The season has not gone as planned for the Memphis Grizzlies. After a hot start to the season, the Grizzlies have cooled off and are one of the worst teams in the league, partially due to injury.
The topic a majority of the season has been about the competitiveness of all the tanking teams this season. At one point earlier in 2018, 7 teams were within 2 games of having the #1 odds in the lottery on May 15th. Things have spread out more over the last couple of months, with the Grizzlies firmly in the bottom five, currently with the second best odds in the lottery. The 2018 NBA Draft is stacked, but draft experts have a pretty clear top tier of Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton with Marvin Bagley III not far behind them. Personally, I believe after those 3 there is a decent size drop off in talent so it would behoove the Grizzlies to lock in a top 3 pick in the draft.
Similar to McCarty Maxwell’s Power Tankings last week, I’m going to take a look at the schedules of the Grizzlies and their main competition for a top-3 pick so everyone knows the key games to watch down the stretch of the Great Tank Race of 2018. For reference, here is the tankathon rankings at the conclusion of last night’s games. (Except for SAS-LAL because I got tired and couldn’t stay up all night)
Memphis Grizzlies (21-57)
Remaining Schedule: Vs. SAC, Vs. DET, @ MIN, @ OKC
The Grizzlies hurt their tanking odds last week with back-to-back wins over the Timberwolves and Trailblazers. Thankfully, other tanking teams have won some unexpected games since then. The biggest game remaining on the schedule for the Grizzlies is Friday night when Zach Randolph and the Kings come to town. The Kings are well below the Grizzlies in the rankings, but could still play spoiler since they aren’t very good and are competing to get in the top 5 of the draft lottery.
Detroit will likely be eliminated from playoff contention by the time they play the Grizzlies, but they are still a superior team even without the extra motive to win or lose. The game is winnable for the Grizzlies, but also unlikely considering the talent gap. Nonetheless, I’m a little worried about that one.
Minnesota and OKC should blow Memphis out to wrap up the season. Sure, the Grizzlies beat the Wolves last week, but that was the worst effort I’ve seen from the Wolves all season. Both Minny and OKC will be competing for their spot in the playoffs, so both teams should come out well motivated and ready to take advantage of the Grizzlies matchup. The biggest question mark remaining for the Grizzlies is the status of Tyreke Evans. He’s been out for over a week dealing with personal matters and if he returns, the chances of a Grizzlies win increases.
Phoenix Suns (20-59)
Remaining Schedule: Vs. NOP, Vs. GSW, @ DAL
The Suns are playing a dangerous game with their tanking strategy. After nearly defeating the Rockets last Friday and narrowly losing to the Warriors on Sunday, the Suns finally broke through and defeated the Kings on Tuesday giving Grizzlies fans slight hope at grabbing the #1 lottery odds. However, their remaining schedule makes them a near lock for the #1 odds. The Suns will face off against a Pelicans squad fighting for a playoff spot and positioning in the crowded western conference.
The Warriors have the 2-seed in the playoffs locked up, but will likely be near full strength against the Suns as the team tries to get healthy and back into rhythm for the playoffs. That game is only winnable if the Warriors rest their stars instead of getting them back into game shape. The game against Dallas to end the season is the big one for the Grizzlies, no matter the result.
A Suns loss would definitely clinch the #1 odds for Phoenix (assuming they lose the first two games) but it would also add a W to Dallas’ total which would create separation between them and Memphis. A Suns win (and Grizzlies losing out) would give the Grizzlies a coin flip chance at landing the #1 odds in the lottery.
Atlanta Hawks (22-57)
Remaining Schedule: @ WAS, @ BOS, Vs. PHI
The Hawks remaining schedule is pretty cut and dry. It’s arguably the most difficult schedule of the remaining tanking teams. Washington has been disappointing this season with John Wall dealing with injuries, but they’ll be fighting for playoff positioning and getting John Wall in a groove. Boston has been hit hard by the injury bug late this season but Brad Stevens is too good of a coach to lose to a Hawks team actively trying to lose.
Throw in the fact Boston could be fighting for home-court in the Eastern Conference and that’s a non-winnable game for the Hawks. Philadelphia is weaker in theory without Embiid but they too are much more talented than the Hawks. The 76ers will be fighting for playoff positioning in the 3-6 seed range, so they definitely won’t be coasting into the playoffs.
Simply put, the Hawks won’t win a game the rest of the season, which means the Grizzlies have to be careful.
Dallas Mavericks (24-55)
Remaining Schedule: @ DET, @ PHI, Vs. PHX
The Mavericks are in an interesting spot to finish up the season. It’s unlikely they land a top 3 spot in the lottery considering the competition below them, but they’ll still be tanking for a top 5 pick. Like previously mentioned with the Grizzlies, Detroit is a winnable game but unlikely. Philadelphia will still be fighting for playoff positioning so that’s a near lock at a loss for Dallas. The Phoenix game is the big one, no matter what, in relation to the Grizzlies.
A Dallas loss likely locks up top 3 or 4 lottery odds for the Grizzlies, while a Phoenix loss gives the Grizzlies a chance at a coin flip for the #1 odds. This game might as well be the biggest non-Grizzly game remaining on the schedule.
Orlando Magic (24-54)
Remaining Schedule: Vs. CHA, @ TOR, @ MIL, Vs. WAS
Similar to the Hawks, the Magic don’t have any remaining games that have major tanking implications. The games against the Hornets is winnable, but not likely. Toronto, Milwaukee and Washington will be fighting for playoff positioning and should be able to handle the Magic. If Toronto clinches home-court prior to the Magic game, they could theoretically rest some players for the playoffs, but even then the Raptors depth should be deep enough to beat the Magic who will have some “injuries” flare up should the Raptors rest some players. It’s likely the Magic are stuck on 23 wins on the season.
Sacramento Kings (25-54): @ MEM, @ SAS, Vs. HOU
Brooklyn Nets (25-53): @ MIL, @ CHI, Vs. CHI, Vs. BOS
New York Knicks (27-51): Vs. MIA, Vs. MIL, Vs. CLE, @ CLE
Chicago Bulls (27-51): @ BOS, Vs. BKN, @ BKN, Vs. DET
The remaining NBA teams (25+ wins) figure to not be much of a threat to the Grizzlies getting top 3 lottery odds but are at least worth mentioning. The Kings can directly affect the Grizzlies odds if they can lose on Friday. With their remaining games against Western Conference playoff teams, their other games will likely be losses. The Nets pick is being conveyed to the Cavs so they have no incentive to lose. With two matchups against the tanking Bulls, the Bulls could take advantage and lose out to try and sneak into the top 5 lottery odds with their other two games loseable as well.
The Knicks will be competing with those teams in the tankathon as well, considering it’s unlikely they can win any of their remaining 4 games unless one of the teams competing for playoff positioning rests their players.
Frankly, the Grizzlies need to lose every game the rest of the season to lock in top 2 lottery odds. Just one win could tie them with the Hawks in the rankings, which would cause a coin-toss to determine both teams lottery odds. Top 2 odds are crucial because that means the Grizzlies cannot drop lower than 5th in the draft. As previously mentioned, the Grizzlies would benefit greatly from a top-3 pick and ending up at least 2nd in the tankathon standings would give the Grizzlies the best chance at getting a franchise altering talent. The Grizzlies cannot afford to get fancy and win some games they aren’t supposed to at this point in the season.
It was nice and a morale boost for the Grizzlies to sneak some wins out last week but the front office needs to ensure the Grizzlies do their best to not screw up their tank job. They’ve done a marvelous job this season tanking on the fly with multiple double-digit losing streaks. However, all it takes is just a couple of wins down the stretch to ruin a season's worth of agony and defeat. It’s time for the Grizzlies to finish the Great Tank Race of 2018 strong with one more extended losing streak.