The 2016-2017 Memphis Grizzlies regular season opener is a whopping 72 days away. With the release of the schedule last week, however, there is now a glimpse into what awaits the Grizzlies once meaningful basketball finally returns to the friendly confines of FedExForum on October 26th. It’s a schedule that is kinder than last season in some areas, and not so friendly in others.
So what should we watch for once the ball finally starts bouncing in regular season games again? Here is Part I of sixteen thoughts on the 2016-2017 schedule, in honor of the sixteenth season for the Grizzlies in Memphis. We will focus on the pre-All-Star slate of games here in Part I.
16. The Grizzlies See Minny Early and Often.
Here is some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news is that the Memphis Grizzlies are 1-5 in opening night games since the dawn of this decade, commonly known in Memphis as the “Grit and Grind Era”. The good news? That one win came two seasons ago against the Minnesota Timberwolves at home in FedExForum.
Fast forward to the 2016 opener, and the Timberwolves will once again be the first opponent on Memphis’ schedule as the Grizzlies open their campaign at home. This is, of course, a completely different Timberwolves team however - Karl-Anthony Towns is already one of the best centers in the NBA, Tom Thibodeau has taken the reins of the organization, and the young core of players that Minnesota has is athletic, explosive, and very much on the rise in the Association and the Western Conference.
The Grizzlies don’t just play Minnesota on opening night. They in fact see the Timberwolves twice in their first four games, and three times in the first thirteen games. Multiple early matchups against a team like Minnesota could be good (adjusting to a new coach as an inexperienced roster) or bad (dealing with that level of length and athleticism that often early in your own schematic adjustment).
They are still inexperienced, and they’re not the Warriors or Cavaliers. But Minnesota will be a very early test of David Fizdale’s new-look schemes and just how healthy his roster is to open the season.
15. A Chance for a Fast Start
The first five games of the season are against non-playoff teams from the year before (Minny twice, the Knicks, the Pelicans, and the Wizards). This is not a guarantee that these games will be wins, of course - Memphis could struggle with Minnesota and New Orleans as they have in the past, and the Knicks are so different that it’s hard to know how they’ll compete compared to last season.
It is, however, much easier than what Memphis started last season with. No Cleveland or Golden State.
14. Chandler Parsons Returns to Dallas
On Friday, November 18th, the Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks will get it on. You will probably want to make sure you’re watching that game. Parsons surely will come in with a chip on his shoulder, and the potential Parsons/Harrison Barnes matchup has all the makings of a Grizzlies Twitter implosion.
13. Tough Eastern Conference Home and Home Sets
The Grizzlies only have two pairings of back to back games against the same opponent this season, and they both come before 2017 begins. Memphis takes on the Miami Heat (November 25th-26th) and Cleveland Cavaliers (December 13th-14th), and those are four games that the Grizzlies could possibly lose three of. Cleveland is the defending NBA champion, and while the Heat lost Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng, they’re still a threat because of their coaching staff and players like Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic. Plus, Coach Fizdale going against his old club will bear watching.
A split of these games would be a victory.
12. An Early Important Homestand
In December the Grizzlies have a stretch of four big home games:
In fact, Memphis will play seven of eight games in this run at FedExForum:
This is a massive stretch for Memphis. Games against weaker opponents, plus multiple home games against good to great competition at home, PLUS three straight games against the dominant Warriors and the Cavaliers. In these eight games, the Grizzlies should have a minimum goal of 5-3, with one of their wins coming against either the Cavs or Golden State.
Lofty? Perhaps. But “if healthy”, this team should be in their groove by this point, and they must use these two weeks of home cooking to pick up big wins against teams that they’ll probably be competing with for playoff seeding (Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers). Two wins over Philly and Sacramento (who should both be improved) and then going 3-3 in the other six contests should be doable.
A losing record in this stretch? A potential early disaster.
11. Have a Holly Jolly Winning Streak?
Every season features some sort of hot streak. Last season, the Grizzlies won four straight games twice and five games once, their longest winning streak of the season. Where could such streaks happen in the first half of the season?
There is potential here for a nice run of wins. The toughest game they play is arguably the second night of a back to back against Boston, but considering this is during a stretch of away games for the Grizzlies, it could be a chance at boosting their record over the holidays, especially considering there is only one back to back in this part of the schedule.
10. On the Other Hand...
Memphis’ longest road trip of the season happens before the All-Star Break, and it is a potential trap.
Six games, each of them their own monster. Whether it’s a massive back-to-back with an eye to playoff seeding with Utah and Portland, a game against the pesky-for-Memphis Phoenix Suns, or another back-to-back against Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder and the previously mentioned Minnesota Timberwolves, the “easiest” game on this trip is at mile-high elevation against the Nuggets.
They’re going to need a winning streak or two to offset what could potentially be a really rough road trip.
9. Thoughts on the MLK Day Game Situation
As others have stated, the fact that the Grizzlies are not part of the focus of the NBA’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate of games is pretty absurd. A primetime ESPN game the day before against the Chicago Bulls is not the same as playing on the actual day, as the Grizzlies have the past few seasons. If the NBA was serious about this event, the Grizzlies and the Atlanta Hawks would either be the main teams in a doubleheader against a big ticket team like the Warriors or Cavaliers, or Memphis and Atlanta would alternate home games year after year.
Instead, the NBA remains focused on ratings. They are a business of course, but sometimes things are a tad bit bigger than the bottom line. A 7:00 PM ET Hawks-Cavaliers and 9:30 PM ET Grizzlies-Warriors set could have gotten the biggest stars in the NBA on the primetime stage while allowing for the purpose of the event to shine through. Instead, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers will get those spots.
Thankfully, the Memphis Grizzlies are excellent at controlling what they can control. Regardless of national attention, the Grizzlies organization has done a tremendous job making MLK Jr. Day a major happening in Memphis. The MLK, Jr. Sports Legacy Symposium is a fantastic event and this year, with no game on the schedule, the Grizzlies will be participating in a day of service across the city of Memphis.
It isn’t about the national game coverage when it comes to this important day in Memphis. It’s about remembrance, and improving your community through discussion and action. The Grizzlies get this right each and every year.
Maybe eventually the NBA will catch up.
Stay Tuned for Part II later this week!