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The Clippers and Grizzlies have a lot to lose for

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Two weeks ago today, Matt posed an interesting question: what circumstances would ever prompt a team purposefully lose?

If you recall, the impetus behind the question was a a blog entry by Mark Cuban posing a hypothetical scenario regarding the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Well, Cuban's hypothetical has played out exactly as described, and the NBA is now faced with a situation where both the Clips and Grizz will be motivated to lose one or both of their final two games, including a head-to-head matchup between the two teams tonight. To recap the situation out West:

As we all know, the Division winners are automatically given the top three seeds in the Conference, regardless of record.

1. San Antonio (62-19)
2. Phoenix (53-28)
3. Denver (44-37)

After those three seeds, the remaining playoff eligible teams are slotted according to their overall record.

4. Dallas (60-21)
5. Memphis (47-33)
6. LA Clippers (46-34)
7. LA Lakers (44-37)
8. Sacramento (43-38)

So, as Cuban prophesized, the currently fifth- and sixth-seeded Grizzlies and Clippers (respectively) both are now guaranteed to finish with a better record than the Nuggets (the third seed by virtue of their winning the Northwest Division). But both will also finish with a worse record than the fourth seeded Mavs.I'm sure when Cuban originally posted this scenario, he was hoping the Spurs would be in the four slot. But alas, the Spurs clinched the Southwest Division title last night, meaning the fourth seed officially belongs to the Mavs. So the potential first round matchups are:

3. Denver (44-37) v. 6. Memphis (47-33) or LA Clippers (46-34)
4. Dallas (60-21) v. 5. Memphis (47-33) or LA Clippers (46-34)

Now in addition to (kindof) determining the playoff seeding, overall record is also used to determine home-court advantage within each individual playoff series. So, in this situation, the team that wins their way into the fifth seed will surrender home court advantage to the 60-win Mavs. The team that loses enough -- and finishes with the sixth seed -- will be rewarded with home court advantage over the Nuggets due to a superior overall record. Under no circumstances could you concoct a scenario where the former would be better matchup for either the Grizzlies or Clippers. And, thus, the controversy.

In addition (and just to complicate matters fully), should the Clippers win tonight to even up the season series between the two teams -- and if the teams were to finish with the same overall record -- according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal the tie-breakers for overall record would be:

1) better winning percentage within own conference. 2) better winning percentage against playoff opponents in own conference. 3) better winning percentage against playoff opponents in opposite conference. 4) better point differential between offense and defense.

Still with me? Is your head spinning a bit? Well, try playing under the stress of these equations. The Clippers are clearly of two minds about the situation, as evidenced by today's LA Times:

"We've got to be sixth to have the home court, and we'd like to have the home court, so then we need to finish sixth. It's that simple," co-captain Sam Cassell said. "You could say that isn't right, but life isn't right, and this is how the minds of the NBA made it with this alignment."

"Well, I know I'm going out to give optimum effort," [Elton] Brand said. "That's the only way I know how to play, and nothing is going to change that. Yeah, we know we have home-court [advantage] against Denver, but you still have to play hard."

Godfather Stern and the NBA have publicly recognized that the system may need some tweaking, and the issue is slated to be addressed this summer when the league's Competition Commmittee meets.

But regardless how this issue is resolved in the future, tonight's Clips v. Grizz matchup should be much fun for fans of unforced errors and feigned effort, and even moreso for the NBA conspiracy theorists out there.

NBA Playoff Seeding...what if [Blog Maverick]
Griz-Clippers matchup shows formula's twists [Memphis Commercial Appeal]
A No-Win situation? [Los Angeles Times]

Also on Detroit Bad Boys:
Question: Why would a team lose on purpose?