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Path to the Playoffs: An Improbable Tale

It’s real.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Twitter is fun. Twitter is also scary.

There are always two sides to any debate, and the current debate for Grizzlies Twitter is not too different than last year’s: To convey the pick to Boston or lose for a shot at Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball.

The right answer is to finish with a record that would convey and if the lottery goes your way again, then you roll with it, any other answer is just flat wrong.

The curveball in all of this is the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies are on the fringe of the Western Conference playoffs as they near the halfway mark of the season. That’s right the


Who would’ve “thunk” it? Not me, not you, not Vegas and probably not even the front office. But good luck telling this young team any different. Good luck trying to convince these young bulls they don't belong or they are ahead of schedule. The Grizzlies continue to improve and they are winning games they are not supposed to.

Time on the court matters. The more the rotation settles and the team continues to learn Coach Taylor Jenkins’ system, the Grizzlies will only improve, not regress. If Jaren Jackson Jr. continues to be a 20 point per game threat and stay out of foul trouble, the ceiling will continue to raise.

Memphis went an impressive 8-8 in the month of December, playing the most games of any team in the NBA in that month. They are also 7-5 since Ja Morant returned from his back injury; toss out a couple of huge blown leads and you are looking at possibly being 10-2 since his return and an 18-19 record overall — good for a 2.5 game cushion in the 8th spot.

But for the Grizzlies to make the improbable probable, there are few things that must happen.

The West

There are seven teams in the Western Conference that have winning records, six of those teams are pushing for the playoffs. That seventh is the OKC Thunder. They are rumored to be actively shopping Chris Paul and Steven Adams. Even though they have these veterans, the Thunder are very much in rebuild mode and the focus is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Amongst the eight teams with losing records, the Portland TrailBlazers and San Antonio Spurs are the only two teams that would be legitimate threats to a playoff push. It does not make much sense why the Blazers are struggling. The loss of Jusuf Nurkic would be first thought, but Hassan Whiteside has been a monster. The Carmelo Anthony effect is a real thing, the dude is not a winning player, and the Blazers have not gotten better by adding him.

The Spurs are in the thick of if because Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach of all time. The question for San Antonio is whether or not the decide to move on from their two stars and start building around the young guys.

First and foremost, the only path to the playoffs for the Memphis Grizzlies is for San Antonio and/or Portland to continue to be bad and/or OKC decides to blow it up.

If San Antonio and/or Portland figure things out, the playoff idea is dead.

Schedule Scouting

The eight seed in the West last season was the Los Angeles Clippers who had 48 wins. The current win projection to claim that seed in the West this season is 35 wins. The last time a Western Conference team had a losing record and was in the playoffs was 1996-97 when the Los Angeles Clippers finished 36-46.

For the Grizzlies to get to a .500 record, they would need to finish the season with a 26-19 record. The 7-5 stretch that Memphis is on since Ja’s return, if maintained, would lead them to a 27-18 record in the final 45 games of the season, good for a 42-40 overall. So how probable is this?

January: The Grizzlies have a 6 game home stand that began last night against the Timberwolves without KAT, it is possible the Grizzlies could go 5-1 on this stand, with the one loss coming against Houston. Following the home stand Memphis would do well to split the next four, but 1-3 is more likely. Memphis could sweep the road trip at the end of the month between New York and New Orleans, but we will leave it at a split, 1-1. Best case for the month of January is 7-5, which is right on track.

February: The schedule turns a little harder as Memphis has six games against current playoff teams. If Memphis were to jump up and win a couple of those, the law of averages says they will surely drop a couple they should not in that stretch. The month of love will be none too lovely for Memphis, with a probable 4-7 record.

March: The schedule does not ease up in March with 15 games, 10 against current playoff teams. Memphis will need to win every game against non-playoff teams and then steal a few from the likes of San Antonio and Toronto just to get 7 wins in the month. Sadly, the most likely outcome for this month is 5-10.

April: The month of April features 7 games, 5 against playoff teams, 1 against Portland who may be fighting for a playoff spot. Grizz may win 3 games this month, as they play New York and other teams may begin resting guys for the playoffs. Best case for April is 3-4.

If this were to hold, Memphis would finish with a 19-26 record over the stretch and 34-48 overall, which would most likely leave them on the outside looking in, quite possibly as a 10 seed.

The Price of Pursuit

The Grizzlies front office should do nothing to try and chase the playoffs this year. There should never be a conversation about keeping any of the guys that are not a part of the long-term plan, for the sake of a playoff push this year, just to get swept by the Lakers.

This is why Twitter is scary. The cries to keep Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill are running rampant. Under no circumstance do you keep both of them due to the slim chance of making the playoffs because the West is down as a whole. If offers come for either of them, you ship them out, because you won't be bringing them back next season.

If the Grizzlies were to make the playoffs, it should resemble that of the Clippers from last season. Making moves to set up the future, while the guys you have play hard and find themselves in a winning position.

Jae Crowder is not essential to the success of the Memphis Grizzlies. They went 8-8 in December while he was atrocious. The top 7 scorers in the current 7-5 stretch do not include Jae Crowder. Sure he had one game that was incredible, but you could find a player in a return deal capable of giving you a sporadic good performance.

The point is this: If the Grizzlies find themselves in the playoffs this year because their young guys are really good, that’s great, but the front office should do nothing in an attempt to chase that. This is still about the future.