Grizz Need Strong Finish for Playoff Chance

By Don Wade

Twenty games to go and, at this point, even a 13-7 finish might not be good enough to ensure the Grizzlies make the Western Conference Playoffs.

Tony Allen and the Grizzlies have a 20-game stretch to end the season. And they’ll need to play well to make it to the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

That, for the record, is how they closed the season a year ago. But this time, despite a 36-26 record going into the Tuesday, March 11, game against Portland at FedExForum, the Grizzlies still sit in ninth place.

And so without some cooperation from Golden State, Dallas and Phoenix – the three teams immediately ahead of the Grizzlies – a good finish to the season might not be enough. The Grizzlies may have to have a great finish.

They went 2-1 on the most recent road trip – normally, everyone is happy with a 2-1 road trip – but gave a poor effort in the middle game at Brooklyn.

“A stinker,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

The Grizzlies are 7-3 over their last 10, and normally a .700 winning percentage ought to be more than good enough. But the Grizzlies can’t be sure, especially when the Mavericks hold the tiebreaker should they finish even with Grizzlies. And think about this, too: The last two games of the season are April 14 at Phoenix and April 16 here against the Mavericks.

Those could amount to play-in games.

Unfortunately, a look back over the schedule reveals a multitude of bad losses. From going 0-3 against the New Orleans Pelicans, to a loss at home to the Lakers in the midst of a five-game skid in December, to AWOL losses at Charlotte and Brooklyn.

The good news: After losing to the Nets, the Grizzlies went into Chicago on Friday, March 7, and beat the Bulls 85-77.

“They were getting to loose balls, second-chance shots, real physical,” the Bulls’ Taj Gibson said afterward. “They kind of used our own game against us.”

Of course, that is also the Grizzlies’ game – the game they must play from this point forward.

“Like I say, we hold our hats on the defensive end,” guard Tony Allen said.

“Our focus has gotten better, especially with what’s at stake every single game,” Joerger said. “We’ve learned some hard lessons this year. We have to go out and play (hard) and not let other people think they have a chance to win.”

Scoreboard watching is inevitable at this point, but Joerger says that, too, must be handled in the right way.

“We talked about it as a team in Chicago,” he said. “We just started hearing stuff and seeing stuff in the media. Our guys kind of have one eye on that, and that’s great. You want that passion.

“It means so much to all of our guys to play here for this organization and city,” the coach continued. “They do want it; they want it bad. But at times, it can fray your focus. … We kind of lost our focus a little there in Brooklyn and maybe got ahead of ourselves.”

But, like every other one of the 62 games played this season, that’s old business.

“Tuesday is the only one that matters,” Joerger said. “It’s Portland that’s the most important.”