The Grizzlies are on a hot streak having won three successive games (all at home) and finally reaching .500 on the season. With just over 1/6th of the season complete, some fans have decided to start watching the standings to try to determine possible playoff opponents this May.
This is good news but, despite being .500 on the season after the tumultuous beginning to the season, it appears once again a .500 record won’t be good enough to get a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies currently sit in 9th place and the teams above them read like a who’s who of the NBA’s historic franchises.
Oklahoma City, formerly the Seattle Supersonics, sits atop the conference with an impressive 12-2 mark and a 9-2 record against the Western Conference (including two tight wins in Memphis). Following the Thunder are the Clippers, Spurs, Lakers, Jazz, Trailblazers, Nuggets and the defending World Champion Dallas Mavericks.
The top 10 playoff challenging teams in the conference with most home losses (2) are the Nuggets, Mavericks and Grizzlies. The Spurs are undefeated at home with an impressive 9-0 mark but they are also winless on the road (0-4). That is the worst record among the group.
The Lakers have played the most games so far (15) followed by the Hornets (14). Pulling up the rear in games played are the Clippers at a mere 10 games followed by the Grizzlies and Jazz at 12 games each.
So how are the Grizzlies going to pass, while still maintaining a lead of Houston, anyone in the West?
First the Grizzlies need to win their home games. Next they need to steal wins on the road against weaker teams. Finally the Grizzlies need to start beating teams ahead of them in the standings on their home court. The Grizzlies are 0-5 against teams currently in the Western Conference playoff picture including two losses at home. Wins over Chicago are nice but a win over a current Western Conference team would be better after all.
That makes the next 4 games so important for the Grizzlies. Simply looking at the standings it would appear the next four games should all be wins. The Hornets (3-10) have the worst record in the Western Conference. The Pistons (3-10) are among the worst in the East. The Kings (4-10) looked terrible in their earlier visit to FedEx Forum and the Warriors lost their starting center. The Warriors (4-8) just lost their starting center.
But playing on the road hasn’t been a strong point of the Grizzlies this season (1-4). They have had a tough schedule with the losses being the home opener against the Spurs, the home opener against Chicago and Jazz and Lakers (combined 29-2 home record by those four teams) and a win against the surprisingly tough Minnesota Timberwolves.
Still winning on the road is not easy in the NBA. Last season only 4 teams in the Western Conference (Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Thunder) had a winning road record for the season. The Grizzlies can’t get by winning 20% of their road games. In fact, the Grizzlies need to improve on last season’s 39% road mark (16-25) to make the playoffs this season.
Why you ask? The answer is simple. The Grizzlies play in arguably the toughest division in basketball challenged only by the Northwest Division. The abbreviated schedule means the Grizzlies don’t have an easy game within the division and division matchups are 4 games this season. Teams only play two other teams four times this season.
That leads into another difficulty. Of the two other teams the Grizzlies play four times this year, one is Oklahoma City who has the best record in the NBA so far. The other is one of the most improved teams in the league in Minnesota. It is doubtful any team has a more difficult group of teams to play 4 times this season.
Finally, the Grizzlies still aren’t at full strength. Zach Randolph is getting great reports on his recovery but that doesn’t mean he will be back in another 4 weeks, or six weeks for that matter. And once he does return there is no telling what type of shape he will be in or how the team will respond to his return.
And let’s not forget that an injury to Marc Gasol. Rudy Gay or Mike Conley could end the season for all practical purposes at any time.
So it is great to see the team back to .500 and playing like a team on the rise but it is important to remember who they have to pass on the journey and how they can’t afford to slip up now. So far the team hasn’t lost a game they should have won but a letdown in a shortened season is much more difficult to recover from as well.
Now is not the time to let one slip by.