VIDEO: Clutch Plays of January
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Rather quietly, the Memphis Grizzlies have won seven of their last eight games. And they’ve done it in uncharacteristic fashion, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions over the eight games, the league’s seventh best mark over that stretch.
At the start of January, the Grizzlies were tied for sixth place in the Western Conference. They’ve only moved up to fifth, but that’s a key advancement. There are three West teams that are much better than the other 12, and if you finish fourth or fifth, you don’t have to face any of the big three in the first round of the playoffs.
One reason for the Grizzlies’ recent success is the schedule. They’ve played nine of their last 11 games at home and the last seven against teams with losing records.
And the schedule is the reason the Grizzlies’ should remain in that 4-5 quadrant of the West playoff picture. Memphis has the league’s easiest February by a wide margin.
The Grizzlies will spend most of the month (seven games) on the road, but only two of their 11 February games are against teams (Dallas and Toronto) that currently have winning records. They play the Nets, Timberwolves and Suns, and face the 9-41 Lakers twice in a row late in the month. And they could remain a strong offensive team, with just one February game against a top-10 defense (Feb. 21 at Toronto).
Things will get tougher for the Grizzlies in March (when they face the Spurs twice) and April (when they face the Warriors twice). But their February schedule should have them in good position well beyond the All-Star break.
A few more Western Conference notes from the February schedule…
- The Warriors and Thunder will meet for the first time on Saturday in Oakland. They’ll also play in Oklahoma City on Feb. 27. Neither game is part of a back-to-back for either team.
- The Mavs play just two February games (fewest in the West) against bottom-10 defenses. They’re their last two games – vs. Denver and Minnesota – of the month.
- 28 of the 30 teams play either five (15) or six (13) games between now and the All-Star break. The exceptions are the Warriors, who only play four games in the next 10 days, and the Pelicans, who play seven in the next 11.
- But the Warriors play just two home games this month and begin their post-break schedule with a seven-game trip that starts with a rough five-games-in-seven-days stretch that takes them from Portland to L.A. to Atlanta to Miami to Orlando.
- Just a game in the loss column separates the seventh-place Rockets from the eighth-place Blazers, who play each other three times (twice in Portland) in February.
- The Clippers begin their post-break schedule by hosting the Spurs (Feb. 18) and Warriors (Feb. 20). But those are their only two February games against top-10 offenses.
- The Warriors, Spurs and Thunder are a combined 71-8 against the other 12 teams in the West. That’s bad news for the Pelicans and Suns, who each have three games against the big three this month.
- The Suns have have a 2.4-points-per-100-possessions edge over the Lakers for 29th in defensive efficiency, but play their first eight games against top-10 offenses.
- Sleep Train Arena will be a good place to be for the last six days of the month, when the Kings host the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.
- After the Spurs host the Lakers on Feb. 6, they don’t have another home game until March 2. It’s rodeo time.
Like the Grizzlies, the Miami Heat are in the middle of their conference’s playoff picture. But the Heat are in a different boat in regard to the month ahead. They have the league’s toughest February schedule, with six road games, eight games against teams that are .500 or better, and only one game (Tuesday at Houston) against a team that currently ranks in the bottom 10 in either offensive or defensive efficiency.
Miami is just 10-13 against other teams that are currently .500 or better, but is coming off wins over Chicago and Atlanta last week.
More Eastern Conference notes…
- The two best teams in the East – the Cavs and Raptors – meet Feb. 26 in Toronto.
- The Hawks leave the Eastern time zone for only one game (Feb. 10 in Chicago) all month.
- Starting with Tuesday’s visit to New York, the Celtics go into the break with six games in just nine days, including two road-home back-to-backs.
- The Nets have played the league’s toughest schedule thus far, but have a relatively easy February. That could affect the Lottery odds of the pick that Boston owns. Brooklyn is two games behind both Minnesota and Phoenix in the win column, so a decent month could drop that pick from the third best odds to the fifth best odds.
- The Hornets are the only team that plays all of its February games within its conference. Sunday’s win over the Lakers was their last road game of the season against the West. They’re one of two teams (Orlando is the other) that plays seven February games against top-10 defenses.
- The Bucks will be the second team to wrap up its road schedule against the opposite conference. Their last three games in West arenas are this week.
- The Magic begin the month with visits to San Antonio and Oklahoma City, followed by a home game against the Clippers. They play five total games against the West’s top four this month, and they don’t play a single February game against a bottom-10 defense.
- The Hawks and Knicks each play just one February game against top-10 offense, and they both do it on Feb. 22, when Atlanta hosts Golden State and New York hosts Toronto.