We typically aren't ones to play the scoreboard game here at SoV, but with the Grizzlies off for three straight days, it gave us a chance to sit back and keep an eye on the San Antonio Spurs, who entered last night's game against the Nuggets with a 4-game lead over us for first place in the division. Now, with the Nuggets knocking off San Antonio, 99-94, we sit three games out of first place and have more of a reason to feel good about making a run for the division lead.
Sure, there are still 29 games left in this shortened season, but as we know, after the All-Star Break is generally when NBA fans start to put things into perspective. Prior to the ASB you give your team a little space, start to say things like, "there's still time" and "we're just getting used to playing together," etc. In the post-ASB era, there are no more excuses. To use an awkward, oft-used sports cliche, your team is who they are. With a few exceptions...
We've taken a step back a few times over the past month-plus to almost take inventory on this team, and we've probably dropped the phrase "when Zach Randolph returns..." 100 times over the past... week, maybe? But, really, we know what this team is -- a strong defensive team with an offensive system that just works for us, who is missing our best offensive post-player and who lacks extra help in stretching the floor. From here on out, we can start to focus our attention on, naturally, winning and team execution, but also on playing catch up.
Over the next five games we're on the road three times and then home for two -- let's just look at it in a compact way, extending the schedule to five games. We face three winnable road games against the Warriors, Suns and Nuggets. Granted, the Nuggets took down the Spurs last night and have now won three straight, but they're still a team without their leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, their best big, Nene, and who are coming off a month where they went 5-10.
We then head home to face the Lakers and the Raptors. The Lakers always give us fits, because they can match us inside, but we get the upper-hand in this instance because, well, they have to come to our house. As for the Raptors, well, this is a game that playoff teams win. Simply put.
For the Spurs, they play four of their next five at home, but the schedule isn't too kind to them. They face a rejuvenated Knicks team, the Clippers, the Wizards (ugh), the Magic and then they play in Oklahoma City. Can we make up three games over the next five? It's not likely. But what if we pulled to within one game? Heck, even two games, without Z-Bo, sounds pretty good to me.
In this condensed season it's probably best to now break the schedule down into blocks, starting with the next five games. Especially now that we have a bit of a breather (not playing again until Wednesday). And if we take the next five games and put them up against what the first-place Spurs have to contend with, there's certainly reason to feel optimistic about winning the division. And right now, considering what we've gone through this season, that's gotta give you reason to smile. At least a little bit!