The home stretch is all that remains in this odd NBA season, and out West, more and more standings watchers and hard-core bettors are starting to pay attention to the Memphis Grizzlies, who may have – under the radar – assembled what may be shaping up as the next powerhouse in the Association.
Since flaming out if the Bubble a few seasons ago, the Grizzlies’ numbers are staggering. Over the last two Covid-scarred seasons, they somehow are 82-50 against the spread, including 40-20 this season. Suffice to say, that’s the best in the NBA, and it’s doubtful that any of the other decent cover teams (Oklahoma City, Chicago, Toronto) will have a better betting scorecard once the regular season finishes up in mid-April.
How did the Grizz get so good, so fast? Actually, not so fast. Since bottoming out (22-60 SU) in 2017-18, Memphis has gotten steadily better each year since. And lucky. Very, very lucky. Especially on May 15, 2019, when the Ping Pong balls fell their way and the New Orleans Pelicans got the No. 1 pick and were saddled with the heaping, injured mass that now passes for Zion Williamson. The Grizz settled for a 6-foot-3 guard from mid-major Murray State named Ja Morant, and Memphis was off to the races.
Like many stars, Morant has missed some time this season, and to be honest his MVP chances suffered a tad when the Grizzlies played well without him. But he’s still on the periphery of the chase, in the mix with luminaries such as Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, last year’s winner Nikola Jokic and this year’s heavy favorite Joel Embiid. Morant is at +1800 and would need bad things to happen to the others to pull through, but just to be listed in the conversation speaks volumes about what he has done for the franchise.
Memphis won’t be able to catch Phoenix for the top seed in the West, and likely won’t fall to fourth unless Utah goes nuts in the final eight weeks. But the Grizzlies have a legitimate shot at catching third-place Golden State for second in the West, and possibly securing home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, neither Memphis’s solid season nor its 8-2 pre-All Star Game tear (that despite a trap game loss at home to Portland in the final game before the break) has impressed oddsmakers all that much. Yes, the Grizzlies have melted the odds of winning the title from +10000 pre-season to +2500 currently, but the books still think either other teams – Golden State, Phoenix, Brooklyn, Milwaukee,
Philadelphia, Miami – have a better shot than does Memphis. And they even list Boston (underachiever all year) and Utah (limping of late) at +2500, the same as Memphis. As Rodney Dangerfield would say if he was still here, “How do you get any respect around here?”
The final leg of the season starts Thursday night in Minnesota, where the Grizzlies will be a +2.5-point road favorite. Tough games at Chicago and Boston are also on the docket before they begin a very benign eight-game stats-fattening run against teams with losing records before the schedule toughens again over the final few weeks of the regular season.
All the while, bettors need to answer a few questions as they ponder laying money down on a young-and-hungry Grizzlies team:
1. After covering two games out of every three since October, is there any meat left on the bone, or will a combination of complacency and books adjusting the spreads bring Memphis back to the pack?
2. Will the Grizzlies, who are the NBA’s No. 1 offensive team (113.8 ppg), be able to continue their success in the playoffs when opponents can game-plan and play tends to slow down?
“Our goal is to win the championship, and I feel like as long as we stay locked in, continue to grow together, play together, that goal can be achieved,” Morant said at the All-Star festivities. “We just got to stay the course, take it day by day and let it play out.”