Wednesday, January 2 @ Boston Celtics
The importance of this game depends on how good this aging Celtics team proves to be. If the Celtics show their age, the Grizzlies can go into Boston and tear them up. However, if we learned anything from Boston last year, it's that you can never count this team out. Rajon Rondo took another huge leap into NBA stardom in last year's playoffs and, unlike his fellow elite point guards, he's had the summer to rest.
The Grizzlies could try to slow down Rondo by putting defensive specialist Tony Allen on him, but that leaves Mike Conley Jr. to defend the combo of Avery Bradley (assuming he's healthy) and Jason Terry. Another factor will be how much Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have left in the tank and whether they can muster up enough to compete with Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay.
Friday, January 11 vs. San Antonio Spurs to Wednesday, January 23 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
This is where things get brutal for Memphis. On January 11, they will start a 12-day wild ride of eight games against some heavy hitters. Making matters worse, those eight games alternate between home and away and will have the Grizzlies racking up some frequent flier miles. It starts at home against the Spurs.
From there, they will travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks. After that, they'll host the Clippers. Then it's out to San Antonio for another clash with the Spurs. It gets a little easier with a home game against Sacramento, but even that game will test Memphis' will.
The Grizzlies get a taste of the Eastern Conference a day later, when they will go to Chicago to face the Bulls with the potential return of Derrick Rose a possibility. Next, they start a brief home stretch that includes the Pacers, Lakers and Nets. Yikes.
A couple other things to keep in mind is that the Grizzlies have a three-game road trip that will see them face Phoenix, Sacramento and Golden State before this stretch even starts. Plus, Memphis ends with month with road games against Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. This is where we find out how good Memphis is.
January 25 vs. Brooklyn Nets
I separated this game from that brutal stretch because we don't really know how good Brooklyn is going to be. The assumption is that, with all the wheeling and dealing they've done this summer, Brooklyn will emerge from the NBA's basement and into the East's elite. That's not a certainty and, even if Brooklyn is much improved, Memphis is still better.
While Memphis will have a tough time with Deron Williams, especially after coming off a rough eight-game stretch, the Grizzlies will make due by taking advantage of Brooklyn in the paint. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries are solid young big men, but they aren't good enough to keep up with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph just yet.
Again, this game comes down to what Nets team shows up and how much the Grizzlies have left after a difficult two weeks.
January W-L Prediction: 10-7
Wins: Trail Blazers, Suns, Warriors, Spurs (at home), Clippers, Kings (at home), Pacers, Nets, Hornets, Sixers
Losses: Celtics, Kings (on the road), Mavericks, Spurs (on the road), Bulls, Lakers, Thunder