West's dream teams: Grizzlies vs. Lakers

Originally Published: March 15, 2004
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

It's another one of those bonus Monday doubleheaders on TNT: Phoenix at Houston, followed by San Antonio at Golden State. Which basically breaks down to two Texas-bound playoff teams cashing in against West foes who are already eyeing the lottery. Orlando at L.A. Lakers is the evening's only other game, which is sure to spawn Tracy McGrady-for-Kobe Bryant trade dreams that have no hope of ever happening.
Sacramento at New Jersey is the best offering on this evening, although there's a chance we still won't see either team at full strength with Bobby Jackson and Kenyon Martin still ailing. Chicago at Cleveland gives the Cavaliers a chance to avenge one of their rare recent losses -- a poor showing at the United Center -- while New Orleans at Miami and Portland at Milwaukee rank as the standout games matching teams still in the playoff hunt.
ESPN presents Portland at Indiana to give the Pacers some of that national exposure they've been craving, along with a prominent stage for Indy to possibly become the first team in the league this season to reach the 50-win plateau ... depending on how the Kings fare with the Nets. Philadelphia at New Orleans and Utah at Toronto are the best of the rest in terms of matchups with a two-headed impact on the playoff chase in the East, while the Lakers and Clippers stage the first of two meetings at Staples Center in the space of 72 hours. The Clips are the home team for this one.
You can expect some moaning from Charles Barkley when TNT serves up its second doubleheader of the week. This one, though, is worlds better than the first, with Detroit at New Jersey leading off and followed by Minnesota at San Antonio. The Pistons are just 1-5 this season against the Nets and Pacers, but none of those games involved Rasheed Wallace. Wolves-Spurs, meanwhile, is always special ... provided Tim Duncan is healthy enough to play. Of course, given how Minny has been sliding lately, perhaps the visitors won't mind if TD sits out for precautionary health reasons.
ESPN has its own doubleheader: Boston at Dallas in the Antoine Walker Bowl -- assuming the out-of-favor 'Toine gets to make more than a cameo -- followed by Houston at Golden State in what must be a shock to the Warriors' system ... two national TV games in one week. There are other goodies as well, with Sacramento visiting Indiana in a potential NBA Finals preview, and New Jersey traveling to New York in what we selfishly hope is a first-round preview. L.A.'s two teams complete their home-and-home, with the Clips serving as the away team this time, while Denver goes to Detroit in what's sure to be an interesting scene: Carmelo Anthony making his lone Motown appearance of the season, where many of the locals still wish the Pistons had drafted him over Darko Milicic.
As is typical at this stage of the season, Saturday is merely a warmup: Philadelphia at Miami in a matinee and Indiana at Memphis are the best options. Sunday then delivers Mavericks at Nets on ABC, Houston at Sacramento on ESPN and at least three other matchups involving playoff contenders/hopefuls: Denver at Minnesota, Detroit at Cleveland, Toronto at New Orleans and Milwaukee at L.A. Lakers.
James Posey and Gary Payton
Gary Payton, right, and the Lakers could meet Memphis in the first round.

If you can allow for some shamelessly biased rooting from the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings committee (of one), you might want to join in our nightly prayers for two first-round matchups that would be irresistible theatre.

We think.

Nets vs. Knicks in Round 1 is a showdown you already know we've been pining for.

The other one?

Lakers vs. Grizzlies.

For a few hours late last week, Jerry West's two teams were lined up to meet in the opening round of the playoffs. Only Memphis' first loss in eight games, in Houston on Saturday night, dropped the Grizz back to No. 6 in the Western Conference, with the Lakers still planted at No. 4.

No worries, though. Sixth in the West might be good enough for our purposes if the Lakers can climb to No. 3. Even if the Lakers wind up at No. 4, who's going to bet against Jerry's and Hubie's kids finishing above Dallas and meeting up with the four future Hall of Famers in a 4 vs. 5 series?

The Grizz, under Hubie Brown, are on a stunning 51-win pace. That's the same Grizz that had never won more than 23 games in a season before Jerry and Hubie arrived. The committee isn't backing the Grizz to win a first-round series on their first try, but they're still certainly capable of getting to 50 wins and finding themselves matched with The Logo's beloved Lakers in the franchise's first-ever trip to the playoffs.

Which is where the drama comes in. West couldn't even bear to be in the building when the Lakers he rebuilt -- by acquiring Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in the same summer of 1996 -- were winning their first of three consecutive championships in 2000. Imagine West's torment should L.A. and Memphis wind up in the same series. Given his affections for Shaq and Kobe to this day, West could well opt to leave the country as soon as that series starts.

This and other playoff-themed wishes and observations will be addressed in my weekly chat Monday at 5 p.m. ... along with the mea culpas we're expecting from Indianapolis, where the Pacer People angry about their club's inability to dislodge Sacramento from the top spot in the Power Rankings had to have been hushed by Sunday's loss in Cleveland.

Team of the Week

Cleveland Cavaliers. It takes something special to top Detroit's run of five straight games holding the opposition under 70 points, plus the Rockets' recent surge. So what does Cleveland do? LeBron James and his gang delivered with two road wins and then a narrow victory at home Sunday over Indiana, denying the Pacers what would have been a league-best 50th victory. Paul Silas might be joining the conversation late, but he has to figure in the running for Coach of the Year now, after a run of six consecutive victories that has seemingly transformed the Cavs into the lock among the six teams vying for the last three playoff spots in the East.

Male of the Week

Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire. Actually, if any team should have bumped the Cavs from Team O' Week status, it's Portland. The Blazers sandwiched two victories over Minnesota around a home success over top-ranked Sacramento, and Stoudamire was a significant factor in each of the victories. He had 28 points in a home win over Minny, 20 points in the Sacramento game for team-high scoring honors again, and then a near triple-double (17 points, eight assists and six rebounds) in Sunday's win at Minny. All after submitting to a random drug test -- and incurring the wrath of his union -- when challenged by a Portland reporter to clear his name. A manly week, indeed.

E-Mail of the Week

    With the Celtics winning lately, Danny Ainge must feel like the owner from the movie "Major League." I just hope the players don't have a life-size cardboard cutout of Ainge in the locker room, where they remove a piece of his clothing each time they win.
    Kris Schroder
    New York, N.Y.

STEIN: It's been a while since we got one of these ... an analogy the committee would have liked to claim as its own. Good stuff, Kris. The Celts really do seem to be trying to spite their lottery-minded boss with every victory they post these days.

LeBron James
Speak of the Week

"I want to know what else I can't do so I can work it."
 Cleveland's LeBron James, whose Cavaliers are 9-0 in the past nine games he has scored at least 20 points, jabs reporters for saying over and over that his jumper wasn't NBA-ready.

Line of the Week

Wednesday, March 10, Washington at Orlando
Player Min FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A Off Reb Ast Stl Blk TO PF Pts
Gilbert Arenas 44 15-33 2-5 8-10 2 4 3 2 0 4 4 40
The committee felt sorry for Washington's Arenas, who scored 40 points while Tracy McGrady was scoring 62 points Wednesday and didn't even make his way into the evening's TV highlights. So here it is ... the most ignored 40-point showing of the season.

Stat of the Week

Only five times in the past 40 years have two players scored at least 60 and 40 points in the game. But you have to go back to 1962 for the last time it happened before McGrady and Arenas combined forces on Wednesday, and you can't even have this discussion without Wilt Chamberlain.

    3/2004		Tracy McGrady 62, Gilbert Arenas 42
    12/1962		Wilt Chamberlain 63, Elgin Baylor 51
    11/1962		Wilt Chamberlain 61, Oscar Robertson 40
    11/1962		Wilt Chamberlain 72, Jerry West 49
    2/1962		Wilt Chamberlian 65, Bob Pettit 49

Stat of the Weak

We could have focused on the fact that T-Mac missed 10 of his last 11 shots and six of his final 14 free throws, costing him a chance to get well into the 70s, but instead we'll be positive and point out that his 62-point effort exceeded the output of four teams this season. That's right: Four times this season, an NBA team has failed to score as many points as McGrady lit up the Wiz for.

    61	Timberwolves, 10/31/2003 at New Jersey
    60	Nuggets, 11/04/2003 at Indiana
    60	Raptors, 11/07/2003 at Washington
    56	Raptors, 11/01/2003 at Minnesota

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics