The All-Star break is over, and now we can get back to games that really matter and actually feature defense — well, as long as you aren’t watching any Los Angeles Lakers games. The Memphis Grizzlies climbed back into the playoff hunt with a strong finish before the break — they are 15-6 since the turn of the new year — and currently sit at ninth in the Western Conference at 29-23, two games back of the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed. Forecasting what they will do the remainder of the season should have no bearing on what they did before January. This is a different team with the addition of Courtney Lee and the return of Marc Gasol from a knee injury. This Grizzlies team will make the playoffs as long as they are healthy.
With only 30 games left, Memphis cannot drop any winnable games down the stretch run. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they have 13 games left against the Eastern Conference which they are 12-5 against so far. Memphis also has 17 games remaining against teams with below-.500 records. Getting to 46-36 seems rather easy for Memphis as long as they stay healthy. According to playoff odds the eighth seed in the West will have 48 wins and the sixth seed will have 49. So for Memphis to crack into the top eight they will need Dallas, the Golden State Warriors or Phoenix Suns to slip or they will have to win games they are not currently projected to win.
The anticipation is that Mike Conley and Tony Allen should be back from their nagging injuries, and Memphis will be at full strength for the first time since November. Of the 13 games Memphis has left against teams with winning records, only five of them are at home, so they need to make sure that they get at least four of those five if they want to make the playoffs. Winning four of those five, plus winning all of the games against sub-.500 teams would give the Grizzlies a 50-32 record and all but lock up a spot in the playoffs.
The only problem with this math is the Grizzlies cannot drop any games against sub-.500 teams, and if they do, they must have a win over a team with a winning record on the road for every sub-.500 loss they have. Up to this point in the season Memphis has five wins on the road against teams over .500, so I would say the chances of them being able to cover up one or two bad losses along the way are likely. Also, the Grizzlies won 68.3 percent of their games last season; if they can duplicate that winning percentage for the remainder of this season now that they are healthy, that would put them at 50 wins. All in all I think 50 or 51 wins is where the Grizzlies end up.
The only thing stopping the Grizzlies from making the playoff right now — other than anymore catastrophic injuries — would be Dallas, Golden State and Phoenix all keeping up their good play. Dallas and Golden State only have 12 games left against teams with winning records, and Phoenix has 13 such games. Five of Dallas’ games against winning teams are on the road, six for Phoenix and seven for Golden State. Based on schedules the Grizzlies have easily the toughest road to hoe among the four teams vying for the final three spots in the West. But at full strength you could easily argue they have the most talent.
That brings us back to square one: health. The Grizzlies’ counterparts in the West are going to keep chugging along at their currant paces which means it will take 48 or more wins to conquer the fourth straight playoff appearance for Memphis. For the Grizzlies to eclipse 48 wins they need to go 19-11 the rest of the way. That might seem hard, but consider that Memphis went on an 11-1 stretch before the Conley injury, and in doing so they beat the Houston Rockets twice (once on the road), the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers on the road, and Phoenix.
This team is plenty capable of making a return trip to the playoffs and making a deep run. The only thing standing in their way is the only thing no team can control — injuries.