The Memphis Grizzlies are on a tear heading into the last two months of the regular season, winning eight straight games. They'll need a strong push against some tough opponents in order to carry themselves to one of the top three playoff spots.
While a top-three spot is in reach, the Grizzlies have a few challenging games in March before a soft landing at the end of the season. They'll play four of the premier teams in the league and seven or eight playoff teams overall in the coming month.
Also, they'll play a trying West Coast road trip starting on March 12.
If the Grizzlies fail to perform well in these contests, it could prevent them from landing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Follow along to see a preview of the biggest games they'll play in March.
The West Coast doesn’t treat the Grizzlies well. Generally, they fail on West Coast trips, losing most or all games. This match with the Portland Trail Blazers is the start of a four-game trip out west, with the first two on the coast.
Portland has been a thorn in Memphis’ side the past three years. In that time, the Grizzlies have lost five of seven games to Portland, including all five games at the Rose Garden. No matter their defensive ability, the Blazers have succeeded in muzzling Memphis’ scoring, holding them to 93 or fewer points in six of seven meetings.
Despite their recent slide, the Trail Blazers could turn it on when the Grizz come to town, with their two stars leading the way. Damian Lillard was hot in February, averaging 19.8 points per game. LaMarcus Aldridge has scored 22 points or more in seven of the last 10 games.
Aldridge has been effective against the Grizz in the last couple years, averaging 18.7 points across six games while shooting 51.1 percent against them since 2010-11.
Look for another hot game from the Dallas native.
Prediction: Trail Blazers 94, Grizzlies 90
The Grizzlies will meet the Houston Rockets at the FedEx Forum after a two-game East Coast swing.
Meanwhile, the Rockets will be well-heeled for their first road game in 20 days, coming off a seven-game home stand.
To some degree, that will offset the advantage the Grizzlies will have when hosting a team against whom they've handled with ease in the "Grindhouse."
A win is a must in this showdown. The Grizz, which could climb into third in the Western Conference before long, could meet the Rockets in the first round. A hot run by Houston, which plays eight of its next 12 games against sub-.500 teams, could move them up in the standings.
This will be the first of the last two contests of the regular season between these two teams. Memphis and Houston split the first two games of the season series. That the Grizz will beat the Rockets in Houston seems unlikely since they haven't won there since April 15, 2006.
James Harden shot poorly in the first game in Memphis, hitting 4 of 18 field-goal attempts on his way to 18 points. The Grizzlies should be able to contain him again, considering he shoots 3.4 percent worse from the field and 3.9 percent worse from three-point range on the road.
Prediction: Grizzlies 98, Rockets 90
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Grizzlies typically provide great entertainment. With two closely matched frontcourts and a Grizzlies backcourt that comes prepared to guard the elite Thunder scorers, fans can't be disappointed.
The last meeting, a 17-point rout in favor of Oklahoma City on Jan. 31, came at an odd time as the Grizzlies had just traded Rudy Gay and hadn't yet installed their newcomers.
Kevin Durant had his coolest scoring month in February, averaging 24.4 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting. However, he may very well heat up in the next three weeks.
Despite that, the Grizzlies will be able to hold him, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka down at home.
Prediction: Grizzlies 95, Thunder 91
Confronting the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center has been no easier than the Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies haven't beaten the Clippers there since Dec. 11, 2010.
Chris Paul has played fairly well since returning from a bruised knee despite being tentative shooting in some games. He's averaging 14.9 points and 8.3 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Blake Griffin had a solid month of February, averaging 18.7 points per game on 60.3 percent shooting.
With Griffin and Paul getting hotter and a well-oiled bench behind them, the Clippers will be ready to handle the Grizzlies at home.
Prediction: Clippers 97, Grizzlies 87
The Memphis Grizzlies may be the perfect team to stop a scorching Miami Heat squad that has won 11 straight games. The Grizz have taken their last two meetings with the Heat by at least 15 points.
Both times they did it by shutting down Dwyane Wade and shooting lights out from three-point range. On Nov. 11, the Grizzlies held Wade to eight points on 3-of-15 shooting and shot 14-of-24 from downtown. In April, they shot 8-of-17 from beyond the arc in Miami.
Miami likely won’t stop the Grizz from raining down again. They allow a middling three-point mark of 36.2 percent and stand sixth in three-point field-goals allowed per game. Besides, the Heat don’t apply great pressure on three-point shooters.
Considering Tony Allen’s ability to shut down high scorers, he may mute Wade again.
Prediction: Grizzlies 102, Heat 86