This has been a forgettable year for the Memphis Grizzlies. They’ve got the worst record in the Western Conference not counting the Phoenix Suns who are on another level of bad. They’re 19 games out of first place and 10.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West. On Sunday they’ve got a tough non-conference game with Eastern Conference challenger Orlando.
The Magic have the opportunity to break a six year playoff drought but its not going to be easy. In the lower echelon of the Eastern Conference there are five teams within 4 games of each other vying for 3 playoff positions. Right now the teams that are ‘in’ are the 6th and 7th place Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets who are tied (Detroit leads by .001 in the win percentage column. The Miami Heat are 2.5 games behind in 8th place with the Magic 1 game behind them in 9th place. The Charlotte Hornets are just behind Orlando trailing the Magic by 1/2 game.
That makes this something of a ‘must win’ game for Orlando and by now every sports handicapper should know the old adage about ‘must win’ games: ‘must win’ teams seldom do. Or at least that’s the way to bet it. We’ve been big fans of Orlando all year and love how head coach Steve Clifford has revitalized the team on the defensive end. The Magic have the #5 scoring defense in the NBA allowing just 106.8 PPG. That’s better than Utah (106.9 PPG against), Denver (107.3 PPG against) and the two best teams in the East–Milwauke (108.2 PPG against) and Toronto (108.8 PPG against).
The problem here is that as good as Orlando has been on defense Memphis has been better. The Grizzlies aren’t good for much but they still play nasty team defense. In fact, at the moment they’ve got the #1 scoring defense in the NBA allowing just 103.8 PPG. That’s fractionally better than the #2 Indiana Pacers (103.9 PPG) but a full 3 points better than Orlando.
The Magic might be a tad overvalued at the moment. They’ve lost three straight games against the spread and have now failed to cover in their last four games as a favorite. Memphis might not be dominant at home but they’re not bad. Combined with their nasty team defense it’s a tough case to make that Orlando should be a road favorite here. In the other corner, Memphis might be undervalued of late having covered 4 straight and five of 6. They took a couple of solid wins here last week beating Utah and Portland.
The Magic have a favorable schedule to make the playoffs playing teams outside of the top 8 for the next week or so. After this game, they’ll play at Washington and then return home for five straight games against Cleveland, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis and the only playoff bound team they’ll play during that stretch, Philadelphia. The Magic have improved but even so not interest in betting a team five games under .500 as a road favorite. Memphis wins this one.