Originally Published: April 16, 2014

1. Griz Win Desperate Struggle To Avoid Spurs

By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The battle for seventh place in the Western Conference went down to the wire, with five extra minutes needed to decide the fight between the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks.

Monta Ellis' wide-open 18-footer at the buzzer bounced off the back iron and off the rim, sending yellow and gold streamers down from the FedExForum ceiling and sentencing the Mavs to a first-round series against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

The grit-n-grind Grizzlies, who won 50 games despite stumbling out of the gates to start the season and missing center Marc Gasol for a couple of months, will open the playoffs in Oklahoma City after emerging with a 106-105 overtime win in a regular-season finale that felt like a Game 7. After the Thunder struggled down the stretch, splitting their last eight games of the regular season, a Memphis team that has the NBA's third-best record since the calendar flipped to 2014 might be a trendy upset pick.

Zach Randolph
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsZach Randolph was an immovable object who ensured the Griz won't have to face the Spurs yet.

The only people who pick the Mavs to upset the Spurs will be either on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's payroll or have blue paint on their faces.

"I don't think anybody is afraid of anybody," Cuban said about an hour before watching two teams desperately battle for the privilege of spending the weekend somewhere other than San Antonio.

The Mavs might not fear the Spurs, but it feels like forever since Dallas defeated its Interstate 35 rival.

Heck, Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets' head coach with a streak of gray in his beard, had a double-double for Dallas the last time the Mavs beat the Spurs. That was way back on St. Patrick's Day of 2012. There's nothing lucky about the Mavs being matched up in the first round with a foe that has nine straight wins over Dallas.

Now, the Mavs must fool themselves into believing they can win four games in a series against a 62-20 San Antonio team that has lost a grand total of five times since the All-Star break, including Wednesday's mail-in outing against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"The standings are 0-0," Ellis said, dismissing a question about how the Mavs could muster up any confidence against the Spurs.

The fact that 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki played 46 minutes, including every second of the fourth quarter and overtime, is overwhelming evidence of how important it was for the Mavs to seize the No. 7-seed and avoid the Spurs.

But the big German, who scored 30 points against the Grizzlies despite bruising his right knee in the first half, isn't about to wave the white flag before facing the Spurs in a playoff series for the sixth time in his career. Never mind the Mavs' nine-game losing streak to the Spurs.

"I think eventually we'll win one," said Nowitzki, who has twice emerged victorious after playoff series against the Spurs, including a classic 2006 Western Conference semifinals that ended with his 37-point, 15-rebound performance in a Game 7 overtime win in San Antonio. "So why wouldn't it be Game 1 or Game 2? We'll go down there and let it all rip in Game 1. We've got to compete like we did tonight.

"When we compete and we grind, I like our chances anywhere. We'll just let it all hang out. They're a great team. I mean, after the All-Star break, they've been rolling. They've been shooting the ball well. They're a very, very good team. They're definitely the favorites in this series. I think that's pretty obvious, but we're going in there to compete and see what happens."

As Cuban put it pregame, "Obviously San Antonio's got to be considered [the overall favorite], but it's still the Western Conference playoffs. Strange things happen all the time."

Like the Mavs, the Grizzlies didn't have any real tangible reasons to believe they could shock the Spurs in the first round.

Sure, Memphis pulled off an 8-over-1 upset of San Antonio in 2011. But the Grizzlies have lost 14 of 16 games against the Spurs since then, including sweeps in last season's Western Conference finals and this season's series.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, if they see the Spurs again this postseason, it means they've made it back to the conference finals. That's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for a 7-seed that has won a franchise-record 14 consecutive home games and is 37-15 since Jan. 1, a better record than every team in the league except for the Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.

"We have to take this momentum into playing Oklahoma City," Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said after putting up a 27-point, 14-rebound line against the Mavs. "Oklahoma City is a great team. We have had a lot of battles over the last couple of years. We are going to continue to battle."

This marks the third time in four seasons that Memphis has met Oklahoma City in the playoffs. The Thunder won the 2011 West semifinals in seven games. The Grizzlies beat an OKC team missing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook in five games during last season's West semis.

"They're a completely different team with Russell Westbrook than the team that we saw last year in the playoffs," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "It's going to be which style is more forceful. If we can play them slow, get them to play slow and in the mud as Zach always says, [it benefits the Grizzlies]. Or if they turn it into a racehorse game, that's going to be tough for us."

Keeping the Spurs from running wild in transition is one of the many problems the Mavs must figure out over the next few days.

"We'll be OK," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "I feel good about our team. I really do. Tonight is a good indication of the fight that we have in us. We're going to take that fight with us to San Antonio."

Davy Crockett might have said the same thing before heading to the Alamo. That's about how the Mavs' odds of escaping the first-round feel.

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