In Part 1 of this trilogy, I ignored the words of my boss and posted the most biased scenario for the Memphis Grizzlies. (Kidding, it was merely coincidental that the most logical scenario is also the most beneficial for Memphis).
The following scenario could prove to be the most detrimental for the young Grizzlies and their hopes for a playoff berth. But lets remember, at least from a fan perspective, playoffs were never the goal this season. Don’t say that to the players, though - Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. want no part of losing as they have led this team to a playoff seed thus far.
Here are the current Western Conference standings from 8 to 12:
The Phoenix Suns are in the 13th spot, six games behind Memphis. While Monty Williams is a great coach, that team is not ready to overcome a deficit like that in 17 games. That leaves 5 teams presumably fighting for the last spot over the remainder of the season. So here is a breakdown of what each team would face:
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: 17 games remaining, 3.5 game lead, #1 strength of schedule in conference. 2 games against Portland, 2 games against New Orleans, 1 game vs San Antonio
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: 16 games remaining, 3.5 games back, 3rd easiest remaining schedule, 2 games against Memphis
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: 18 games remaining, 3.5 games back, easiest remaining schedule, 2 against Memphis, 2 against Sacramento, 3 against San Antonio
SACRAMENTO KINGS: 18 games remaining, 3.5 games back, 6th easiest schedule remaining, 2 against New Orleans, 2 against San Antonio
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 19 games remaining, 4 games back, 4th easiest remaining schedule, 3 against New Orleans, 2 against Sacramento, 1 against Memphis
This layout is daunting for Ja and company to be able to hang onto their spot in the playoffs. The Blazers have a very easy schedule on top of rostering Damian Lillard, who has proven he can carry a team when needed. Portland was struggling down the stretch but they have the experience that Memphis lacks.
New Orleans is intriguing because they have a relatively easy schedule and would have more time to integrate a healthier Zion Williamson into their system. If Memphis were to drop one or both of their matchups against New Orleans, things would be looking real bleak, real quick.
Luke Walton was starting to figure things out with his Kings team as they were winners of 7 of their last 10 games before the league suspended play. While still a young team themselves, there are some vets on that roster with enough playoff experience that should make Grizz fans sweat just a little, especially with no chance to beat them head to head. Their schedule is the hardest of the teams fighting for Memphis’ spot, but they are a potential problem.
The Spurs only have the greatest coach in NBA history at the helm, so to count them out only four games back would be utterly foolish. Pop has no interest in being in the lottery or going through a rebuild. He has two All-Star veterans and cast of young guys that have enough to over come a four game deficit with a little help from other teams. They do have the most games remaining and an easy schedule on top of that, with one game against the Grizz. They lost to Memphis on January 10, but they smacked the crap out of the Grizzlies behind an other-worldly effort from LaMarcus Aldridge on Dec. 23 (the only game I have attended this season, go figure).
Memphis would all but secure their spot were they to go 5-0 in their remaining games against teams vying for their position in the standings. The scariest part is that the Grizzlies only have 6 games against teams not currently in the playoffs in either conference, the one other is the New York Knicks. Therefore, the Grizz would need to handle business against the teams below them in the standings, plus upset a few teams or catch them on nights where they are resting their guys for the playoffs, although that may be less likely since there has been two months of rest already.
The problem is travel. If the NBA returns to one location only, then the league could play out the remaining portion of the schedule in an AAU style. Games would start as early as 10 am and play all day for a month, so July would be dedicated to finishing out the season in Vegas or Orlando. Playoffs would then start in August and be wrapped up at the end of September or first week of October, allowing for the full 7 game series but without travel days factored in. There would be two months of offseason and a new season in December.
If the NBA was set on using two locations, the probability of finish out the final 15-19 games for teams plummets. You would have to find the least common denominator between all teams and remaining conference matchups, then decide to play those out, or play until every team reaches, say 72 game record for the sake of the ping pong balls.
The truth is that Memphis may not hold in this scenario. The cards are stacked against them, but they have already surpassed all expectations thus far. If I were forced to predict what would happen I believe that either Portland or New Orleans would pass Memphis for the final spot simply because of the youth of both the players and coach for the Grizz compared to those two teams.