The Grizzlies begin a slapstick and dangerous three-game road trip -- at Houston, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City -- tonight against the Rockets, a team vying for a little more of what Memphis currently has: Breathing room. It should be noted that "breathing room" is relative, and this year it simply means currently being in the playoff field. The Grizzlies, by virtue of that HUGE game-and-a-half lead over the Rockets as of now, are at the same time made men and easy targets for the teams closer than they appear in the rearview mirror.
In terms of Hollinger's Playoff Odds, the Grizzlies, at about 91 percent likely to qualify for the postseason, are actually sitting rather well -- ahead of the defending champion Mavericks-well, to be exact, while Houston sits as the odd team out right now at a 49 percent chance, compared to the eighth-seeded Nuggets' near-54 percent. As vast the distance seems between the Grizzlies' and Rockets' numbers, they also seemingly change with the tides; a three-game roadie, especially involving a game with a team that has always refused to bow out quietly of any postseason race, could mean a very different outlook if things aren't handled properly.
Because as the Western Conference -- and league in general -- should know by now, the Rockets, due to the way they squeeze every last drop out of the season, have greater than a sub-50 percent chance of making the playoffs. The most important thing is that they believe this. Goran Dragic has been a fun watch of late, and the addition of Marcus Camby inside helps the defense so Luis Scola can continue his work on offense. The Rockets, like many teams in the West, are capable and, should they make it, deserving of a playoff seed.
Few doubt that Memphis too belongs in the postseason. Marc Gasol should return to action tonight, meaning the Grizzlies are maybe-hopefully-possibly at close to full strength heading into a crucial period of the season. The Rockets are a formidable foe no matter what; they're all-the-more deadly now because a win for them means a direct hit to the Grizzlies, who while as of now are precariously penciled into the playoff bracket, are also knowing full well that the floor could drop out from under them at a moment's notice with a particularly rough stretch at the wrong time. And at this juncture in the season, any time would be the wrong time.
All it comes down to is playing the game next in line. Delving too deeply into the implications on the ever-changing standings ladder could result in over-thinking it. One of the best things about breathing room is the idea that it lets a team simply play unhinged, virtually free of the little mind games interrupting the instinctual flow of the game. The Grizzlies both strive to implement and succeed because of this way of playing. With every win they can get more comfortable, in turn further feeding their own beast.