Two teams that found themselves very interested in Wednesday's matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets will get a turn to take matters into their own hands when the Sacramento Kings visit the Memphis Grizzlies in the first of back-to-back games Thursday night. The game, and two-game set, have major implications for the Western Conference play-in tournament.
The Kings (31-38) remained alive in the West when the Spurs (33-36) were beaten 128-116 by the Nets.
Sacramento must sweep its two remaining games against Memphis and also Sunday's regular-season finale at home against Utah to have a chance to tie San Antonio for the 10th spot in the conference. The Spurs, who lost the season series to the Kings and thus would be left out of the playoffs should they finish in a tie, wrap up with games against New York on the road on Thursday and a pair against Phoenix at home on Saturday and Sunday.
The Grizzlies (36-33) also benefited from San Antonio's loss as it assured Memphis will finish no lower than ninth in the West.
The single goal now for Memphis is to finish ahead of Golden State (37-33) for the No. 8 seed, which likely will come down to their meeting in San Francisco in the regular-season finale on Sunday.
The Grizzlies and Kings have met just once this season, with Memphis riding seven double-figure scorers to a 124-110 victory at Sacramento on Valentine's Day. Jonas Valanciunas put up a 25-point, 13-rebound performance in that one.
Knowing it can afford to lose one of the two games against Sacramento and still have a shot at catching Golden State with a win Sunday, the Grizzlies plan on going into the NBA-style doubleheader with the same happy-go-lucky attitude that helped them thump Dallas 133-104 in a revenge game on Tuesday.
"When we're able to handle our business," Ja Morant noted afterward, "and do what we're supposed to do -- have fun and laugh -- it most likely always results in a win."
En route to clinching a spot in the play-in tournament, Memphis has won three in a row. Dillon Brooks (19.7), Valanciunas (19.0), Morant (16.0), Jaren Jackson Jr. (16.0) and Kyle Anderson (15.0) have averaged 15 or more points during the run.
Without a must-win incentive in the sequence opener, it's possible the Grizzlies will give Valanciunas a night off to rest his sore back. He sat out Tuesday's win, after which Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said he expected it to be no more than a one-game absence.
Or, with a back-to-back looming before the showdown with the Warriors on Sunday, Memphis also could opt to sit its star center on Friday, putting an emphasis on winning the set opener before giving Valanciunas a two-day break.
The Kings have no such luxury. Ever since a nine-game losing streak left them at 22-34 on April 15, they've been in desperation mode.
They've responded well to it, staying alive by going 9-4, including sweeping a similar back-to-back at home against Oklahoma City earlier this week.
"I'm really pleased with how our guys are continuing to fight," Kings coach Luke Walton gushed after Tuesday's win that completed the sweep. "It's all about building habits, building behaviors and being consistent with it. It's good to see as the season is coming down to the last games that we're doing it as a group."
With De'Aaron Fox (COVID-related), Harrison Barnes (strained adductor) and Marvin Bagley III (strained groin) all out of the lineup, Terence Davis led the way in the second win over the Thunder with 27 points.
He had 18 points in the sequence opener on Sunday.
--Field Level Media
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