Curry, Hollinger, Bledsoe and more around the league react to accomplishments and failures as season winds down

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Marc GasolAfter a season-long battle to see who would end up with the eighth and final seed of the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies proved to be the winner of the coveted position – relatively speaking – on Monday after beating the Phoenix Suns 97-91.

Unlike teams in the East, where some barely over .500 or even under it made it into the playoffs, the Suns will go home early despite an impressive 47-34 record – good enough to be the fifth best team in the East. They overcame many odds to get to this point, but none bigger than a whopping 40 games missed from Eric Bledsoe. In all likelihood, another team would be on the outside looking in had the speedy guard not been out for so long. The same can arguably be said of the Grizzlies, who had to play without their defensive anchor Marc Gasol for 23 games.

At least Memphis is healthy going into the playoffs, which is a luxury that the Golden State Warriors, who clinched the sixth seed after beating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, suddenly don’t have after learning of Andrew Bogut’s devastating rib injury.

Nowitzki, Conley, Dragic, Stoudemire key for NBA Teams Chasing Final Playoff Spots

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With one week left in the NBA regular season, the pressure is on for two Eastern Conference teams and four Western Conference teams fighting for the final playoff spots. Millions will intently watch what transpires over the next seven days as teams face must-win games, and the effort and intensity pick up.

Each of these half-dozen teams have a player who will greatly impact the fate of their clubs the rest of the way.

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SH Blog: The tale of Antetokounmpo, Noah wants Melo to join Bulls

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Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo has truly come a long way to be where he is right now: a wide-eyed, just-turned 19-year-old kid who is learning the ropes of being an NBA player in his first season.

He came from a poor background – so poor that he actually shared a pair of sneakers with his brother whenever he had to play basketball. He is a fun character and has shown flashes of brilliance so far, so when you read about the road taken to be the person he is today, it makes him that much more likable. Amos Barshad of Grantland has a very, very detailed story on how he picked up on the game of basketball and what made him nearly give it up:

It starts in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Greece was transformed by a wave of immigrants — including Giannis’s parents, who left their native Nigeria and had four sons in their adopted country. Velliniatis had played pro ball in Germany before he began pinging around Europe as a “have clipboard, will travel” type of coach. He saw Greece’s changing demographics as a way to help others (and perhaps boost his own career). He began scouring Athens’s new immigrant communities, seeking transformative basketball talent. And for a decade, he failed.“My personal life was going to nothing, my basketball career was not successful, and I said to myself, ‘I will not have big goals in life anymore,’” he tells me over the phone from Greece. He hadn’t played in the NBA; he hadn’t become a big-time coach. Then, a week after he had decided to give up: “I see Giannis.”It wasn’t one of his regular scouting trips; he was just walking through the neighborhood of Sepolia to visit a friend. This is not happening to me! This is not possible!, he said he thought when he spotted the 13-year-old Giannis. “You are chasing for 10 years immigrant kids to play basketball for a mediocre level, and suddenly you have in front of you Julius Erving! Magic Johnson! Michael Jordan!” Never mind that Giannis wasn’t actually playing basketball when Velliniatis first saw him. He was just running around with his brothers. But Velliniatis knew.

“It was mostly like a blackmail,” Velliniatis says, explaining how he convinced Giannis to hoop. “I told him, if I find work for your parents” — their work papers had long expired — “will you play basketball for me?” Then he took Giannis and his brothers to Filathlitikos, a smaller club where he hoped they would get more personal attention. He talked the club into providing a 500-euro monthly stipend — without Giannis ever touching a ball.

For the first few years, it was tenuous. “Many times the kid stopped,” Velliniatis says. “He was going and working, selling little things in marketplaces. I had to go back to the family and drag Giannis back to basketball.” The family had no money; at times, Giannis could go two or three days without eating. The fear of hunger was always a concern, Velliniatis says. “You could see it in the hardness of the kid.” Meanwhile, as Antetokounmpo recalls, “I get taller and taller and taller.”

It’s a long article (fine Grantland articles usually are), but it’s an intriguing story worth reading.

JOAKIM NOAH TELLS MELO TO JOIN CHICAGO:

JoakimNoahSH1Can you imagine Carmelo Anthony playing alongside the kind of gritty defense the Chicago Bulls have? Joakim Noah can, and according to Chris Broussard of ESPN, the two All Stars had a meaningful conversation about teaming up next season in Chicago during All-Star weekend last month:

All-Star Convo btwn @carmeloanthony & @JoakimNoah began as discussion on what it’s like to play for Tom Thibodeau. With rumors about Bulls going 4 Melo as well as Thibs coaching NYK, Melo wanted to know about Thibs. From there, convo turned to Noah telling Melo he should join Bulls if he wants to win ring & secure winning legacy. Melo responded to Noah that he admires how hard Bulls play & how hungry they are. Also told him his son’s favorite player is D-Rose. I’m told D-Rose would love for Melo to join Bulls as well. If Bulls ask Rose to help recruit, he will. Sources add tho that it’ll be hard for Melo to turn down the $ and leave NYK.

Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony, Taj Gibson and Noah. That sounds scary for the rest of the league and ideal for Anthony if all he wants to do is win. The upcoming summer should be a very intriguing one.

CLIP OF THE DAY: 

Paul George is widely recognized as a great two-way player around the league, but sometimes, even the simplest move can throw off a great defender. Case in point:

OTHER NEWS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:

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PODCAST: Why aren’t the Suns trying to take a bigger step?

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I went on the radio in Phoenix this morning and played party-pooper, because I don’t think qualifying for the playoffs is such a grand goal.

It is a nice goal, don’t get me wrong, especially for an overachieving team like the Suns. But the ultimate goal is to win a championship, and if the Phoenix Suns could have acquired Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers for the insurance-covered contract of Emeka Okafor, along with a first-round draft pick, they should have done it.

Gasol could have gotten them out of the first round, and maybe even further. And that is why columnist Chris Bernucca listed the Suns as one of the losers in his column looking at February free agency.

And again, the goal is to win a championship, not just to make the playoffs. After all, the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs last year, which has meant nothing to them this year. They have the worst record in the NBA.

Also, the Suns haven’t quite made it into the playoffs yet, and with the way the Memphis Grizzlies (currently ninth in the West) have been playing, you’d have to think Phoenix is the most likely team to get caught. That wouldn’t have been the case if Gasol was on their team.

More on the situation in Phoenix in this podcast with Brad Cesmat on Sports360az.com in Phoenix.

Find Additional Basketball Podcasts with Sheridan Hoops Radio on BlogTalkRadio

SH Blog: Nene to miss six weeks, Clippers interested in World Peace, Jamal Crawford wants to come off bench

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NeneNot unlike seasons of past, key players for many teams around the league have missed significant time due to a variety of injuries this season.

It looked as though Nene Hilario would suffer a similar fate – and then some – when he went down with a scary looking knee injury against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Some in the organization feared that it may have been bad enough to be season-ending.

Lucky for the Washington Wizards, the power forward suffered nothing more than a sprained ligament, from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports

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