• Nick Boylan

Predicting Disney: Memphis Grizzlies

Heading into an eight-game schedule in Orlando, the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies squad is primed to fight for a playoff spot in their new era. Currently sitting with a 32-33 record as the eighth seed in the Western Conference standings, the Grizzlies hold a 3.5 game lead over New Orleans, Portland and Sacramento. 

Memphis are very much a team in charge of their own destiny, though they will be glancing over their shoulder at an equally youthful Pelicans team which has a much easier schedule. 

Despite this, this young team led by (clear) Rookie of the Year favourite Ja Morant has players returning from injury in newly acquired Justise Winslow, alongside a much healthier Jaren Jackson Jr and Brandon Clarke. 

With a schedule clearly divided into two parts, No.2 pick Morant has the chance to continue his electrifying debut NBA campaign by taking the Grizzlies back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. With teams chasing, this young Memphis squad has now become the hunted. Can they withstand that pressure over this eight-game dash to the playoffs?

July 31 - Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers - W 

The first game of Memphis’ schedule sees Morant match up with one of the NBA’s premier point guards in Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers face arguably the toughest schedule of all teams, though they are getting back two crucial frontcourt players in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. With Trevor Ariza opting out of the bubble, it does however leave Portland thin on the wing; though that depends on how much faith you put in Carmelo Anthony. 

That lack of perimeter depth, coupled with not outstanding defensive ability from Lillard and CJ McCollum gives opportunities for Morant, Dillon Brooks, Winslow and Josh Jackson to attack. Collins and Nurkic will be rusty, and the Grizzlies need to take advantage, starting their campaign off with a win.

August 02 - Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - W 

While the Spurs aren’t far off the Grizzlies in the standings, LaMarcus Alrdidge suffering a season-ending shoulder injury significantly shifts the tide in favour of Memphis. With a season split of 2-2, the last two games have been high scoring affairs, with the Spurs winning 145-115 in December, and the Grizzlies winning the most recent encounter in January 134-121. 

Aldridge has averaged 23.5 points across all four contests against the Grizzlies this season, leaving a major offensive gap that Jackson Jr and Jonas Valančiūnas can take advantage of for a win to start the Orlando campaign. This is a game Memphis simply can’t afford to lose. 

August 03 - Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans - L 

Arguably one of the most exciting matchups in the entire eight-game schedule; it’s Zion vs Ja, round 2. Besides having the No.1 and 2 picks of the 2019 NBA Draft face off again, this matchup is crucial to playoff standings, with New Orleans just 3.5 games behind Memphis. 

The Grizzlies have lost both games to the Pelicans by 10 points in January, and a whopping 28 in February less than two weeks later. 

While Morant could be primed to prove a point in this showcase matchup, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram pose a frontcourt threat that troubles the Grizzlies, and Morant facing great defenders in Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday will prove too much for the Grizzlies again. 

August 05 - Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz - W

It’s the new star vs the Memphis legend, as Morant takes on Utah and former-Grizzly Mike Conley, in a must-win game for the Grizzlies. Going 1-2 over their three games against the Jazz this season, Memphis do not need to face offensive flamethrower Bojan Bogdanović, who is out for the season with an injury to his right wrist. With a whole at power forward, Jackson Jr could be set for his biggest game of the Orlando fixture thus far, and contribute to a close win over the Jazz. 

August 07 - Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - L 

Looming as one of the toughest and most hard-fought games of the eight-game schedule, Memphis comes up against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad eager to establish a favourable matchup in the playoffs. The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies by a mere four points in their first matchup in December, before Memphis won the next encounter two weeks later by 13 points. Morant will be looking to impress against legend Chris Paul, while Jackson Jr and a player like Dillon Brooks will need to have big games to get Memphis over the line. 

August 09 - Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors - W 

For this part of the schedule, Memphis plays the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference, which would normally present a major challenge. However, with all three teams having clinched playoff spots and having no home court advantage to protect, Memphis may not face each ball club’s best players, as they look to rest before the postseason. With veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka potentially missing, the Grizzlies will still need to bring their best against Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. However, with a playoff spot in sight, Morant and Jackson Jr should lead the side to a close victory. 

August 11 - Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics - L

Again, it would not be strange to see Boston without Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown in this fixture. If any of them do suit up against the Grizzlies, it will be a tough challenge, with Memphis losing their only game against the Celtics 95-119. Morant will have a serious point to prove in particular, scoring a mere two points in the game, while Valančiūnas top scored with 16. Philadelphia, with an easier schedule, could have made ground on Boston here, so coach Brad Stevens may decide to not rest many players at all. This could translate into a narrow win for the Celtics.

August 13 - Memphis Grizzlies v Milwaukee Bucks - W  

Out of all games that might see some rested players, Milwaukee in the last of their eight games may see a number of key Bucks out. With their number one seed all but locked in, coach Mike Budenholzer could choose to rest Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middelton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and potentially others. On the flipside, with teams breathing down their necks like New Orleans, Sacramento and Portland, this game could be crucial to whether the Grizzlies are back in the postseason or not. Coach Taylor Jenkins will be sure to galvanise his young group for this final clash, whether set for a final play-in or not, and Memphis will pull away with a win here. 

Memphis Final Record: 37-36

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