Yesterday, along with the rest of the league, the Grizzlies announced the 2014-15 regular season schedule, and those of us who have been mostly pretending basketball doesn't exist the last couple weeks (no, of course I'm not talking about myself) were forced to admit that basketball is really right around the corner.
Last year's schedule certainly had its oddities: the Grizzlies had most of their back-to-backs after the All Star break, they had the same four-game November West Coast road trip they always have (except this time they went 4-0), and in a weird twist, they were locked in a three-way battle with the Mavericks and Suns for the last two playoff spots and had to (essentially) play a round-robin tournament against them to end the season.
This year's edition also has a few features ("features") worth noting:
• The NBA is experimenting with having a week-long All Star break this year, which I think is a great idea. As a result, the shortest break any team has in February is 8 days. The Grizzlies, however, somehow managed to have a ten-day gap between playing the Thunder on 2/11 and the Blazers on 2/22—which will undoubtedly be some much-needed rest (assuming that no Grizzlies are on the All Star team, which is usually a safe assumption regardless of whether anyone on the team deserves to be).
• The Grizzlies are playing one regular season game on ESPN. One. They have six on NBATV. But they have one (1) (uno) (eins) regular season game on ESPN. Great job promoting a small-market team that's made the playoffs four seasons in a row, league. I guess people would rather watch the Lakers (who have 20 nationally-televised games), who will probably be terrible this year, but that just proves something we already knew: people are dumb. Also galling is the fact that the ESPN game is (1) at OKC, not a home game and (2) in November, so late in the season when the team is rounding into playoff form (we hope) that national basic-cable audience will have no idea what they look like. I think it represents a massive failure of league marketing strategy not to promote their best teams no matter what market they're in. The NFL does a much better job of this.
• Presumably because of the long All Star break, the Grizzlies are playing 20 back-to-backs this season. That seems like a lot, especially when you consider that only five of them happen before January 1 and only 2 in April, meaning January, February, and March—always the "dog days" of the NBA schedule anyway—are going to be even more of a grind. I really hope the league is considering reducing the number of regular season games. Even taking it down to 70 or 75 would provide some relief from this craziness; 82 is just too many. "Because we've always had to play back-to-backs" just isn't a good enough reason to keep doing it. I'd be totally in favor of a 65-game NBA regular season with no back-to-backs at all.
• Also worth noting is a phenomenon that has popped up all over the NBA in this schedule: April 3 and 4th is rare home-home back-to-back, two home games in two nights against OKC and the Wizards. That ought to be fun.
• At the end of the season media availability back in May (or April? I had a newborn at the time, so I honestly couldn't tell you when that actually happened) coach Dave Joerger and the players all expressed the same sentiment: the Grizzlies' poor start to the season was a big reason they ended up having to play the Thunder as a seven seed instead of being a four, five, or six seed. This schedule, especially the November chunk, should lend itself rather nicely to a good start: only one back to back; road games in Charlotte, Milwaukee, L.A. against the Lakers, and Sacramento; home games against the Lakers, Pistons, and Celtics (and Clippers, which should be fun). Before that, the Grizzlies' two games in October are against the Wolves and Pacers. They should be in pretty good shape going into December, which starts to get a little tougher, including two games against the Spurs. But the November schedule looks like it should be kind to the Grizzlies and let them build some momentum early.
• No matter what, the Grizzlies have to do one thing better than they did last year: the Griz were a miserable 4-12 in the Southwest division, the same divisional record as the last-place Pelicans. The Spurs and Mavericks gave the Griz all kinds of problems, and so did the injury-plagued Pelicans, who can use Anthony Davis to blow up everything the Grizzlies' offense tries to do within 15 feet of the basket. Houston was a bit of an easier out, due to stylistic mismatches, but the problem remains: if the Grizzlies can't do better against the teams they play the most often, they're not going to get the playoff seeding they want. They had the worst divisional record of any playoff team last year (Charlotte was next-to-last at 6-10) and the next-to-worst divisional record of a Western Conference playoff team was Dallas at 9-7. The only team in the league with a worse divisional record than the Grizzlies (five teams finished 4-12) were the Sacramento Kings at 3-13. That has to change, period, or the Griz are going to be in trouble at the end of the year.
Overall, it's a schedule that seems pretty fair. We'll have to wait and see how standings shake out to know whether March and April are going to be problematic in terms of the toughness of the Grizzlies' opponents, but I think that's okay. The Grizzlies' challenge is now ahead of them. Fewer than two months to (preseason) basketball—ready or not.