Earlier in the week we talked about eight key things to look for in the Memphis Grizzlies 2016-2017 schedule before the All-Star Break. You can check that article out here. The MLK Day situation and key home stands were discussed, as was Chandler Parsons’ return to Dallas.
After Memphis returns from the All-Star Break, they will play 24 games in 47 days. The intensity of the grind for these Grizzlies will only pick up as they will surely have an eye on hosting a playoff series, or perhaps even two (if the team’s key players stay healthy). Or, maybe (hopefully not) the Grizzlies will just be fighting to make the postseason (if health is not on their side once again).
What will make or break the playoff push of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2017? Here are three key pieces to their post All-Star games.
San Antonio Blues
The Grizzlies will face the San Antonio Spurs three times in their 24 games after the All-Star Game, including twice in five days between March 18th and March 23rd. Even with the retirement of Tim Duncan, the Spurs are seen as the second best team in the Western Conference heading into next season due to their new young core of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Replacing Duncan with Pau Gasol and his defensive inefficiencies though, alongside another-year-older versions of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili doesn’t make you think that the Spurs will be the same defensive machine that they’ve been in the past. Whatever the post-Duncan Spurs look like will be clear by the time the Grizzlies enter these games, and perhaps with a little luck and a little health they can be more competitive than they’ve been in the past.
San Antonio making up 1/8th of the Grizzlies’ post All-Star schedule does mean that, whoever they are, they will have a direct say in Memphis’ postseason positioning as the season closes.
Bad News on Back to Backs
Memphis has four sets of back to back games heading into the 2016-2017 season’s final stretch. Sadly, that’s the good news (maybe there could be more). The bad news? They’re against either teams that Memphis has struggled with in the past, or teams who are very, very good, and seven of the eight games are on the road.
That is a tough lineup. Even the games that should be theoretically “easier”, like Sacramento and Chicago, possibly depending on how Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fit alongside Jimmy Butler, are challenging for various reasons.
These eight games make up a third of Memphis’ post All-Star Break slate of games. They have to find a way to split these games, going 4-4, if they hope to not lose ground in the playoff picture.
Thankfully, there are places where they can gain ground if they can pull off the .500 run in their back to backs.
A Little Home Cooking
The unique thing about all of those away game pairings above is they always are followed by a home game. In fact, there’s only one longer road trip after the All-Star Break, a four game swing:
The last two games should look familiar, as they are part of the back to backs referenced above. A tough way to end a road trip.
However, to even this out a bit, the Grizzlies have not one, but TWO four-game home stands once play resumes after the All-Star Game:
Not a single back to back. And while there are some formidable opponents in these stretches, there’s no Golden State, no Cleveland, and no San Antonio. No clear cut, dominating, almost guaranteed loss in the lot.
A 7-1 run in these eight games would definitely cancel out a 4-4 run of those crazy back to backs, meaning the Grizzlies would hypothetically go 11-5 over two-thirds of their post All-Star schedule. Find a way to pick off a New Orleans here, an Indiana or LA Lakers there, and you’re feeling pretty good about your chances with regard to playoff positioning.
The time will come for record projections. This is not that time - as the offseason moves along, I and other writers here at GBB will be twisting and turning these games, looking up stats and breaking down film, trying to make an educated guess as best we can as to how these Memphis Grizzlies will attack and adapt to this schedule.
The funny part, of course, is it’s all truly still up in the air. There are teams who “on paper” look to be playoff teams who for one reason or another won’t be - let’s hope that isn’t the case in Memphis. On the other hand, there are games that “on paper” look like they should be easy wins that won’t be. That is part of the fun of sports - on any given day, anyone can win, or lose.
But by weighing historical trends (the Spurs success), considering rest time (back to backs), and analyzing potential stretches of success (home stands), we can dream and look ahead to what may lie ahead on the journey that will be the 2016-2017 regular season for the Memphis Grizzlies.
One thing is for sure - while the first half of the season is a marathon, the second half is a dead sprint for the finish line.