www.crunch.comCrunch Time: Hawks and Grizzlies Prevail; Nail Down Final Playoff Spots

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

It’s money time in the NBA.

Time when all of the hard work pays off. Time when legacies are made. Time when dreams are realized, or shattered.

The NBA Playoffs begin Saturday, and come late June, only one franchise will order championship rings.

The teams that will vie for the Eastern Conference and Western Conference titles are set.

Atlanta wrapped up the last playoff spot in the East, ending the hopes of Knicks’ fans. For the first time in his 11-year NBA career, Carmelo Anthony won’t be playing in the postseason.

The Memphis Grizzlies edged out the Phoenix Suns for the final spot in the West. At 47-34, Phoenix would be the No. 5 seed in the East. Yes, the West was that good this season.

Miami and Indiana are the Eastern Conference heavyweights, but there are signs of cracks in the Heat’s armor. The Pacers edged the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the East.

That means if the two teams meet in the championship series and it goes to a decisive Game 7, the Pacers will have the home-court advantage.

Miami had that edge last season and blasted the Pacers, 99-76, in AmericanAirlines Arena to advance to the Finals.

Of course, there are six other teams in the East that want to ruin the forgone assumption that Miami and Indiana are the only championship-caliber teams in the conference.

No team is more of an intriguing story than the Brooklyn Nets, who can wrap up the No. 5 seed with a win over the Knicks Tuesday night in Barclays Center.

By adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in a blockbuster trade last summer, the Nets believe they have the experience, toughness and talent to make a run.

The Nets went 4-0 against the Heat this season. Since LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to Miami, no team has been able to accomplish that feat.

The games with the Heat have been riveting, but the last meeting stands out.

Rookie Mason Plumlee came up huge in crunch time, blocking a LeBron James’ dunk attempt with two seconds left. The Nets scored an 88-87 win, planting a seed in the Heat’s head.

The Nets, however, are 0-4 against the Pacers. All four losses have followed a similar script, with the Pacers winning the third quarter.

The last meeting on Feb. 1 in Indianapolis was the only one in which the Nets had mastered their “small ball” style. The Pacers held on for a 97-96 win but the Nets forced 24 turnovers leading to 36 points.

Chicago, arguably the toughest and most physical team in the NBA, also believes it can come out of the East. The Bulls and Toronto Raptors, the Atlantic Division champs, were going down to the wire for the third and fourth seeds.

The West? Go figure.

San Antonio has the No. 1 seed. But the Rockets, who edged San Antonio, 104-98, on Monday, served notice that they are a dangerous No. 4 seed.

Want to see a terrific first-round series? How about Houston (54-27) vs. Portland (53-28).

Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant, is a talented No. 2 seed. The third-seeded Clippers boast the dynamic duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

You’ve seen many of the players that will be in the postseason deliver at crunch time. But now it’s money time in the NBA.

Nets Central

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