Sizzling Grizzlies Favored To Win Division, But Playoffs Are A Different Story

Second-place Mavs have shorter odds to win Western Conference
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At 25-14, the Memphis Grizzlies have won six straight games to tighten their grip on the Western Conference’s fourth seed ahead of the Lakers, Mavericks, and Nuggets. But among that group of four, the Grizzlies, who are favored to beat the Pistons in Memphis by 13 points on Thursday, are currently being assigned the longest odds (30/1 at Caesars, whose odds are listed throughout) of winning the conference title.

How come?

“The division is nice, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” said Adam Pullen, Caesars’ assistant director of trading. “Once we get into the playoffs, when you’re dealing with full-strength or healthy Denver or Dallas teams, they’ll be at better odds than Memphis. If Memphis is the three seed and the Lakers are the six seed, the Lakers will likely be favored [to win that first-round matchup].

“It’s tough when you’re a young team, and experience matters in the playoffs.”

Postseason experience is something the young Grizzlies (a -220 favorite to win the Southwest Division) lack, having succumbed to the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round of last season’s playoffs after gamely emerging from the play-in round. The Mavericks, meanwhile, have lost in the first round in consecutive years to the Los Angeles Clippers, while their star point guard, Luka Doncic, is a season more seasoned than Memphis’ Ja Morant. Apparently that’s enough for sportsbooks to like the 20-18 Mavs’ chances more than those of the team they’re looking up at in the division standings.

‘Bane has been a revelation’

If there’s a comp for this year’s Memphis squad, it could be the 2018-2019 Denver Nuggets, a deep, youthful team that lost to the Blazers in the conference semis after posting a 54-28 regular season record. (Denver made it to the conference finals the following year, only to fall to the bubble-champ Lakers.) There was also last season’s upstart Suns squad, but they had Chris Paul.

To make such a run without a ton of experience, Pullen said, “All it takes is a couple of players, and team chemistry is worth a lot.”

The Grizzlies appear to have chemistry to burn, and second-year TCU product Desmond Bane has emerged as a somewhat surprising second banana alongside Morant in the Memphis backcourt, averaging over 17 points per game while shooting better than 41% from three-point range. While Morant is still favored to win the league’s Most Improved Player award at odds of +125, Bane has vaulted up that board to become the sixth favorite — along with Golden State’s Jordan Poole — at 30/1.

“It’s nice to see guys stepping up and improving,” said Pullen. “You’re gonna get that every year — there’s gonna be guys who come out of nowhere and break out. Bane has been a revelation.”

Morant has been so good that he’s also in the MVP conversation at 50/1, the same odds afforded Doncic, the preseason favorite.

“I think he’s been given serious consideration,” Pullen said of Morant. “There are 10 to 15 players that can win that award, and it also correlates to how the team’s doing. Memphis is surprising people at fourth in the West. [Steph] Curry’s a deserving favorite (+120) because the Warriors are playing so well. If Memphis gets up to the two or three spot [in the West] by the end of the year, that will definitely improve Ja’s standing in the MVP race. Now you’ve got DeMar DeRozan (35/1) in the mix as well, and the MVP award betting is very tough.”

Grizz due for a correction?

Nabbing one of the top three seeds will be extraordinarily difficult in light of how well Golden State, Phoenix, and Utah are playing. But as for what it would take for Memphis to leapfrog its lesser regular season rivals on the postseason odds board, Pullen said, “They’ve just got to keep on the current pace. You would think it would balance out and they’ll go a little lower in the standings, but if they theoretically get to a second or third seed, they’ll get more respect. 

“We’re halfway through the season, so there’s a long way to go. Winning does a lot and builds credibility amongst the betting public. But winning in the playoffs is a different ballgame than the regular season. It’ll take a lot to think of the Grizzlies on the same level as the Mavs or the Nuggets, but time will tell.”

Photo: David Richard/USA TODAY

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