1. Can the Grizzlies Make the Playoffs?
The NBA Playoffs are every team’s goal, and some have been trying for the better part of this decade to get there. Memphis’ rebuild has been absurdly quick; back in the postseason mix less than a year after dismantling Grit & Grind.
Obviously this year’s playoff chase brings a number of unique variables to the fray. A primary purpose of the NBA’s eight-game regular season finale will be to decide the West’s final playoff spot, which Memphis currently holds. The New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings are all nipping at the Grizzlies’ paws.
If the ninth seed finishes within four games of the eighth seed, they will unlock an experimental play-in series, a potential highlight of this adjusted format.
Four games seems like a pretty generous margin, and could be loosely interpreted as the NBA angling for a LeBron/Zion matchup in the first round. Be that as it may, Memphis has lots to unpack heading into the stretch run:
- Home court advantage is no longer a thing, which is great news for Memphis, who were sub-.500 on the road, and had two more away games than home games left.
- Likewise, Memphis had the toughest remaining schedule among West playoff teams. That disadvantage is now somewhat diluted, with the weakest opponents for other teams removed.
- The Grizzlies will get to incorporate Winslow. If actually healthy, he’ll at minimum give them another serviceable body, and possibly raise their ceiling noticeably.
- Memphis will welcome back Jaren Jackson Jr and Brandon Clarke, both of whom missed multiple weeks leading into COVID, when Memphis lost some of their playoff cushion.
While no official schedule has been announced, CBS Sports has posited that the NBA will make teams play the active opponents remaining on their original schedule, until eight games are reached. This would pit Memphis in a number of critical games; vs the Pelicans twice, Blazers and Spurs.
The remaining half of the Grizzlies’ games would be against the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. While Memphis has only one matchup with a truly elite team (Milwaukee), they also don’t get any freebies against the Phoenix Suns or lower-rung East teams.
Despite Memphis’ current advantage, their outlook isn’t awesome. Basketball Reference’s playoff probabilities give them the worse end of a coin flip; 46%. FiveThirtyEight is far more pessimistic, at just 15% to make the postseason.
Regardless of analytics projections, this rebooted NBA season could be a high-variance whirlwind unlike anything professional sports has ever witnessed. The circumstances certainly have no precedent, and any number of unforeseen variables could shake things up.
The Memphis Grizzlies defied the odds merely by making it this far. Don’t be shocked if they do it again.