The Memphis Grizzlies have reached the NBA postseason. Sort of.
Technically, the regular season is over and they’re still playing, so they’re part of the postseason. Now they merely need to win back-to-back games, both as a clear underdog, in order to make it into the 16-team playoff bracket.
It’s not the situation Grizzlies fans were hoping for when the Orlando “bubble” restart began on July 30, when Memphis was in eighth place in the Western Conference. But it’s better than the situation the team would be in if it hadn’t won Thursday against an unmotivated Milwaukee Bucks team.
Following a streak of seven straight playoff appearances from 2010-11 through 2016-17, the Grizz have been on the outside looking in the past two seasons. In order to reverse that trend, coach Taylor Jenkins’ team, which finished 34-39, a half game back of the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed, must beat Portland twice in a row, on Saturday and Sunday. If the Blazers win Saturday, or lose Saturday but win Sunday, they’ll advance to a seven-game series with the LA Lakers and the Grizzlies’ season will be over.
If Blazers vs. Grizzlies was considered a coin-flip matchup, then Memphis would be a simple 3/1 underdog to advance. Unfortunately for Tennessee basketball fans, the situation is more bleak than that.
Odds aren’t in Grizzlies’ favor
The eight-game restart mini-season went poorly for the Grizzlies, as they posted a 2-6 record and lost second-leading scorer Jared Jackson Jr. to a torn meniscus. The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, went 6-2 behind MVP-caliber play from Damian Lillard to pass Memphis in the standings.
Many in the NBA community see Portland as a real threat to the top-seeded Lakers in round one of the playoffs.
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, wants to see the Blazers in the 1st round now that Nurkic is healthy
Even as a Lakers fan, I will admit the Blazers can pull off the upset
— LegendOfWinning (@LegendOfWinning) August 7, 2020
The Grizzlies on the other hand, would be a massive underdog against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and company. And they’re a fairly sizable underdog to even get that far.
For Saturday’s play-in game, both FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook — which will both likely be available to Tennessee sports bettors when the activity finally launches sometime in the next few months — have Memphis as a 7-point underdog to Portland. When the teams met in the first game of the restart, Portland won by five points in overtime, with a then-healthy Jackson pacing Memphis with 33 points.
On the moneyline, DraftKings has the Grizzlies at +235 and FanDuel offers a slightly better +240 payout. For those looking to bet the other side, DraftKings has the superior price on the Blazers at -286, to FanDuel’s -295. If you average all those numbers together, the books are saying the Grizzlies are a +264 underdog, which implies a 27.5% chance that they’ll win this game.
If Memphis does prevail, and the odds are the same for the second game, it would suggest their likelihood of beating Portland twice in a row stands at just 7.5%. Then again, if they win on Saturday, the odds for the Sunday game figure to shorten. So one could reasonably deduce that the team’s true chances of reaching a series with the Lakers are about 10%.
Worth a shot at 250/1?
Even if presumptive Rookie of the Year Ja Morant seems capable of making a leap when the postseason spotlight shines, the reality is that the Grizzlies lack other offensive weapons without Jackson. Jonas Valanciunas is a respected veteran center, and shooting guard Dillon Brooks is capable of the occasional scoring outburst, but the Grizzlies don’t have much beyond that to suggest a deep playoff run is possible.
And that’s certainly how the sportsbooks see it. At FanDuel, Memphis has the worst title odds of the 17 remaining teams, at 250/1.
DraftKings, somewhat surprisingly, sees two longer shots in the Eastern Conference. While DK has Memphis at 200/1, the Orlando Magic stand at 300/1 and the depleted but surprisingly frisky Brooklyn Nets are 400/1.
The Grizzlies are better on paper than either of those teams, so in a sense, the prices are justifiable. But entering the weekend, the Magic and Nets are in the tournament, while Memphis is still two wins away — two wins as a clear underdog, no less.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports
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