Grizzlies’ Bubble Schedule Analysis: Part One


On June 26, the NBA released each team’s schedule for the Orlando restart. The league did a great job at preserving each team’s remaining strength of schedule. The Grizzlies still have a top-5 toughest schedule– the highest of any team in the battle for the eighth seed:


While there are still concerns about whether or not Memphis can hold their playoff position, it’s possible that they are in a better position than before. Their closest competitors will have to play nearly perfect to take the spot outright. The Grizzlies could realistically go 4-4 and hold on.

That being said, the Grizzlies have a tough schedule ahead of them. They’re young, feisty, and ready to compete, but these unique circumstances will present challenges to even the most established teams. Fortunately, Memphis has already faced seven of their eight opponents. Let’s take a look at how they’ve matched up, and what they should watch out for as play resumes.

Overall Schedule Analysis

  • Record against remaining opponents: 5-8
  • Best record: 1-0 (Portland)
  • Worst record: 0-2 (New Orleans)
  • Largest margin of victory: 13 points vs. SAS & OKC
  • Largest margin of loss: 30 points vs. SAS
  • Average game stats: 110.6 pts, 45.7 reb, 25.9 ast, 7.4 stl, 5.9 blk, 12.9 TO, 46/34/72 splits
  • Average opponent stats: 118.7 pts, 46 reb, 25.7 ast, 7.2 stl, 4.6 blk, 13 TO, 48/39/82 splits

Game Analysis

July 31: Portland Trail Blazers

Seen by some as Memphis’ biggest threat, Portland comes into the bubble in a tough position. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are returning, but they’ll be without Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood. Nurkic, Collins, and Hood played big roles in the team’s Western Conference Finals push last season. Ariza was brought on in the wake of Hood’s injury, but has opted out of playing in Orlando. Despite their roster turnover, the Blazers aren’t to be taken lightly. A motivated Damian Lillard is a top-3 guard in the NBA, and has carried the team in tough times before. Interestingly enough, SBD’s basketball odds page puts the Grizzlies as one-point underdogs against Portland in game one.

Offensive Outlook

The Grizzlies match up well against Portland. The Blazers’ perimeter defense is weak, ranking poorly in three-point defense and turnovers forced. The Grizzlies should look to utilize their strong passing to find the best shot every possession. Memphis should also be aggressive in transition. Portland’s best defenders are their bigs, so attacking perimeter players in transition situations should lead to ample scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies.

Defensive Outlook

The Blazers are one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams. The Grizzlies are one of the league’s worst at defending the three. Memphis will need to make perimeter defense a point of emphasis in this game. Portland is not a high-volume passing team, ranking last in assists. They thrive in isolation, placing top five in points scored from mid-range and unassisted jumpers. The Grizzlies will need to focus on communicating and rotating effectively to slow the Blazers’ offense.

Keys to a Win

Possibly the biggest key for Memphis will be ball security. The Blazers are fourth in the league in turnovers per game, while the Grizzlies are 23rd. Memphis will have to make sure they are moving the ball effectively to fully capitalize on offense. Rebounding will also be important. With Nurkic returning, Hassan Whiteside will be moved to the bench. Whiteside is an excellent rebounder, and could cause problems against lineups without Jonas Valanciunas. Whoever gets tasked with guarding Whiteside off the bench will have to ensure they keep him off the offensive glass.

Predicted winner: Grizzlies

August 2: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are currently on a 22-year playoff streak. Many see this year as the year it ends, but it’s hard to count them out. The absence of LaMarcus Aldridge is big. Aldridge led the team in rebounds, was second in scoring, and was one of the better three-point threats on the team. The Spurs lack the depth to make up for Aldridge’s production. The Grizzlies should still treat this as a must-win game. It may be the easiest game of their eight.

Offensive Outlook

The Grizzlies’ offensive strengths will be on full display against San Antonio. Memphis will have physical advantages at every position, and should have no problem getting to the paint. The drive-and-dish will be prominent, as the Spurs struggle to defend against the three ball. The Spurs, like Portland, also give up a lot of assists, which is a strong suit for Memphis. The Grizzlies must focus on making the right passes and taking the right shots, though, because the Spurs don’t give up many second chance buckets and are a sneaky-good transition team.

Defensive Outlook

Surprisingly, San Antonio’s offensive strengths are similar to Portland’s. They’re top three in both catch-and-shoot and pull-up shots. They have veterans who know when to shoot and when to make the extra pass. The Grizzlies will need to communicate effectively when rotating. When the perimeter players force misses, it should be guaranteed fast break attempts. The Spurs are 29th in offensive rebounding, which should allow the Memphis big men to get the ball up court quickly.

Keys to a Win

The biggest key for this game is to get Valanciunas involved early. The big man has served as the Grizzlies’ first point of attack before, and can help the team build a big lead. His bruising playstyle will wear down the Spurs’ bigs, exposing their depth quickly. Perimeter defense will also be a big key. In the Spurs’ lone victory against Memphis, they shot 67% from the field and 63% from deep. The Grizzlies’ perimeter defenders will need to stay disciplined and focused in their individual matchups.

Predicted winner: Grizzlies

August 3: New Orleans Pelicans

The Grizzlies third game is their most anticipated one. Fans across the league will be tuned in when the Grizzlies face off against New Orleans. Even though the two are long-time friends, Ja and Zion Williamson are slated to be rivals for the next decade plus. The two teams are in similar positions, and are beginning what should become a fantastic matchup as they develop. Grizzly fans voted New Orleans as the team they’d like to see become Memphis’ biggest rival going forward. The Grizzlies will have their hands full when the two teams meet up in Orlando.

The Pelicans’ season is divided into two categories: With Zion and Without Zion. Since the team is fully healthy going into Orlando, we will reference their stats with Williamson in the lineup. His return dramatically transformed New Orleans’ season. Since he returned, the Pelicans rank top two in points, rebounds, and assists per game. They have played at a high pace all season, and currently are second in the league. They’re easily the Grizzlies’ biggest competition for the eighth seed.

Offensive Outlook

Offensively, the Grizzlies will need to get to the rim themselves, while taking care of the basketball. The Pelicans have made things tough on opponents’ perimeter players, allowing the lowest 3PT% since Zion returned. Their rim protection isn’t nearly as good. Luckily, the Grizzlies’ guards are very effective at getting good looks inside. Early attacks can help open things up for shooters outside.

Defensive Outlook

New Orleans will be a significantly different challenge than any of the previous teams. They love to get to the rim, and lead the league in shots at the rim with Zion playing. They rank high in passes, assists, and turnovers per game as well. Unlike the other opponents, the Pelicans will put a lot of strain on the Grizzlies’ inside defense. They will also be able to match Memphis’ pace better than most teams. If the Grizzlies can force New Orleans to play a good amount of half-court ball, they increase their chances of slowing the Pelicans’ offense.

Keys to a Win

Two of the biggest keys to this game will be bench performance and perimeter defense. The Pelicans’ three-point prowess has been huge in games against Memphis this season. They made 21 and 15 in their two matchups. The Grizzlies have very respectable perimeter defenders and are fully healthy, so they should be better equipped to slow down New Orleans’ shooters. Memphis’ bench will be very important, as they have a significant depth advantage. The style of play discussed above fits the Grizzlies’ bench very well, but they’ll have to show up on both ends to keep things close.

Predicted Winner: Pelicans

August 5: Utah Jazz

Memphis’ fourth game is against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have been at the center of attention during the league’s hiatus, and not for many positive reasons. Star center Rudy Gobert was seen by many as the cause of the league’s shutdown. His actions created a rift in his relationship with co-star Donovan Mitchell. The team will also be without 20-point scorer Bojan Bodganovic after he underwent season-ending surgery.

Offensive Outlook

Rudy Gobert is the first great rim protector the Grizzlies will run into in Orlando. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year alters opponents’ offensive schemes just by being on the court. The Grizzlies will need to rely on transition and pace to help reduce Gobert’s effectiveness. In half-court situations, the Grizzlies need to play a strong perimeter game. They’ll need to focus on getting good shots. Dictating the pace will also allow the Grizzlies to utilize their depth and expose Utah’s lack of it.

Defensive Outlook

Despite their controversies, the Jazz are a very formidable opponent. They’re currently the fourth seed in the West. Utah plays at a slower pace, and is a methodical passing team. They are always looking for the best shot, and lead the league in 3PT%. Without Bogdanovic, former Grizzly Mike Conley is expected to take on a bigger role. The Grizzlies will need to focus on stopping him and Donovan Mitchell to stall the Utah offense. Utah’s bench has good guard depth, as well, meaning all of Memphis’ guards will have to come prepared.

Keys to a Win

A win against a top-4 team would be huge for the Grizzlies, especially in these unique circumstances. The biggest key to beating the Jazz is limiting turnovers. Even if they control the pace, Memphis will have a few less possessions than normal. They need to do everything they can to maximize each one. The Grizzlies should also look to get Jaren Jackson Jr. going early. The Jazz don’t have a player that matches up well against him. Getting him confident and in rhythm early will allow Memphis to utilize their biggest mismatch.

Predicted winner: Grizzlies

Stay tuned for Part 2! Follow us on Twitter @Grizz_Lead for the latest Grizzlies news and insight.

About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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