And so ends the toughest stretch remaining for the Memphis Grizzlies. It was a humbling run against the elite of the National Basketball Association, three losses by an average of 19.7 points at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, and the reigning NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. Courtney Lee's struggles continued, the team seemed lifeless at times (especially in their two home games against the Cavaliers and Warriors), and the brass ring that is the NBA title seems further out of reach than it has at any point this season. That level of success, and level of play, perhaps, is not possible for these Grizzlies.
Because of this three-game losing skid, the Memphis Grizzlies are no longer in first place in the Southwest division. That belongs (for the time being) to the Houston Rockets.
|Seed||Team||Wins||Losses||Games Back||Games Left||Last 10||Net Rating (March)|
|1||Golden State Warriors-z||60||13||0||9||9 - 1||13.5|
|2||Houston Rockets-x||50||23||10||9||7 - 3||2.6|
|3||Memphis Grizzlies-x||50||24||10.5||8||5 - 5||-1|
|4||Portland Trail Blazers||47||25||12.5||10||5 - 5||2.3|
|5||LA Clippers-x||49||25||11.5||8||8 - 2||7.4|
|6||San Antonio Spurs||47||26||13||9||7 - 3||13.5|
|7||Dallas Mavericks||45||29||15.5||8||5 - 5||-4.4|
|8||Oklahoma City Thunder||42||32||18.5||8||7 - 3||0.3|
|--||New Orleans Pelicans||39||34||21||9||5 - 5||2.7|
|--||Phoenix Suns||38||36||22.5||8||5 - 5||-1.2|
Z- Clinched Home Court Advantage
X- Clinched Playoff Berth
(Ed note: #1 seed guarantees home court until NBA Finals, #2 seed guarantees home court for first two rounds -CF)
That is the bad news.
The good news? Despite being one of two current playoff teams with a negative net rating for March (hey, it could be worse, right Dallas Mavericks?), it could very well get better for the Grizzlies, and soon.
Memphis plays their next four games over the course of 10 days, with not one, but TWO three day lay-offs (March 31st-April 2nd and April 5th-April 7th.) While this stretch of free time may worry some (remember that long All-Star Break?), the best part about it is the Grizzlies will play all four of those games at home. After a 22-day span post All-Star break of playing in a different city in every game they played (i.e., no home stands at the FedExForum), Memphis will get to have an extended stay in the (We Don't) Bluff City. Hopefully this will help the Grizzlies rest up, heal up, and get a few good practices in to work out the kinks in offensive flow and defensive rotations.
As far as wrestling the 2 seed and division lead away from Houston again? It is still very much on the table. Compare Houston's final schedule to Memphis'-
Houston- @ Toronto, vs. Sacramento, @ Dallas, @ Oklahoma City, @ San Antonio, San Antonio, New Orleans, @ Charlotte, Utah
Memphis- vs. Sacramento, vs. Oklahoma City, vs. Washington, vs. New Orleans, @ Utah, @ LA Clippers, @ Golden State, Indiana
Five of Memphis' last eight are at home, whereas Houston has four of their last nine in their home arena. Houston still has four divisional games to play, including two against the San Antonio
Cyborgs Spurs, and seven of their nine games are against teams who will be continuing to compete for playoff seeding.
Meanwhile, Memphis will only see five teams still competing for spots and seeding in the NBA playoffs (Sacramento and Utah are out and Golden State will almost certainly be resting players in that second to last game of the regular season). Two of those games against the "playing out the slate" crowd will be on the road, making them plausibly, potentially, more winnable.
So, say the Grizzlies go 3-1 over these next four at home, then win two of the last three on the road, wrapping up the season with a win at home over the Indiana Pacers (who may be out of the playoffs at that point). That would make them 6-2 in their last eight, meaning a record of 56-26 to end the season. Houston would have to go 6-3 to tie the Grizzlies for the division. 5-4 or worse, and Houston is on the outside looking in at the two seed. Houston is currently 6-6 against the division, so 2-2 in those last four games is reasonable to predict. They then have to go 4-1 in the five other games. No pressure, Houston.
For Memphis' sake hopefully that does not occur and the Grizzlies achieve the two seed. It would most likely mean an easier road through the Western Conference...as easy as the playoffs can be in the West, at least. If the playoffs played out as the standings above indicate, the Grizzlies would see the Spurs in the first round, which is...not ideal. Even if Memphis found a way to survive and advance, a potential second round matchup with James Harden and Houston is a challenge, especially since the Rockets would have home court as division champs. Fall even further, to the four or five seed? Not only is a date with the Spurs in play, but a trip to Golden State to face the dominant Warriors awaits the "victor" of that series.
However, if the Grizzlies got the two? Dallas in the first round, much more preferable to the Spurs, and then home court against Houston or potentially the Spurs or LA Clippers. Say the Spurs keep winning (likely, because Spurs) and find their way to the five or four seed. That possibly pushes the Portland Trail Blazers or Clippers down to the six seed, meaning Memphis could avoid both Golden State AND San Antonio until a possible Western Conference Finals. This is the dream scenario; in the West, it's the Warriors, Spurs, and then everyone else right now (their matching 13.5 net ratings for March confirm that, as does the eye test of the past week). Stay away from them as long as you can, and take your chances in the NBA's "Final Four".
The road to the two seed and divisional crown has gotten tougher for the Memphis Grizzlies, without a doubt. The goal of a banner hanging in the FedExForum is still possible...and would be in Memphis' best interest. The two seed would mean another aligning of the Western stars for a playoff run for the ages in Memphis. If these current standings hold, and Memphis remains the three seed? A date with the Spurs and possible (likely?) elimination awaits.
For a team hoping to continue "Chasing Greater", that would most certainly be a problem.