Predicting Grizzlies’ 8 regular season games in Orlando:
July 31: vs Blazers – Loss
The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers faced off only once this season, in a game crucial to positions in the standing, the Youngbloods defeated Lillard’s team 110-104. However, the outcome might be different this time around.
One big factor in that game was Brandon Clarke’s 27 points. With Nurkic being out and Hassan Whiteside as the only capable big, Clarke was unchallenged throughout the game. The paint was free for him to roam and dunks came easy. Nurkic will likely return in Orlando, his presence in the lineup can set Whiteside free to guard Clarke, the former, who can easily block 7 shots a game, will create major troubles for the latter.
Another factor is that young players on the Grizzlies roster (including Ja Morant), are rather new to NBA’s competitiveness. The coronavirus stopped the league for months and this might be the first time they step away from basketball an extended period. It’s not unfathomable that Grizzlies will struggle from the field in the first real game in Orlando, while their experienced opponents take advantage.
Therefore, I predict the Trail Blazers will take the win.
August 2: vs Spurs – Win
Back in December, the Grizzlies suffered a humiliating 115-145 loss to Spurs. But both team played out of people’s expectations in that game, Spurs shot 67.4% from the field and had a 46-point first quarter, and Aldridge dropped 40 alone. A performance like that is almost certainly unrepeatable. Aldridge is now out for the season, eliminating Spurs’ hope to make a final playoff push completely and the Spurs will be playing without an aim in Orlando, and their roster without Aldridge simply cannot post threats to the Grizzlies’ defense or contain the electric Grizzlies offense. An easy win can be secured by Grizzlies in this one.
August 3: vs Pelicans – Win
This is by far the most exciting game for Memphis in Orlando. The two teams has the potential to become one of NBA’s most iconic rivalry and the first legitimate battle has been delayed until now. New Orleans took both games against Memphis this season, Zion missed the first game to injury but Nikolo Melli thrashed Memphis. Grizzlies couldn’t bear the loss of Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson in the second game (pun intended). Neither of those 2 games display the tangible strength of 2 healthy rosters. If neither team has incomplete roster, the results will be extremely difficult to predict.
However, it was reported that three Pelicans have been tested positive for coronavirus. Although no players are expected to sit out Orlando return, this will significantly affect the preparation before the season restart. These three players will either neutralize Pelicans’ star power in the starting lineup, or impact the depth, which the Grizzlies often take advantage of.
A downside for the Grizzlies is that this game is the second half of a back to back (you can see the NBA playing around the schedule here), but unlike regular games, no travel time will trouble the players, and it comes after a night facing Aldridge-less spurs.
Overall I think the Grizzlies has a better chance at winning this game, but no matter the outcome, this game will be in the spotlight of national media and there’s no doubt both teams will bring us a classic to remember in the future.
August 5: vs Jazz – Win
Jazz have no depth.
This is thoroughly exposed especially when facing a robust, energetic Grizzlies second group. When the Jazz were defeated in the night Mike Conley returned to Grind City, their bench got out scored 20 points by the Memphis bench. The lineup containing Mudiay, Niang, Morgan, Ed Davis and sometimes O’Neale can not only be restricted by the elite defense by Melton and terrific rim protection by Clarke, but out also outmatched on the other end, credit to Taylor Jenkins.
Another point is that Jazz’ most effective weapon in victories against Grizzlies, Bojan Bogdanovic (averaging 24 points against Memphis this season) can now be neutralized by the addition of Justise Winslow. The latter, being a defensive beast ever since entering the league, is a noteworthy, but somehow overlooked factor in NBA’s return (didn’t play for the Grizzlies before shutdown due to injury). A healthy Winslow dropped 11-6 and 4 for the heat this season, and proved to be as constant as ever on the defensive end.
As long as the Memphis squad doesn’t have a cold shooting night or an unexpected player goes off for Utah, there are sufficient reasons to believe Jenkins’ Grizzlies can improve to 3-1 with a win.
August 7: vs Thunder – Loss
This is where the remaining schedule gets tough.
Before the start of the season, the Thunder was considered one of the very few teams in the west that lacked playoff hopes (so was the Grizzlies, but here we are, 5th and 8th seed in the West). However, the departure of Westbrook and George were surprisingly not disastrous for OKC, underrated role players like SGA and Gallinari combined with possible 6th man of the year Dennis Schroder along with experienced all-star avoided a calamity and proudly secured a playoff spot for the city. Such team caused immense headaches for Memphis coaching staff every time the two teams met.
Both Chris Paul and Schroder mastered the free throw line jumper, this seemingly outdated shot has been proven to be unsolvable for the Grizzlies, traditional big Jonas Valanciunas couldn’t step out after the screen to help defend or delay the opponent guards at the free throw line, offering CP3 or Dennis more than enough space and time to knock down the shot. Replacing JV with Clarke might resolve this problem, but the undersized Canadian big simply cannot match up with Steven Adams on both ends.
A Thunder team, having fun being the underdog, playing without pressure on their way to another playoff run, can be too much for Memphis.
August 9: vs Raptors – Loss
This game was supposed to take place in March in FedEx Forum, that would’ve been a incredibly significant and memorable game for any Grizzlies fan because the icon of the grit and grind era, one of the Grizzlies’ all time great Marc Gasol will make the return to the city he lived in since high school and loved dearly. But since the game will be held in the bubble and none of the current Grizzlies played in the GNG era, the clash between Marc and his former team is more like a regular game.
The new-looked Raptors (without Leonard) hasn’t faced the new-looked Grizzlies yet, so the outcome will be difficult to foresee, but what we surely know is that coaches for both sides are COTY candidates and the battle will not disappoint.
For the sake of predicting, there’s a reason why Toronto is one of the best teams in the East and based off record, the Grizzlies will take an L. Plus, by the time this game takes place, Toronto will be in a fierce competition with Boston for the 2nd seed in the west (will play Brooklyn or Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, big difference from any other playoff teams), they need this game more.
August 11: vs Celtics – Loss
Celtics need this game desperately too, as I mentioned, facing a make-shift Nets team and an Orlando team that doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs basically means ensuring a ticket to the second round. Although the Grizzlies want every game they can grab too, the talent isn’t there yet.
Celtics are deemed one of the most talented teams in the league with an elite guards duo Walker and Jaylen Brown as long as All-Star caliber wings Tatum and Hayward. Their shortage in efficient bigs maybe a the Achilles heel to a potential championship, but unless Memphis utilizes that perfectly (with JV, Jaren and Clarke, slowing the game down and create 1v1 opportunities for bigs) and luck stands with them, Celtics are the clear winners of this one.
August 13: vs Bucks – Win
Hopefully by this time the Grizzlies will be looking to enlarge the gap between them and the ninth seed to 4 games, this way they’ll avoid a play-in situation and enter the playoff directly. More realistically they’re be trying to maintain the 8th seed so the play-in will be advantageous for them. Milwaukee on the other hand is much more relaxed, with the top seed secured, this game is merely a formality.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Budenholzer rests key players like Giannis, Bledsoe, and Middleton. Why risk injuring them for a game that doesn’t matter? In addition, current Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins worked under Budenholzer for years, ever since he was an assistant in San Antonio, then to Atlanta, then to Milwaukee up until last season. Budenholzer will likely do his long-time associate and friend a solid by handing them a game that they need. A Grizzlies win makes sense for both sides.