Somebody needs to get out in front of this thing, before it gets out of hand. For a reactionary, bipolar fan base, this week is ripe with opportunity to overreact, for better or for worse. In an effort to avoid that emotional rollercoaster, I want everyone in GrizzNation to make a pledge:
I [state your name] promise that I will maintain an even keel; I vow that I will not let these next five days make or break my feelings on what this team is capable of achieving; I swear that I will neither gloat nor pout, however things play out.
The morning of the Grizzlies first game after the All-Star break I provided a glimpse ahead to the final thirty-one games of the regular season. In that article, I identified the toughest stretch this team will face over the remaining schedule:
March 12 – 16: We play back-to-back @ Portland and @ Clippers, followed by 1 day of rest and another back-to-back @ Denver and @ Utah. Playing 4-in-5 is tough enough as it is. Playing 4-in-5 on the West Coast in arenas that have not historically been kind is brutal. It is not unlikely that we catch an 0-4 during that stretch.
Time has quickly passed and here we are, at the dawn of this critical and difficult stretch of games. I am here today not to analyze the matchups, but to whisper a word of caution into the ear of a fan base that is quick to overreact.
There has been a lot of discussion about this trip the last few days on local sports talk radio, Twitter and Grizzlies message boards. Will the Grizzlies go 4-0? Could they manage a 2-2 trip? Is it true the world will end if we go 0-4?
Take a deep breath! This week will not change the Grizzlies status among the Western Conference elite, for better or for worse. This stretch of games will provide the team, fans and pundits nothing more than a new set of data-points about the team.
I’m not here to dampen excitement or lower expectations. I am here to provide some historical context for your consideration so that you remember – win or lose, sweep or split or swept – this week is an opportunity to learn more about the team, but it will not define the season or the expectations going forward.
If we go out to the West Coast and win 4 games in 5 nights, you are certainly encouraged to be excited, enthusiastic and to pack @FedExForum on Monday for the Minnesota game. What you should avoid is declaring that we will finish no worse than a 3-seed and be expected to reach the Western Conference Finals. Likewise, if we lose all four games, it is not time to fire Coach Hollins, bemoan mid-season trades and declare the season a failure.
Now for the context: First, all four of our opponents will be rested when we play, none having played the night before our game. Second, going back to the 2008-2009 season, we are 5-21 against these four teams in their building (in the regular season). In 4 years, we have won two regular season games in Portland, two in LA against the Clippers, one in Denver and zero in Salt Lake City. Keep in mind that in two of those seasons we were a very good team and made the playoffs.
Lastly, we have also not performed particularly well on long West Coast swings in general. Since the start of the 2008-2009 season the Grizzlies have had seven trips to the West Coast of 4+ games. Our record during those trips: 1-3; 0-5; 1-3; 1-3; 2-2; 1-3; 1-3. That is a combined 7-22.
There is one other thing to keep in mind during this trip. We are currently 0-2 against the Clippers and 1-2 against Denver. We will likely be jockeying for position with those two teams as we come down the stretch, and a loss to either team will tilt the tie-breaker in their favor. It isn’t the end of the world if it plays out that way, but all things being equal, you would obviously prefer to have the tie-breaker if possible.
We’ve played very well since the break, rattling off a cool 9-1 against mixed opposition. If we stumble, we stumble. Knowing this stretch was ahead is why it was so important to grab as many victories as possible over the last month. If the Grizzlies return to Memphis on Sunday with a record of 42-23, it is still pretty damned impressive.
So relax. Enjoy the games. If we win, that will be great and will help our playoff positioning. If we lose, it will be less great but will not change the way this team is viewed, locally or across the NBA.
Grind on, Memphis.
Hit me up on Twitter with your projections for this trip: @jmay11