Grizzlies showing their playoff teeth

By Fran Blinebury,

VIDEO: The Grizzlies storm back in Salt Lake City to topple the Jazz

This is the way you always expect Grizzlies to look. Big and scary with sharp teeth and claws.

Dangerous, too.

Pity the poor team in the upper half of the contentious Western Conference bracket that wakes up on the eve of the playoffs to find Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph lumbering hungrily into their campsite.

At just the right time, in just the right way, the Memphis blues have given way to a more ominous sound. Think more of Darth Vader‘s “Imperial March”.

That should frighten everyone from San Antonio to Oklahoma City to Los Angeles to Houston.

“Oh, you really don’t want to run into Memphis in the first round of the playoffs,” said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. “Not with the style they play that is so different from most other teams these days, grinding it out and beating you up. Not with Randolph and Gasol on their games. They’re a bear.”

OK, pun appreciated.

It was, of course, no joke when the Grizzlies opened the season looking like they were in competition with the Lakers in a nose-dive competition to the bottom. Not with Gasol and eventually Tony Allen hobbled. Not when everyone in the locker room and on the court was trying to get adjusted to the coaching change and the style tweaks from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger. There were rumors that Randolph was on the trading block.

Back then, the Grizzlies dug themselves a hole in the standings as deep as the No. 12 spot, yet now are at No. 7 and quite possibly climbing higher. They are just one game behind No. 6 Golden State and 1 1/2 games behind No. 5 Portland.

After last night’s 91-87 win at Utah, the Grizzlies have the best record (28-9) in the NBA since Jan. 10 and are positioning themselves maybe even make a return trip to the West finals.

Salt Lake City was the first stop on a critical five-game road trip that will also go through Golden State, Portland, Denver and Minnesota and go a long way toward determining where the Grizzlies wind up in the playoff chase.

“It’s the biggest trip of the year,” point guard Mike Conley told Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “It’s going to test us a lot mentally and physically. We don’t overlook anybody. We just have to play our basketball and worry about making the plays we make, and not adjusting to what other teams do. We’re going to be ready for battle.”

Playing the Grizzlies of recent vintage has always been like a fight, with the scratch marks, bruises and scars left behind as proof. With Gasol now healthy and back in the middle to offer serious rim protection, the Grizzlies boast the No. 2-rated defense in the league since his return on Jan. 14. With Allen back and scrapping out on the wing, they are Grizzlies who can take a game — and an opponent — in their paws and squeeze the life out of them.

Memphis has won 11 of last 14 games with the only losses coming on the road at Miami, Brooklyn and Toronto. The Grizzlies have been taking care of business at home in the “Grind House,” defeating the teams they’re supposed to and outright devouring the awful ones.

“It shows our focus is at an all-time high,” Conley said. “Playing against good teams over the last few weeks has got our minds in a playoff mode and our sense of urgency back. We’re playing with a higher standard.”

While the return of Gasol has been credited the most for turning the season around and getting them back to their old snarling defensive ways, the Grizzlies are also are somewhat different and better on the offensive end. Memphis still ranks dead last in 3-point shots attempted and made, but the Grizzlies’ success rate from behind the arc (35.6) has crept closer to the middle of the pack (18th). Their overall field goal percentage (46.3) ranks eighth, making offense less of the teeth-gnashing affair it has been. The additions of Mike Miller, Courtney Lee and Jon Leuer have provided much needed outside shooting and given Conley more options to direct the ball. Miller hit three key jumpers, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the comeback at Utah.

And then there is Conley, who continues to get overlooked among a crowded Western Conference crop of point guards when the spots on the All-Star teams are handed out. He’s upped his scoring to a career-best 17.1 points as he continues to hand out an average half dozen assists each game. His PER (20.1) is just outside the top 25 in the league. He’s grown steadily through seven NBA seasons to become a veteran leader of an offense and concentrating less on making steals to play solid team defense at the other end.

Toss in a bench that also has Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos and the Grizzlies have a deeper, more balanced roster than even the team that went on the long playoff run a year ago.

For a season that could have gone over the edge, the Grizzlies have pulled themselves back up to the level of real threat in the playoffs to one of the so-called elite teams at the top.

“This is a crucial stretch of the season,” said Randolph at the start of the trip. “These five games can determine where we end up.”

And which team in the West gets a big and unexpected headache in the first round.

VIDEO: Inside Stuff’s crew talks about the Grizzlies’ comeback in the standings


  1. gritngrind says:

    The grizz have a big chance at making the same run they did a year ago.

    Let’s be honest, the grizz are the only legitimate lower seeded team in the west that has a chance.

    Golden state and Portland are way too inconsistent. You live by the 3 as well as die by it

    The Mavericks are a well rounded team in terms of scoring, but in my opinion, Dirk would need someone to step up big if they want to get by the first round. (By someone I mean Ellis)

    Phoenix are similar yet very different from the grizz. They are similar as in, they play this as a team, they don’t have an all star, the closest one in my opinion would be Gerald Green. Bledsoe gave the grizz hell last year in the play offs with his transition game.

    –My full prediction (if it were happening today)
    Grizz beat the Thunder in 6 )) The grizz like to play close grind it out games as everyone knows, and Westbrook (as good as he is) would get frustrated with defense of Conley TA or Lee. All three of those guys could get under his skin just like Beverly does.

    -2nd Round-
    Grizz beat the Clippers in 5 )) Blake Griffin gets pummeled like usual. All games are decided by 3 points or less.

    Conf Finals
    Grizz Actually BEAT the Spurs in 7 )) Yeah I’m crazy…With the loss of Danny Green, the Spurs may be strong, but are very weakened. The tenacious Grizz Defense would eventually overcome Pop’s very brilliant schemes and strategies. (Sorry Duncan my bruddah)

    7 Games and a toss up between either )) The Pacers may be strong at home but the Grizz have been one of the stronger teams on the road. I really do think the Grizz could win it all.

  2. Jahmel says:

    I am a big Grizzlies fan so i am slightly biased but…. here is how I believe the first round will play out based on the Grizzlies standing.
    MEM v SAS = 4-0 sweep for SAS
    MEM v OKC = Difficult but, MEM plays OKC well and regardless of what you say about last year and how Westbrook was not there historically Memphis is good at what OKC lacks. On the other side of the coin OKC is good at MEM is bad at. I see this series going 7 and i would not be surprised if Memphis can pull one out.
    MEM v LAC = 4-3 MEM. Lets be honest we all want to see this series happen. By far the best rivalry in the post-season to date … maybe even better than heat-pacers.

  3. The KKK says:

    They’ll win.

  4. Prada says:

    Its about match up they have a better chance at beating okc ppl forget they went 7 games with okc and 2 yrs later beat them 4 to 2 last year when they played the clips they was down 0-2 in the series beat them 4 games in the row. People acting like memphis ain’t a elite team. R u kidding me? Trust no one wants to play grizzlies in the playoffs they transform to that grit and grind that majority of the nba elite just can’t handle and that’s their advantage. Only spurs,heat,and clips can beat them at this point because of small ball and versatility i don’t see no other team beating them.#JustMyOpinion

  5. Bobobolas says:

    I like that, you all guys thinking the Grizzs are going to be swept. When we won San Antonio with the #8 seed the excuse is they were old. When we easily beat the OKC it was because of Westbroke. The Clippers because Griffin was not healthy. Yet here we are. What are the excuses going to be. I am looking forward to play the rockets. It should be a easy one for us.

  6. Rickson says:

    Most teams from west are really good but most peoples include the reporters don’t really believe Clippers are one scary team and they are really have good change to win the playoff. by the way i’m Bulls fan…

  7. John says:

    I am 100% up for them first. From OKC; they need to know that trip to the Western Conference Finals last year will be there only trip for a long, long time. I’d bet money on a sweep.

  8. Autocorrect says:

    This is ridiculous :/ while they might provide a hard fought battle I’m sure San Antoinio or the thunder would sweep the grizzles in the first round. Houston and the Clippers would likely beat them as well yeah I get it no one wants to exhaust themself in the first round but that’s about all that would happen Memphis isn’t causing any upsets.

  9. vencedor says:

    Fran love bears!

  10. jake s. says:

    no one wants to play the grizz but everyone will beat the grizz… again!

  11. jake s. says:

    no one wants to play the grizz but everyone will beat the grizz…

  12. Jj says:

    I’m sorry Fran but as I checked spurs’ record they are 27-8 since jan 10 which puts them at a winning percentage of 80. Grizzlies, despite the fact that they have more wins, does not have the best record since jan 10 because their percentage is 76%.

  13. The Donald says:

    Fran has been stealing notes from Charles Barkley

  14. JM says:

    LOL. Truth is, they are afraid to be swept by the Spurs in the first round.

  15. okc2014 says:

    Grrrrrrr. Even still OKC is up for the challenge. And they will run for cover because bears hate thunder!

  16. dustydreamnz says:

    Fran is funny.

  17. Damian Lillard says:

    They scary,grinding their teeth that way!