The Memphis Grizzlies must have impressed David Stern with their Cinderella run in the 2011 playoffs because the NBA rewarded the up-and-coming Grizzlies with a remarkably easy schedule. Rudy Gay and his Grizzlies teammates have eaten up the cupcakes on the schedule, which is a large reason why they're now fifth in the Western Conference.
Some might wonder why there's any reason to go through a team's schedule in the second half of the season. The toughness of a team's schedule can only be inferred upon in general terms before the season starts. The Philadelphia 76ers might have looked like a middling opponent before the season, but as they're now leading their division, they look tougher.
The Golden State Warriors might have seemed like a tougher opponent with new head coach Mark Jackson installing an actual defensive approach, but they're still one of the worst teams defensively.
How Easy Is the Grizzlies Schedule?
Now, the Grizzlies have received every benefit from David Stern's schedule architects this season. In February, when they played 10 of their 14 games against teams that currently have winning records, nine of their 14 games were at home. Seven of their 10 games against winning teams were at home.
This month, the Grizzlies, a poor road team at 7-10, play 10 of their 15 games on the road. However, only five of those games are against teams with .500 records. In all, the Grizzlies play only six games against .500 teams this month.
This period in which the Grizzlies play a high number of road games also features numerous rest days for the Grizzlies. They have three two-day breaks and one three-day break in March.
The Grizzlies face their toughest stretch of the season in late March and early April. Then, they'll play 10 of 12 games against teams with winning records. Seven of those 10 games will be on the road.
Even if the Grizzlies find themselves on the outside looking in at that point, Gay and his crew would have a chance to rally. Four of their last 10 games are against .500 teams, including the regular season finale against the Orlando Magic. By then, the Magic will have likely sent Dwight Howard to another team.
How Have the Grizzlies Benefited from Their Easy Schedule?
Some might take a careful view of the Grizzlies schedule since they've had it easy. The Grizzlies breezed through February with a 9-5 record on the month, but won only two of five road games.
Also, people may wonder whether the Grizzlies can win in the playoffs since they struggle against good teams. The Grizzlies are 11-12 against .500 teams. They've been practically winless against good teams on the road, going 1-9 against .500 teams.
Many would figure the Grizzlies would bow out during the late March-early April stretch due to their poor play against good teams.
Even more, the Grizzlies can't beat the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. They're a combined 0-8 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have feasted on bad teams. They're 11-3 against teams with sub-.500 records, including a 6-1 record against those teams on the road.
Against the Western Conference, the Grizzlies are a middling 13-13. They're 5-4 against Southwest Division teams, including 5-1 against divisional opponents other than the Spurs.
How Does This Affect Numbers for Key Players?
Folks must be interested to see how key Grizzlies scorers fare against good and bad opponents.
Rudy Gay does significantly better against worse opponents. Gay averages 23.2 points per game on 52.7 percent from the field against losing teams, compared with 16.3 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting against .500 teams.
Marc Gasol is much better offensively against bad teams than good teams. Gasol averages 17.2 points per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field against losing teams. Meanwhile, he puts up 9.9 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting against .500 teams.
Since Gasol's home-away splits are striking (52.3 percent home field-goal percentage vs. 46.4 road field-goal percentage), his road marks against .500 and losing teams are also noteworthy.
Gasol shoots only 39.7 percent from the field on the road against .500 teams, compared to 52.4 percent against losing teams on the road.
Thus, Gasol has a much greater problem against good teams on the road.
Mike Conley averages 11.5 points per game on 39.6 percent from the field against .500 teams, while scoring 19.5 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting against losing teams.
O.J. Mayo is the only Grizzlies player who isn't significantly affected by these splits. Mayo averages 12.4 points per game on 43.4 percent from the field against losing teams, while scoring 11.8 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting against .500 teams.
While many players would see their numbers suffer against good teams, the best players rise to the occasion against the best opponents.
Some might wonder if the Grizzlies are suffering against good teams since they don't have Zach Randolph. Randolph was the key player in their playoff run last year. The Grizzlies would be able to give a greater variety of offensive looks and gain a better rebounding edge with Randolph in the lineup.
Conclusion: The Grizzlies Will Survive the Gauntlet with Randolph
The Grizzlies could face a challenge to their position in the standings during the aforementioned stretch of eight road games and 10 games against .500 teams in 12 games.
With Randolph back and in full condition by then, the Grizzlies should be able to tackle that fairly well. Randolph's scoring ability will reduce the pressure on Gay and Gasol. Also, the mirrored looks with Randolph and Gasol will make it tougher for teams to defend them. His dominance on the offensive glass will give the Grizzlies more second chances.
Also, his great rebounding ability in general will boost the Grizzlies' chances to win important games down the stretch.
Even if the Grizzlies falter during that tough stretch, they'll be able to recover during their soft finish. Two games against the New Orleans Hornets and one against the Charlotte Bobcats will help. A Magic team with no "Superman" would have no magic against the Grizzlies.
Thus, the Grizzlies will be able to reach the playoffs with help from the easy schedule. As far as the playoffs are concerned, it would depend on matchups.
Getting good teams at home and a nice share of easy opponents on the road sure helps the Grizzlies. Lionel Hollins will have to send David Stern a gift basket after the season.