The Memphis Grizzlies do not have the luxury of simply easing in to the end of a unique 2020-2021 season. There are a variety of reasons for that - while the pandemic is nearing its end, it still is very much a constant in the minds of not just players who get tested daily, but the nation. The COVID-19 virus cost Memphis earlier in this season, forcing them to sit out for almost two weeks and leading them to the schedule they are facing to close out this campaign. 10 games are left for the Grizzlies, and they will be played over the span of 16 days. Only the Spurs (who dealt with their own COVID issues) have a similar situation to combat...and the depth of Memphis will be tested because of this reality.
The good news? Of these next 10 games, only three are against teams currently in the play-in hunt in either conference. The best remaining team on the Grizzlies schedule is either the Knicks or the Mavericks. A season-ending match-up with the Warriors - quite possibly for the 8 seed - looms large, but at least before then Memphis has games with the likes of Detroit, Sacramento, and other squads who will be more interested in development and the NBA Draft than putting their best foot forward to slow the playoff march of the Grizzlies. Say Memphis goes 1-2 against the Warriors/Knicks/Mavericks, and 5-2 against the 7 lesser squads remaining (including tonight’s opponent, the 75-point-scoring Orlando Magic). 6-4 almost certainly keeps the Grizzlies in the 8 seed, and in a strong position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Memphis isn’t good enough to take any game for granted - we were reminded of that in the first half of last night’s 92-75 win. They must attack each game, including this one, with not just consistent execution but consistent energy. The team has to walk the line of integrating the likes of Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. while also ensuring competing at as high of a level as possible. It’s a challenge - this season’s eventual success isn’t the long-term focus of the franchise. If it was, Justise would not be playing right now. But those that have been part of the season almost the entire way - Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas - must take ownership of these moments. Ja must score more early. Kyle and Dillon must be forces on both ends on a nightly basis. Jonas must be such a contributor on the glass and in the paint that any predictability from his defensive limitations will not matter. Thankfully, these four are all more than capable. But this is their season. The perception of the front office is meaningless, because they cannot control it. They can control how they approach each of these final 10 games.
It’s going to be a rough first half of this month. But it can be a great one for the Grizzlies...if they are willing to put in the effort and energy to do so.
WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (32-30, 18-13 away) vs. Orlando Magic (19-44, 10-23 home)
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: Amway Center in Orlando, Florida
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (Questionable, hand)
ORLANDO: Terrence Ross (Doubtful, back), Chuma Okeke (Out, ankle), Devin Cannady (Out, foot), Michael Carter-Williams (Out, ankle), Otto Porter (Out, foot), Markelle Fultz (Out, knee), Jonathan Isaac (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
ORLANDO: Cole Anthony, Dwayne Bacon, Gary Harris, James Ennis III, Wendell Carter Jr.
Memphis should be motivated to perform better from the start of this game than they did last night. Orlando may have the likes of Chuma Okeke back in the fold, but it likely will not matter. With Jaren Jackson Jr. getting meaningful run again, the Grizzlies will have too many weapons to throw at the Magic for them to compete.
Memphis 111, Orlando 101