The Grizzlies are stumbling to the finish line of the 2016-2017 season.
They are losers of 4 straight after Monday night’s ugly performance against the Kings. The hopes of the last few weeks of the season have been that the Grizzlies hit their stride and go on a hot streak that would result in them climbing the standings and, best-case scenario, get slotted in that 4 vs. 5 seed match-up in the first round. However, the Grizzlies have not had that hot streak, and instead sit firmly in the 7 seed, 2 and 1⁄2 games back from the Thunder for the 6th seed (3 and 1⁄2 behind the Clippers for the 5th). With 8 games left, including a match-up against the Thunder, a return to winning could see the Grizzlies rise in the standings...
But is it worth it?
The Grizzlies might be able to jump ahead of OKC and grab the 6th seed, but the Thunder have an easy schedule the remainder of the season and will be difficult to catch. I think that’s a good thing. One of the main components of the Grizzlies’ struggles since the All-Star Break has been transition defense, giving up nearly 17 fast break points since the calendar flipped over to March. If the Grizzlies allow Darren Collison and the Kings to score 18 fast break points like they did Monday night, what do you think will happen if the Grizzlies have to face the Rockets in a first round series? Unless Coach Fizdale has something up his sleeve, the result wouldn’t be pretty.
The Rockets are firmly planted as the 3rd seed, so they have the option to rest their players over their last 9 games. Houston has been very outspoken about their disagreement with the “DNP-Rest” phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean Mike D’Antoni won’t limit the minutes for guys like James Harden and Eric Gordon. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies will have to fight like hell if they want to earn the 6th seed. If they accomplish this, they’ll have to play a 40 year old Vince Carter, a 35 year old Tony Allen, and a 35 year old Zach Randolph heavy minutes down the stretch.
How much would they have left in the tank for a playoff series? How much energy would Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have left after they’ve already carried this team for 74 games? Would pushing Marc these next 8 games turn that foot strain into something more serious? How much longer can Conley play 35+ minutes a night without fatigue becoming a major factor? These are some very important questions the Grizzlies must answer before they make a run for the 6th seed (or higher).
That is exactly why I think a matchup against the Spurs would be the best realistic scenario for this team. Yes, I know the Spurs just annihilated the Cavaliers by 29 points. Yes, the Spurs are a different monster in the playoffs. But the Grizzlies actually match up well against the Spurs. The Spurs have been very dependent on Kawhi Leonard this season, and the Grizzlies have done a decent job of keeping him in check in the two matchups he’s played in this season. If the Grizzlies can slow down Kawhi’s offensive game, they stand a chance.
Going into tonight’s match-up with the Warriors (who are on the second night of a back-to-back), the Spurs are only 2 and 1⁄2 games behind the Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference. Maybe the Spurs try and make a run at the Warriors and don’t rest their stars like they’ve done in years past. If they fail in catching the Warriors, the Grizzlies could be matching up with a tired Spurs team.
Even if the Spurs catch the Warriors, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either. The Warriors will likely be reinserting Kevin Durant into the lineup come playoff time and it will probably take him some time to get back into the rhythm of things after being out over a month with a left knee injury. This could mess up the chemistry the Warriors have and give the Grizzlies a chance at the upset.
The Grizzlies have played both the Spurs and Warriors well this season, when healthy. The best way to ensure the team is healthy going into the playoffs is resting players. I think the older Memphis players, as well as Conley and Gasol, should each get at least a game off before the playoffs start. In the games they do play, Fizdale should monitor their minutes. Playing Mike and Marc 35+ minutes a game is counter-productive at this point.
The Grizzlies face an uphill battle no matter who they play in the first round, so it’s time to stop worrying about seeding and potential playoff match-ups. The time is now to rest up and get ready for the upcoming war that is the NBA playoffs. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but there’s not a team in the league that I don’t think a healthy, rested & motivated Grizzlies team can’t beat.
Get ready Grizz nation, the playoffs are near.