The NBA is back!!
More importantly, the Memphis Grizzlies are back in action. The schedule is out, and now we know what our beloved Grizzlies have to overcome to either clinch a 4-game lead and the 8 seed, or win a play-in game for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
7/31 vs Portland Trailblazers:
8/02 vs San Antonio
8/03 vs New Orleans
These three games are grouped together for one reason: This is the defining stretch for Memphis. The Grizzlies need to go 2-1 in the first three games to have any hope of avoiding a play in. All three teams are chasing Memphis for the eight seed, so each game is crucial.
The ideal 2-1 scenario would have Memphis beating both Portland and New Orleans, but 2-1 is a massive start regardless. The Grizz will start play with basically a must win against a Portland team that played in the Western Conference Finals last season. The Trail Blazers have a brutal seeding game schedule and a head-to-head win over them could be enough on it’s own. This game is also extremely important because Memphis will want momentum heading into their tough schedule, starting with a loss as a young team could be devastating.
The match up against the Spurs, a LaMarcus Aldridge-less Spurs, should be a win, and it may be the most winnable game on the schedule. This is a game the young Grizzlies cannot afford to drop. Ideally, Memphis would put the game away early, rest the starters for the second game of a back-to-back against New Orleans. Don’t expect San Antonio to lay down and quit with the best coach in the league, unless the franchise decides to use this time to develop and evaluate their young guys.
The marquee matchup of maybe the entire league during these seeding games happens on August 3rd. Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans square off against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. One team features the Rookie of the Year as a playoff team, while the other team wants those claims. Of all eight games on the schedule, this is the biggest must-win of them all. The Pels have the easiest schedule in Orlando — as they fairly should — and the Grizz cannot afford to drop this one.
8/05 vs Utah Jazz
8/07 vs Oklahoma City Thunder
These two games are sandwiched between the must-win games and the wild card games. With home court out of play, both Utah and OKC will be jockeying for a more ideal matchup rather than specifically being a higher seed. Either team could fall between the third and sixth seed with potential matchups against each other, Houston, or Denver. OKC could slip to seven and face the Clippers, which they will fight to avoid.
These are two very winnable games for the Grizzlies. During the regular season Memphis was 1-2 against Utah, but I offer one caveat: this was early in the season while the team was still finding their footing and learning Taylor Jenkins’ system. They were 1-1 against the Thunder during the regular season, suggesting that this game is up for grabs.
If Memphis can split, they would set themselves up for possibly a favorable stretch run to clinch the eight seed.
8/09 vs Toronto Raptors
8/11 vs Boston Celtics
8/13 Milwaukee Bucks
The Wild Card games. Many in Memphis media geeked out when the schedule was released, and the top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference where the final three games for the Grizzlies and here’s why:
Home. Court. Does. Not. Matter.
Eight games in less than three weeks is quite a run after a 3-month hiatus. The Bucks, from the jump, have nothing to play for, so early on they will look to get their flow back. There is a great chance Memphis will miss their A-team for the majority of that game, if not altogether. Unless something crazy happens, Toronto and Boston are pretty settled in on the opposite side of the bracket than the Bucks — however, the Philadelphia 76ers have a cake walk of a schedule and could make a push for that third seed.
Memphis fans will get to watch Marc Gasol suit up against his former team for the first time. Unfortunately, we still do not know when it is he will actually return to Memphis. Boston is an early favorite to have the best record during the seeding games, but will they have any incentive come August 11?
The math is simple. Memphis is in the play-in game as long as they win three games. They most likely secure the playoffs sans play-in with six wins. The seeding games are going to be a crapshoot. Neutral floors, old legs having to restart, and no fans all will play a factor in these contacts.
The unexpected has happened all season long, and the narrative in Orlando ...
Anything is possible.