The current standings have the Grizzlies 1 1/2 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets and 3 1/2 games behind the LA Clippers, and in the 4th spot. The All-Star break is a good time to look at the rest of the season.
What are the positives for the Grizzlies? First, if you look at the strength of schedule (SOS) for the rest of the season and for each month (see table below) you will see that the Grizzlies have one of the weakest schedules left of the top 8 teams in the Western Conference. (More on this below.) Second, and related to the first, you will see that the Grizzlies play the fewest number of teams with a winning record, except for Houston and the same as the Clippers.
Third, the Grizzlies have only one more loss than the Clippers. Why is that important? You can’t gain on a team’s number of losses unless they lose. The Clippers have played 5 more games than the Grizzlies and have 26 games left to the Grizzlies 31. For the Grizzlies to overtake the Clippers and move into 3rd they would have to win all 5 of these games plus two more than the Clippers. The Clippers will more than likely be the Pacific Division winners and that is the first tie breaker when teams have the same record even when they are not in the same division. I think that it is unlikely that the Grizzlies will win 7 more games than the Clippers over the remaining games.
The Grizzlies have 3 fewer loses than the Nuggets and have played 3 fewer games than the Nuggets. The Nuggets have to play 14 teams with a winning record. Of greater importance is that the two have played 3 games, with one more to play on March 15 at Denver. If the Grizzlies win that, their head-to-head is a tie (the second tiebreaker) then it goes to best Conference won-lost percentage. Presently the Nuggets have a better conference record even if the Grizzlies win the 3 less games they have played than Denver. But, if Grizzlies lose 2 less than the Nuggets for the rest of the season, they will have the better record.
February’s remaining games make it the easiest schedule remaining. The only team with an over .450 record is the Brooklyn Nets at .585. March and April will be difficult. In March the Grizzlies play 11 games on the road, including a stretch of 4 away games in 5 nights, March 12th at POR, 13th at LAC and 15th at DEN, 16th at Utah. (Nothing but rough and it could be a back-breaker as all 4 teams are in the playoff push, with Portland currently in 9th position.) April will not be easier as the Grizzlies play 4 of the 9 games against teams with a +500 record, they being the Spurs, @Rockets, Clippers and Jazz and 5 of the 9 games are on the road.
The team with the hardest remaining schedule would seem to be Utah and then Oklahoma City. The Clippers do have a hard remaining February and the March schedule, but their April schedule is easy. Denver’s hardest schedule comes in March followed by April.
I don’t think that the Spurs will slip from 1st place. they have a relatively average schedule, playing the most home games (17) except for Golden State (18). April will be the toughest month left for the Spurs play 9 games, 5 away and 5 with teams with winning records. It seems that the Thunder are locked into 2nd place with 29 games left to play and 17 teams with winning records.
My prediction is that the final standings in the West will be:
1. San Antonio Spurs 65-17
2. Oklahoma City Thunder 63-19
3. LA Clippers 59-23
4. Memphis Grizzlies 57-25
5. Denver Nuggets 56-26
6. Utah Jazz 51-31
7. Golden State Warriors 50-32
8. Houston Rockers 46-36