With five or six games remaining for all 30 NBA franchises in the 2015-16 regular season, there isn’t a lot that needs to be decided before the playoffs begin. We all know who the MVP will be, many of the playoff seeds are nearly set in stone, and several teams are already preparing for the NBA draft. The last week or so of the season often lacks intrigue, excitement, and any sort of meaning. At least, that’s the case for most of the remaining matchups.
However, a few key games before the end of the season on April 13 do hold plenty of significance, whether it’s because of playoff seeding or historical implications. While we count down the days until the true season begins, these contests provide plenty of reason to pay attention to the end of the regular season. Here are the five most important games over the next several days, listed in chronological order.
1. Houston vs. Dallas, April 6
On the surface, a late-season matchup between the 2015-16 versions of the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks may not appear to hold any importance. Both teams have struggled this season, floating around the .500 mark for the majority of the season and experiencing plenty of drama throughout the campaign.
However, this game could determine who the Golden State Warriors compete against in the first round of the playoffs. The Mavs and Rockets will come into this one separated by just one game in the Western Conference standings, with Dallas currently sitting in seventh and Houston in ninth.
The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs (a race that also includes the Utah Jazz), and the loser could see their season end without a postseason appearance, which would be a rarity for both clubs. Of course, it’s unlikely that the season will go past one playoff series for either team, but that doesn’t remove the significance of an in-state battle for a playoff spot.
2. Golden State vs. San Antonio, April 10
A regular season game between clubs that will likely reach the Western Conference Finals couldn’t have more riding on it than this one between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. These two powerhouse teams have been the clear classes of the NBA this season and in their first two meetings, each side won on their own home floor.
This one — in San Antonio — will be their fourth and final meeting before the playoffs (they also play at Golden State on April 7) and history will be at stake for both teams. If the Warriors win the next three games, they will have tied the NBA record for wins in a season at 72 and would be looking to break the mark on the Spurs’ court in this matchup.
As for San Antonio, they are chasing the first ever undefeated regular season at home, as this is one of two games they have remaining on their home floor (we’ll get to the other one shortly). While both teams are essentially locked in at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the West, this final regular-season matchup could serve as a precursor of things to come in a potentially epic conference finals series.
3. Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio, April 12
Two of the best teams in the league meet up on the second-to-last day of the season? Sounds intriguing. Add in the fact that San Antonio will be (potentially) hoping to wrap up a perfect season at home and this one becomes even more significant. Oh, and then there’s the high potential that the Thunder and Spurs will meet up in the Western Conference semifinals. Even though everything in terms of the playoffs will be locked down by the time this game rolls around, there’s plenty of reason to get excited about this matchup.
Oklahoma City will want to put on a good show against a San Antonio team they’ve actually beat two out of three times this season (both wins in OKC, of course). If they can come out on top in this one, it will do wonders for their confidence heading into the playoffs. However, the Spurs will do whatever it takes to protect their home court and make NBA history.
4. Miami vs. Boston, April 13
The race for the Eastern Conference’s third seed is the tightest race in the league, as four teams are separated by just half a game with only a handful of matchups remaining. The significance of earning that spot is two-fold.
First, it provides a guarantee that you’ll avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals, making the path to the conference finals much easier. Also, earning the three-seed gives you home-court advantage in round one. For the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, this game on the last day of the regular season could go a long way in determining who lands that elusive spot.
Miami is 0-2 against Boston this season, so they will obviously need to play better to win this game. The Celtics are surging after beating Golden State on the road, surfacing as a trendy pick to reach the conference finals. Whatever happens in this game, the two sides could somehow wind up meeting in the first round of the playoffs, making this game all the more important.
5. Memphis vs. Golden State, April 13
If the Warriors are unable to beat the Spurs on the road in their second-to-last game of the regular season (a likely occurrence), this season finale at home against the Memphis Grizzlies could become the most significant regular-season finale in a long time.
Golden State could be sitting at 72 wins entering this game, meaning they would need to win in order to secure the new NBA record they’ve chased all season long. Even though the game will have little importance for the playoffs, the Warriors will do whatever it takes to win this one, especially in front of their home crowd.
After falling to the Celtics last week, Golden State is unlikely to lose a second game at home, but if the Grizzlies want to prove that they are more than just a mediocre playoff team in the Western Conference, ending the Warriors’ historical pursuit would do it (however, Memphis is currently on a six-game losing streak, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to win this game).