The Grizzlies are 5–0 for the first time in franchise history, and they’re one of only three undefeated teams left in the league (Memphis, Houston, and Golden State). Tonight, they’re in Oklahoma City to take on an injury-decimated Thunder in their only ESPN game of the regular season. Last weekend in my appearance on MemphiSport Live Kevin Cerrito and I took a look at the Grizzlies’ schedule through the rest of this month and early December to figure out how long the Griz could remain undefeated. I’m a big believer in jinxes, so I’m not going to do that here, but I do think the schedule is heavily in the Grizzlies’ favor in this first six weeks of the season.
The Grizzlies are in OKC tonight, and the Thunder are supposedly going to be there too, but without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and a few other players), the Thunder are struggling mightily to even have enough guys dressed out. Reggie Jackson is the only hope here; Serge Ibaka can’t score 80 points every night. With that said, this Grizzlies team historically has a nasty habit of playing at the opponent’s level, especially in road games against “bad” teams.
If they’re rolling into town assuming they’re going to get an easy win, they may head to Milwaukee for tomorrow night’s game with a 5–1 record. Given what we’ve seen from this year’s Griz tema so far, I think it’s safe to assume they’re probably out for revenge against the Thunder and don’t care who isn’t playing. It should be a win. It needs to be a win. Every win over the Thunder while they’re down is a win between the Thunder and Griz in the standings later.
At Milwaukee. I mean, the Bucks are sort of fun because they have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, and Larry “I Love Getting Technical Fouls” Sanders, and Brandon Knight who is playing well this year, and even the new slimmer O.J. Mayo. But “fun” doesn’t and shouldn’t equate to “hard for the Grizzlies to beat,” even on the second game of a back-to-back (a SEGABABA for those of you in the know).
Next week is a three-game home stand against the Lakers on Tuesday, the Kings on Thursday, and the Pistons on Saturday. The Lakers are laughably horrible—and I mean that literally; they’re so bad it makes me laugh, because I don’t like the Lakers. The Kings are showing signs of life this year, however. DeMarcus Cousins is playing at a high level and so is Rudy Gay, and they’ve notched some unexpected wins against good teams. They may not make the playoffs, but they’re definitely improving. That said, the Grizzlies are at home, and they’ll be catching the Kings on the last game of a four game road trip, so they should take care of business.
The Pistons are a train wreck—or, more accurately, Josh Smith is jump-shooting the Pistons into a train wreck almost single-handedly. The Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe frontcourt pairing is formidable, and it seems like the Pistons are trying to build around the Grizzlies’ roster as a model in some ways, but until they figure out how to have the right guys taking the shots, they’re not going to win.
So next week should be a 3–0 week, assuming the Griz don’t let one get away from them. All three teams they’re playing are “should win” games. So, after next week, the Griz could be 10–0. Even if they drop of of these games due to fatigue or poor execution or planets out of alignment or whatever, they’d still be 9–1 at the end of next week.
Two Weeks from Now
The week after that, the 16th through the 22nd, is tougher. On Monday night, the Griz have a home game against the Rockets, the other undefeated team in the Southwest division. The Grizzlies had success against the Rockets last year, and that was with 65% of Marc Gasol, but the Rockets look to have improved this summer the same way the Grizzlies did. They’re a tough team, and this early in the season, I think it’s probably a coin flip. If they win, 11–0 or 10–1. If they lose, 10–1 or 9–2.
On Wednesday of that week, a road game against the Raptors is the first “the streak probably ends here” game on the calendar. The Grizzlies have historically not played well in Toronto as of late (the fact that the Raps have all-time Griz Killer Kyle Lowry at the point doens’t help much), and I don’t expect that to change against a Raptors team that’s fighting to be recognized as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. I’m pencilling this one in as a schedule loss, even though it’s a very winnable game. If the Grizzlies pull off this win in Toronto, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. So, the record could be anything from 11–1 to 9–3.
Friday is a home game against the young-but-fiesty Boston Celtics. Another “should win” game against a rebuilding (but very well-coached) East team would put the record between 12–1 and 10–3. A loss here would not be great, and would put the Griz somewhere from 11–2 to 9–4.
And then. Sunday, November 23rd, at 5PM, the first Grizzlies/Clippers game of the new year. The best rivalry in the league right now—it’s like Grizzlies/Thunder but taking place in the WWE universe. The Grizzlies will be amped up for this one, and I think the Clippers low-key got worse over the offseason, with a bigger smoldering crater at small forward than the Grizzlies ever thought about having last season. I love CDR as much as the next guy, but you don’t want CDR and Matt Barnes to be all you have. With a healthy Gasol, Griz/Clips becomes the same old Griz/Clips we’re used to: DeAndre Jordan on Gasol, Blake Griffin on Randolph, lots of serious hard fouls, both real and imagined. Tony Allen hopefully not getting suspended for kicking Chris Paul in the face. I’m going to pencil this one in as a Griz win, so… somewhere between 13–1 and 10–4. With a loss, they’d be somewhere between 12–2 and 9–5.
After the game against the Clippers on the 23rd, the Grizzlies have games at the Lakers, at the Blazers, at the Kings, at the Rockets, and at the Spurs, all in a row. Only a crazy person would expect them to win all five games of a West Coast road trip with Rockets and Spurs tacked onto the end of it, but I don’t think they’ll lose more than 2 (probably the Rockets and Spurs games, but it could also be at Sacramento or at Portland. Those are historically very tough places for the Grizzlies to play). If they’re undefeated headed into the trip and, like last year, they sweep the road trip, they could make it all the way to 19–0, but that’s about as realistic as Zach Randolph making more 3’s than Steph Curry this year.
That said, there’s a very real chance that the Grizzlies head into the Spurs game on December 5th with a record somewhere in the neighborhood of 16–3 or 15–4. If they play their cards right, the cushion they build up now, in the early part of the season, will go a long way towards making the rest of the year a matter of taking care of business instead of scratching and clawing from behind just to make the playoffs.
With any luck (and I’m knocking on wood here, y’know, jinxes and all) the Grizzlies can capitalize on the window that’s been opened by the Thunder’s injuries and win the games they need to win to get on the other side of the West bracket from the Spurs and have a good shot at a return to the Western Conference Finals… or beyond. The stars have aligned for them to get off to the hot start they so desperately needed. Here’s hoping.