The Memphis Grizzlies are coming down to their last 14 games of the season. Rudy Gay and company still have some challenges ahead of them before the end of the regular season.
Memphis is on track for its third highest winning percentage in franchise history. Currently, the team is half a game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference. If they finish in that spot, it would be the Grizzlies' highest playoff spot ever, as well as their first ever home-court playoff advantage.
Follow along for a preview of all the big games the Grizzlies will play in the final 14 games.
Even for a young team like the Grizzlies, this is a tough task. The Grizzlies haven't done too well on the road against good opponents. They're only 4-10 against .500 teams on the road. Beating a quality team like the Mavericks on the road at the end of a back-to-back-to-back will be difficult.
The Mavericks have been up and down this season. Lately, they've been skittish, losing four of their last seven games, with each loss coming by more than 10 points.
Dirk Nowitzki isn't having a great year. He's averaging 21.2 points per game, the least since his second season, while shooting 45.7 percent from the field, the worst he's shot since his rookie year. His 6.5 rebounds per game are the least he's grabbed since his rookie year.
Nowitzki's scored 20 or more in 10 of his last 12 games, but he's had a couple of duds recently. He shot 5-of-17 against the Houston Rockets on March 27. On March 23, he shot 5-of-21 for 16 points.
Marreese Spieghts, Dante Cunningham and Zach Randolph will likely split time like they did on Tuesday against the Warriors as they team up to try to stop Nowitzki. Cunningham's athleticism may be enough to stop Nowitzki on the wing.
On the inside, Marc Gasol will be up against Brendan Haywood. This seems like a nice opportunity for Gasol to get over his road woes. Haywood is a nice defender, but he may not be quick enough to keep Gasol in front of him.
After the back-to-back-to-back, the Grizzlies get a day off before going back on the road to take on the Miami Heat. The Grizzlies would surely be challenged by the Heat. Stopping LeBron James' athleticism could be tough after a back-to-back-to-back.
However, two things could help the Grizzlies. First, the Heat are anything but deep at center. Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman don't scare anyone. Marc Gasol could easily get by them. Also, Gasol will fight James more for rebounds than them since James leads the Heat in rebounding.
Also, Dwyane Wade's health hangs in the balance. He missed the Heat's game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday with a sore left knee, according to USA Today. The Grizzlies could capitalize on his absence, playing off his replacement in the lineup to focus on James.
That would better enable the Grizzlies to contain James.
A smaller output from James could make a Grizzlies win very manageable.
Within three days of visiting Dallas, the Grizzlies will host the Mavericks for another match. This will be much easier for the Grizzlies than facing the Mavericks on the road. The Grizzlies are great at home, holding an 18-7 home mark.
Marc Gasol shoots five percent better at home than on the road.
As a team, the Grizzlies score 6.9 points per game more at home than on the road and pull down 4.1 more rebounds per game.
Gasol would look even better matching up against Haywood. Also, the Grizzlies would likely bring more energy on both ends of the floor.
The Los Angeles Clippers had their way with the Grizzlies in their two meetings in Los Angeles. In January, they beat the Grizzlies 98-91. On March 24, they ran away from the Grizzlies to a 101-85 score.
This time could be different as the Clippers will be coming to the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
Marc Gasol should do better than his 3-of-12 shooting and the Grizzlies should score more than their 85 in the last match.
The Grizzlies will play their last truly challenging game a week from Thursday when they visit the San Antonio Spurs. They’ll have to do much better than they did in the first two meetings in order to avoid a regular-season series sweep at the hands of their division rivals.
The Grizzlies were flat and distended in their first two games against the Spurs. In the season opener at San Antonio, the Grizzlies weren’t hitting shots. In the home match against the Spurs in February, the Grizzlies shot a mere 37.3 percent from the field and lacked their characteristic team chemistry.
Scoring 85 or less and playing childishly doesn’t win the Grizzlies games. They’ll have to play together, hit shots and bring the characteristic defense that kept it close in the February home game against the Spurs in order to win.
On its face this seems like a tough finale against a strong playoff team.
However, the Magic aren’t a rocksteady contender like they’ve been in years prior. They’ve been an uninspiring bunch. The Magic have lost four straight, including a home rout at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.
As a team, the Magic seem disjointed. Perhaps the controversy surrounding the Dwight Howard trade situation ate at the team.
The Grizzlies could take a nice win against the Magic here. Unless Zach Randolph feels up to playing 30 minutes, the Grizzlies don’t have anyone who can match up against Howard. Otherwise, the Grizzlies win all the other matchups in the lineup. Mike Conley is easily a better point guard than Jameer Nelson at this point in his career.
Rudy Gay likely won’t be challenged.
After beating up losing teams for six straight games, the Grizzlies could finish the regular season by beating up a winning team.