The Memphis Grizzlies' schedule release is another punch in the gut for a fanbase that has had little to be happy about since Jamaal Franklin fell to them on draft night. This slate gives no reward to a team that broke through for its best season ever.
Memphis faces a few tough turns in the 82-game journey. They start with a tough road game against the San Antonio Spurs. Between March and April, they play 12 contests in a span of 17 on the road.
This presents a test for a squad that earned its first winning road record in 2012-13.
Granted, they do find a couple of breaks. After the opener, the Grizz play seven of nine matches against potential lottery teams. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 30, the Grizzlies play 11 of 15 games at home.
Their 16 back-to-backs aren't among the highest in the league.
The Grizz are still treated like a run-of-the-mill, small-market team after their first trip past the initial two rounds of the playoffs. They receive only six nationally televised games on ESPN or TNT and seven on NBA TV.
Following is a look of some of the most interesting games, as the Grizzlies aim to improve their winning percentage for a fifth straight season.
While both the Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs recognize this wouldn't be the most important meeting—especially if a playoff rematch occurs—this could give Memphis a bit of encouragement.
The Western Conference Finals were deflating after the deepest playoff run for the 18-year-old franchise.
The Grizz should use this to reassure fans about their credibility against one of the conference's foremost teams. Before being flattened by the Spurs in the playoffs, Memphis had split the season series with them. This was a bounce-back from a series sweep at San Antonio's hands in 2011-12.
Seeing the Grizzlies' starters shoot well after each one shot below 41 percent in the conference finals would be pleasing.
Generally, fans of the "grit 'n' grind" are itching for a win on this Wednesday night, since Memphis hasn't won a season opener in 13 years.
Rudy Gay will return to the "Grindhouse" in the ninth game of his first full season outside Memphis.
One would expect Grizzlies fans to give Gay a warm welcome. Gay had led the Grizzlies in points per game the past three years.
Also, many Memphis fans mistakenly wished the team hadn't traded him. The Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington alluded to this a couple weeks after the Grizz were eliminated, tweeting, "I really don't want to write about the Rudy Gay trade again, but people keep talking about it and saying dumb stuff."
On the other hand, the Grizzlies won't be as friendly once they tip off. They gave him a great deal of trouble in his first faceoff with his former teammates, forcing him to shoot 5-of-15 from the field and turn it over five times.
Mike Conley and Tony Allen will once again prey on his tendencies to dribble into traffic and take bad jumpers.
This will be an emotional reunion for all involved, but it likely won't contain a happy result for the visiting star.
Numerous commentators did revisionist histories of the Grizzlies' playoff run after they were swept by the Spurs in the conference finals. The Guardian's Hunter Felt oversimplified the result of the series, assessing the elimination of the Thunder (as well as the Chicago Bulls) by saying they "ultimately fell for the same reason, the loss of an irreplaceable star player."
The Grizz will try to remind fans of these issues in their first meeting with the Thunder this season. Westbrook has shot 36.5 percent for his career against Memphis, worse than he has against any other team.
One would be surprised if Westbrook breaks out against the Grizz.
If they sequester him and assert their interior strength en route to a win, the men in the three shades of blue will have taken a step toward affirming their second-round ouster of Scott Brooks' crew.
If the Grizzlies are to better their postseason finish, they'll come face-to-face with the Miami Heat. The two-time defending champions won't let down their guard as the Big Three will be an average age of 30.3 years by springtime.
On March 1, Memphis played tight with the Heat in a nationally televised slot. They punished Miami with bruising defense until LeBron James drained a three-pointer with 24.2 seconds left. LeBron had scored 10 points in the first 47.5 minutes.
The Grizz get their next ESPN showcase against the Heat in this late-season moment.
Memphis won't enter match-shy, as they've won three of their past five showdowns with the Heat.
At first blush, this may not seem like a significant game, considering it's the next-to-last contest of the season and pits the Grizz against a team that would likely be in full-tank mode.
However, this provides Memphis with valuable playoff preparation in two ways.
First, this is the second of a pair of road games on back-to-back days, following a somewhat more evenly matched game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Their last set of games on consecutive days will challenge the alertness of Grizzlies players as they prepare for the playoffs. Memphis should try running early in an effort to put the Phoenix Suns away.
Then, Dave Joerger can give the bench players a chance to finish the job as they ready for the playoff rotation.
Second, the Grizzlies would be steadying themselves ahead of what could be a road-heavy playoff run. With the Thunder and Spurs remaining the favorites in the West and the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors on the rise, Memphis may face another entry in the bottom half of the bracket.
After going 3-5 in 2013 postseason matches away from the FedEx Forum, the Grizz must gear up for road playoff battles by pulling off one last victory out West. The Grizz would do well to knock off a struggling team that has beaten them in four of their last six meetings in Phoenix.