It has always been a battle to enter the playoffs in the West. For years the conference has been hyper-competitive, containing some of the NBA’s most powerful dynasties of the last decade. Eight teams in the Wild West with a shot at a title. For several teams looking for a coveted spot in the playoffs, the stakes are even higher. The restart has shifted the layout of the league yet again with brand new schedules. Let the race begin.
The Memphis Grizzles currently hold the eighth seed in the West before the restart. Their record is a solid 32-33 and they are 3.5 games ahead of their nearest competitors. But the little breathing room they have now may or may not be enough of a cushion.
The Grizzles’ Schedule*
7/31 Memphis @ Portland 1:00 PM
8/2 Memphis vs. San Antonio 1:00 PM
8/3 Memphis @ New Orleans 3:30 PM
8/5 Memphis @ Utah 11:30 AM
8/7 Memphis vs. Oklahoma City 1:00 PM
8/9 Memphis @ Toronto 11:00 AM
8/11 Memphis vs. Celtics 3:30 PM
8/13 Memphis vs. Bucks TBD
*all times are PST
The Grizzles have the 6th toughest schedule of the restart as they are set to face five teams that have already made the playoffs in their eight game seeding round.
Their new schedule comes in two parts. The first three games are major for the Grizzles. The Blazers and Pelicans are tied for the ninth spot in the west. The Spurs are 12th in the west, but they are only 4 games behind the Grizzles. Those three games are huge for Memphis to cement some separation between them and their other competitors.
Both Portland and the New Orleans serve as major threats to the security Memphis’ potential playoff appearance. Portland regained both Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic who recovered during the shutdown. The Blazers also possess one of the strongest backcourt duos in the league.
The Pelicans are the arguably the largest threat to the Grizzles. New Orleans has the easiest schedule in the restart among the twenty-two teams in the bubble. Zion Williamson, while he wasn’t previously injured before the shutdown, is now removed from his last injury by nearly 6 months. The load management for Zion will likely be less severe.
The second half of the schedule contains several tough competitors. The defending champion Toronto Raptors, the Utah Jazz, the Milwaukee Bucks lead by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Boston Celtics, and OKC. Each of these teams has locked a playoff spot and they make up the tail end of the seeding games.
The Grizzles have very little room to be rusty in their first few matchups which are arguably the most winnable. The Grizzles are in a unique situation where three things could potentially happen:
- They get into the Playoffs without a play-in game. If Memphis wants to get into the playoffs without a play-in game they need to win at least six of their games plain and simple. At that pace there is no way that any of the other teams in search of a playoff appearance could surpass the gap, even if said teams win more than six games.
- They have a play in tournament for the eighth seed. In a case where Memphis wins three games at the very least, they have still guaranteed themselves a play-in game (as of now they are three and a half games up for reference). The rules of the restart state that if the team in the eight seed in four games or fewer ahead of the ninth seed and play-in “tournament” will be held. This tournament is a best-of-two series in which the ninth seed has to win both games to take the eighth seed.
- They fall out of the Playoff picture altogether. A lot has to go wrong for the Grizzles to get to this point, but it could happen. If they lose too many games, other teams could take the eighth and ninth seed and kick the Grizzles out of competition.
What Do The Grizzles Bring To The Table?
It’s time to finally talk about the team itself. Underneath all of the press and hype for Zion Williamson for Rookie of the Year, sits point guard Ja Morant. The rookie has been averaging 17.6 PPG and 6.9 APG on the season. Physically, Ja also has a clean bill of health after having a minor arthroscopic procedure done to his knee and gaining 12 pounds of muscle over the break.
“My knee’s feeling way better — no pain,” the point guard stated over a press call. “I actually feel like I’m leaving the floor easier and jumping higher. I’ve just been taking this time to focus on my body, make sure everything’s feeling good, so when I go out and play, I’ll be fine.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. is another major factor in Memphis’ success going forward. In his sophomore season, Jackson Jr. has averaged nearly 17 PPG and 5 RPG. Jaren has also shot 39.7% from the three point line as a 6’11” power forward.
The Grizzles have the most to lose in the race for the 8th seed, but they also have the most potential control over their own destiny. With only three wins, they can put themselves in a favorable position to secure a playoff berth. Their first game is on Friday, July 31st against the Portland Trailblazers.