The Memphis Grizzlies find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground in the late stages of a playoff race, and that task is especially difficult with three of their remaining five opponents all playing for something in terms of the postseason.
They may be thankful that this final stretch begins at home.
The Grizzlies look to win a 12th straight at FedEx Forum on Wednesday night when they face the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.
Memphis’ run at home has allowed it to stay within striking distance of the West’s final postseason spot, but it has dropped four of six overall after Sunday’s 112-92 loss to San Antonio.
The Grizzlies (45-32) are in ninth place in the conference, one game back of Phoenix. After this contest, they’ll play also-rans Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers before facing the Suns and seventh-place Dallas to end the regular season.
Memphis, which ranks third in the league in scoring defense allowing 94.4 points per game, has given up at least 100 in each of its last four defeats. It is 5-20 when opponents reach the century mark.
"We’ve had to work very hard to get back to where we are right now, to even be in this position," said Mike Conley, who scored 18 points against the Spurs. "It’s the end of the year. Everybody’s legs are tired. You’re going to hit that wall here and there. We have to fight through it just like every other team."
The Grizzlies seemed to show signs of fatigue against San Antonio, as Zach Randolph finished with eight points and six rebounds while Marc Gasol scored six points. They’ll look for a better performance against a Miami team that holds a one-half game edge on Indiana for home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs.
The Heat (53-24) had won five of six before Tuesday’s matchup with Brooklyn, but LeBron James’ dunk attempt in the final seconds was blocked by Mason Plumlee in an 88-87 loss.
James, who finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, thought he was fouled on the final play.
”He grabbed my right hand,” James said. ”He didn’t do it on purpose, but he got my right hand.”
Miami will play three of its next four on the road. It had dropped six of its previous seven away from home before winning its last two.
"Every single one of these games, however you want to slice it, however you get to that point, there are plays to be made in the fourth quarter," coach Eric Spoelstra said. "And for whatever reason, they made more plays.”
The Heat once again were short-handed – Dwyane Wade missed his seventh straight game with a nagging hamstring injury, Udonis Haslem sat out with a stomach virus and Greg Oden nursed a back injury.
Miami dropped to 17-9 without Wade, who is day to day. Spoelstra said Wade made a strong effort to play Tuesday, but he and the trainers decided he should sit out as a precaution.
Randolph had 25 points and 14 rebounds against Miami on March 21, but the Heat finished the game on a 14-2 run to beat the Grizzlies 91-86 at home.
Miami, though, has dropped four of the last five meetings in Memphis.