal said. “We showed that we can defend. We got good shots, didn’t always make them, but that’s basketball. In the third quarter, the roof fell in, but that doesn’t mean everything was bad.”
Westphal’s team also was outscored 33-17 in the third quarter during its previous trip to Memphis, a 120-92 loss Feb. 26. Sacramento, though, played that game without leading scorer Tyreke Evans(notes), who appears fully recovered from plantar fasciitis.
Evans averaged 9.0 points in his first three games back but is averaging 19.3 in his last three. He’s averaged 26.3 points in his last three games against the Grizzlies.
Randolph has helped Memphis win two of the teams’ three meetings this season, averaging 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds. Sacramento earned its lone win Dec. 29 at home when Evans made a half-court shot as time expired, spoiling Randolph’s season-best, 35-point performance.
Memphis has won 10 of 13 at home against the Kings.