Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies face a defining stretch in their schedule coming up. They’ll play 10 of their next 13 games against winning teams, seven of which will be on the road. This stretch could go to some length to determine the Grizzlies’ playoff position.
For Gasol, this period could go some ways in painting his reputation. He could resurrect his dependability against good teams, or further his rap as a player who bullies bad teams but can’t step up in games that matter.
Gasol has struggled to score well against good teams. Thus far, Gasol is averaging 15.4 points per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the field against winning teams. He's averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting 38.3 percent from the field on the road against winning teams.
The Grizzlies have done poorly against good teams, especially on the road. They're 10-14 against winning teams. Memphis has yet to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. Wins against these teams during the coming stretch would help their case come playoff time. The Grizzlies are 2-8 against winning teams on the road.
Four segments highlight the upcoming games. First is the back-to-back set against the Los Angeles clubs. Second, the Grizzlies will play their only back-to-back-to-back set of the season from April 2 to April 4.
Third, the Grizzlies play a tough back-to-back set against the 2011 NBA Finals teams, going to Miami to play the Heat before rushing back to Memphis to host the Dallas Mavericks. The gauntlet finishes with a road match against the Spurs.
The Los Angeles Set Could Be Easier than It Looks
At first glance, some might believe the Grizzlies couldn’t possibly come out of the weekend with a win against the Lakers or Clippers.
However, these teams are far from unbeatable, especially at this point in the season. Clippers players are growing tired of Vinny Del Negro. A Clippers source told ESPN.com, "Vinny has lost the team. They don't want to play hard for him."
This was evident in their loss to the lowly New Orleans Hornets on Thursday. The Clippers didn’t show a tangible effort in the clutch, allowing ordinary players like Jarrett Jack to put them away.
Gasol could take advantage of lapses by Blake Griffin on defense to blow up the post for scoring.
The Lakers are very beatable as they are trying to get used to their new point guard, Ramon Sessions. Tony Allen and Mike Conley could take advantage of lapses in communication between Sessions and other Lakers, especially Kobe Bryant.
Gasol could easily do better than the 0-of-9 performance he put forth against the Lakers in early January.
The Grizzlies Should Be Glad that the Back-to-Back-to-Back Has a Soft Middle
The Grizzlies’ back-to-back-to-back comes at precisely the wrong time. Having it come in the midst of this rough stretch is harsh. At least they have a soft opponent coming beforehand.
That will ease the beginning of the trio of games as they face the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 2. The Grizzlies are shaping up a great rivalry with the Thunder. The Thunder won a heady battle with the Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games.
While the Thunder has won each of the first three meetings this year, each game has been close.
The Grizzlies can turn up the heat in the rivalry by winning this game in Oklahoma City. They’ll have to stay strong from start to finish in this one, unlike the last meeting in Oklahoma City, when the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 32-17 in the fourth quarter to win.
The Grizzlies go home to the next day face the Golden State Warriors, a team they’ve dominated recently.
A nice win against the Warriors, especially now that Golden State no longer has Monta Ellis, would get them set for a tough road game against the Dallas Mavericks. Dicing an easy team would be just what the Grizzlies need before facing a tough opponent on the road.
Gasol would especially benefit from the boost, considering his struggles against good teams.
The Following Back-to-Back Could Get Ugly
The Grizzlies will face a tough game against the Heat two days after the road affair with the Mavericks. Gay and Allen will be challenged in trying to contain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Allen will have to try to keep the ball at the top of the key, forcing Wade and James to outside shots.
Something that might be of interest is the ability of Gasol and Zach Randolph to win the battle inside. Chris Bosh has done well for the Heat this season. Meanwhile, Gasol will have a mismatch against the Heat’s center. Gasol has a huge advantage against whoever Miami puts in the post, being much more capable of rebounding and scoring.
Hopefully, Conley can evade Miami’s tough perimeter defense to feed it inside to Gasol and Randolph. If Conley can get then active, it could be a game-changer.
A win against the Heat would make the home game against the Mavericks that much easier.
Either way, the Grizzlies could easily handle the Mavericks at the FedEx Forum.
Gasol did quite well in the first meeting with the Mavericks at home, dropping 22 points and 11 rebounds in a 96-85 rout of Dallas.
With Randolph back, Gasol could do even better, as the mirrored looks could baffle Dirk Nowitzki and other Dallas post players.
The Spurs Are a Team the Grizzlies Can’t Mess Up Against
The Grizzlies need to be perfect against the Spurs. For some reason, the Grizzlies let the older Spurs get to them in the first two meetings, both of which were in Memphis. They shot poorly and played with little chemistry. Each time, the Grizzlies scored less than 85 points.
This time around, the Grizzlies have no margin for error since they’ll be trying to get back against the Spurs on the road. The Grizzlies have had a harder time playing together on the road. Some mistakes, like offensive inefficiency, are harder for the Grizzlies to hide on the road.
Fortunately, they have Randolph back with his offensive rebounding. He’ll be able to give them a few more second chances to mask those missed opportunities.
O.J. Mayo will have to take better shots in San Antonio. In the last game against the Spurs, Mayo shot 3-of-15 en route to nine points.
Conclusion: The Grizzlies Must Win More than Half During This Stretch
The Grizzlies are facing a tight battle for positioning in the Western Conference. Going 5-8 in this stretch could drop them to eighth place. Meanwhile, success here could be a boon, as winning eight or nine could send them to fourth or fifth in the conference.
At the very least, the Grizzlies need to win more than half of these games. This should be enough to maintain position in the standings. If they win seven of 13, the Grizzlies can eat up the remaining schedule against easy teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets. That could bump them up a spot.
Anyway, this turn in the schedule is important for the Grizzlies to show they can beat the best teams in the conference. Moreover, it could be the difference between having home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series and not having one.