OKC Eliminate Grizz

Game 7

In the end, the league’s MVP rose to the occasion. Faced twice with a game deficit, once at 2-1 and again at 3-2, Kevin Durant willed his team into the Western Conference semifinals.

For the Grizzlies, a season filled with nausea and injury, ecstasy and myocardial infarction has ended. No shame, no regrets. A first round series worthy of the Western Conference Finals concluded after seven games, 4 overtimes, 3 4-point plays, a nationally broadcast Tony Allen defensive clinic, a Nick Calathes suspension, a subsequent Beno Udrih emergence, a Joey Crawford spaz-attack, the least efficient triple double in history courtesy of Russell Westbrook, a wooden hat worn by Mike Conley, a Zach Randolph punch, a subsequent Zach Randolph suspension (not without controversy), and an untimely Mike Conley hamstring injury. Surely I missed something.

photo by Nikki Boertman

photo by Nikki Boertman

Many (outside Memphis) predicted the Thunder in 6 or 7, and the latter was the result. For Grizzlies players and fans, countless what ifs come to mind, specifically regarding games 4 and 6. But as the great philosopher Tony Allen said “if ifs were fifths, we’d all be drunk”.

Today, Kevin Durant was dubbed Most Valuable Player, and in games 6 and 7 he showed why. In games 1-5, however, he was effectively shut down regardless of point totals. He was relegated to a corner decoy, as Westbrook and Reggie Jackson did their best to shoulder the load of creation and instigation.

It’s over, in the past, and time to move on.

Looking to 2014-15

With a full season including an epic playoff series under his belt, Dave Joerger will look to build on a positive first campaign at the helm. When chosen to replace Lionel Hollins, mixed feelings were abound. In truth, much of the protest was not directed towards him, his philosophy, lack of professional head coaching experience, or willingness to embrace analytics. Rather, it was the failure to renew Hollins’ contract after a decade of service to the franchise (dating back to Vancouver), a resume of improving success, and an attitude of I don’t give a damn where you’re from, what you’ve done before, what you’re up against now, finish the job. His mantra goes, “Everyday life throws a knife at you, how do you respond?”

It’s safe to say that mentality was engrained in the heads of Allen, Conley, Gasol, and Randolph, and now lives on through the new regime. Faced with countless obstacles this year, no excuses were made. Even in the face of overwhelming adversity (suspension, injury), the team jumped out to lead the Thunder in game 7. There was simply no gas left in the tank, and not enough fire power in the arsenal.

The outlook is positive for the Grizz, but major questions loom.

Contracts and Personnel

Clearly the biggest question is what will become of Zach Randolph. A player option is on the table for $16.5 million in the upcoming season. He could also opt out of the current contract for a multi-year deal in Memphis or elsewhere. Should he opt out and renegotiate with Memphis at a lower rate, there will be a lot more flexibility to sign a wing scorer which the team desperately lacks as the offense is still prone to snoozing.

Names have been thrown around like Thaddeus Young, Gordon Hayward, Trevor Ariza and others. Ariza and Hayward could demand higher level money, which would eliminate the Grizz as they need to remain below the luxury tax. A player like Hayward, however, fits the mentality of the team, has played well in a small market, and could accept less for a chance at title contention. Thaddeus Young is an interesting option. A New Orleans born turned Memphian (he played high school ball at Mitchell), Young is long and atheltic. He can attack the basket and play above the rim. He would also add to our stable of lefties. Ariza would be best in terms of outside shooting, but has played so well for the Wiz in the playoffs that he may no longer be in reach.

For one of these pieces to be added, of course, someone will have to go. Tayshaun Prince is a likely candidate, if a package/trade partner can be found. Quincy Pondexter could be on the chopping block as well. Despite his heart filled Conference Finals performance two years ago, a season ending injury in addition to a series of exchanges with Dave Joerger during an early season game against Brooklyn could see him voted off the island. James Johnson brought good energy, but was only on a season long contract, and received little to no playing time down the stretch due to his Tony Allen trick or treatish nature.

Beyond wing players, momentum is mounting for the return of Pau Gasol. The chance at redemption (not unlike Battier and Mike Miller) plus an opportunity to play with his brother in a familiar setting is well documented as a logical and attractive outcome for Gasol the elder.

There will be much more written in the coming days, and weeks, especially building towards the lottery and draft. The front office will have new avenues open, and others close depending on how the ping pong balls fall and the conclusion of the playoffs.

Until, then stay cool. It’s heating up outside.

-Travis Nauert

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Keeping things light in the post season

Any team in the playoffs sees a significant increase in media attention, but there’s just something about the way the Grizzlies do it.

From wild outfits, to enormous amounts of sass, to your average press conference entertainment, here’s a look at the fantastic media coverage of the Grizzlies/Thunder series. It’s a clown show, really.

Russell Westbrook wasn’t aware of the Grindhouse.

In an interview with Jarvis Greer of Action News 5, Russell Westbook refused to accept the FedEx Forum’s beloved nickname. He interrupted Greer after her referred to the Grindhouse, insisting that the gorgeous arena be known exclusively by its sponsor-given name. Here’s how it went down according to the Commercial Appeal:

He was responding to a question from one of Memphis’s longest-tenured TV sports anchors, Jarvis Greer, that went like this: “Your road record is one of the best in the NBA but talk a little bit specifically about playing here in the Grindhouse against this team.”

Westbrook gave Greer a bit of a quizzical look and said, “You said the FedExForum? That’s the name of the arena, right?”

To which, Greer answered in the affirmative. Then Westbrook continued: “Uh, playing at the, uh, FedExForum , it’s a good arena, the fans are loud and they cheer on their team and we just gotta come in and play our game.”

 

A little tense, Russell?

Russell-Westbrook-Returns-To-Practice.

Trick or Treat

Tony Allen is currently OWNING the leading scorer in the NBA, Kevin Durant, so you know he’s having one heck of a week. His dominance in this series with OKC has earned him quite a bit of time in the media, and I must say he has composed himself pretty well so far. I’m so proud. But the rest of the nation is getting just a taste of what Grizz Nation already knows. You know you’re special when you have more than one unforgettable nickname.

I can answer that for you, Bill- Tony Allen- *Future Voice*

 

That time Kendrick Perkins sat on Mike Miller

Hey, Kendrick Perkins, take a seat. Wait, no, not there.

On thursday night, Perkins decided to stop time, if just for a moment, and take in the glory of Grizz Nation. On top of Mike Miller. Hilarity ensues.

 

(SB Nation)

(SB Nation)

 

 

(SB Nation)

(SB Nation)

 

Things get a little weird afterhours in the Forum

If you’ve been to a Grizzlies game you know about Super Grizz, the Grannies and Grandpas and the leaping Elvis impersonators. If you haven’t been to the FedEx Forum… well, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.

 

And I don’t even know what to say about this:

Please say this was a joke. Please say this was a joke.

 

It’s a slippery slope, Mike. Turn back while you still can!!

(businessinsider.com)

(businessinsider.com)

 

As we all prepare ourselves for the game tonight, I want to leave you with one image. It’s an oldie but a goodie courtesy of Zach Randolph. I just couldn’t end this post without mentioning Z-Bo.

 

One love, Grizz Nation.

 

-Casey Black

Fear and Loathing in OKC

He chuckled. “As your attorney,” he said, “I advise you not worry.” He nodded toward the bathroom. “Take a hit out of that little brown bottle in my shaving kit.”

   “What is it?” 

   “Adrenochrome,” he said. “You won’t need much. Just a little tinytaste.”

   I got the bottle and dipped the head of a paper match into it.

   “That’s about right,” he said. “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer. You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.”

…My body felt like I’d just been wired into a 220 volt socket.


   It was after midnight when I finally was able to talk and move around . . . but I was still not free of the drug; the voltage had merely been cranked down from 220 to 110. I was a babbling nervous wreck, flapping around the room like a wild animal, pouring sweat and unable to concentrate on any one thought for more than two or three seconds at a time.

-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

Hopefully, you’ve read that book, or at least seen the movie. But even if you haven’t, I’ll take it that you can sympathize with why these lines came to mind after Monday night’s game 2 between the Grizz and Thunder. As midnight passed, I struggled to hit my REM cycle with an exam approaching in just over 12 hours. I was jacked up on adrenochrome. Ok, it was just regular naturally secreted adrenaline, but a deluge had flooded my bloodstream.

It’s likely that some residual pain from the 3 OT loss will always linger, but for now, most of it has dissipated. Just as Mike Conley and Greivis Vasquez connected on desperation heaves forcing extra time in that classic three years ago, last night Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins added to the archive of highlights which exemplify the ongoing roshambo that is the Grizzlies-Thunder rivalry. The unfortunate nature of those specific highlights, for Memphis fans in 2011 and now Oklahoma City fans in 2014, is that they came in losing efforts.

Up 5 with under 30 seconds remaining, a glimpse of light shone on the Grizzlies as they had seemingly done enough to split on the road and head home with the series tied 1-1. Then Kevin Durant happened.  A near Tony Allen steal turned into a freak 4 point play as Marc Gasol hip checked KD, who simultaneously saved a dangerous Westbrook pass (Westbrook out of control, no way?) and launched a shot from the corner as he fell into court-side seating. It was the only thing, aside from choking at the foul line, which Memphians know too much about, that could have kept OKC alive. And it did.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

On the last play of regulation, after a split pair of Conley free throws, Westbrook bombed a potential game winning three, but it hit the front iron and bounced far side into the hands of the bumbling Kendrick Perkins. K-Perk put the ball off the glass for his first and only shot attempt of the game. The ball travelled the circumference of the rim as if by habit, confused by the accuracy of his placement and expecting to finagle its way out of the basket. Eventually, it dropped through the net and on the game went to extra time, tied at 99.

Not to worry. Zach went ham, as in hamburglar, taking what was rightfully his in overtime and outscoring the Thunder by himself 8-6. The Grizz went up for good with 26 seconds remaining as TA dropped a sly dish to ZBo on the left post that he finished calmly.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

There were many noteworthy contributions. Mike Miller’s three late in regulation off a Conley assist regained a briefly squandered lead. Beno Udrih’s 14 points came on 6-8 shooting. The latter sparked a series of puns including Geoff Calkins’ claim that Beno gave Memphis “a shot of Udrihnaline”, especially appropriate for this post. Courtney Lee had a quiet 16 points, if there ever were such a thing for this frequently offensively challenged team. Despite feeling the force of Serge Ibaka’s league leading shot blocking ability, Ed Davis provided a quick burst of energy with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 9 minutes.

And then there was The Grindfather. 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 steals fail to measure his effect on the game and importance to the team. Throughout, and especially down the stretch, TA made OKC players and fans wildly uncomfortable. Whether through face guarding, fronting, or denying the passing lane, Tony did it all. He would even switch off Durant and onto Westbrook in the same possession, effectively blowing the Thunder’s mind and dropping a TA bomb on their offensive sets. It was vintage Tony Allen. Enjoy:

Ok, so his poise and decisiveness on the fast break and offensive end wasn’t necessarily vintage, but it was brilliant.

The emotion that followed the final buzzer was one part relief, one part elation, and two parts I need new underwear. The win shifts home court advantage in Memphis’ favor as the series moves to the Grindhouse for games 3 & 4. The Grizz look to extend a franchise record 14 game home win streak.

Last night saw some milestones reached as well, with Memphis donning Beale Street Blue for the first time in playoff history. Also, Coach Joerger earned his first playoff victory. Congrats, Coach. Joerger-bombs for everyone!

 

-Travis Nauert

Dragon Slayed

Grizz top Suns, Clinch 4th consecutive playoff birth

The Grizzlies started fast, faltered midway, but finished strong to stave off the desperate Suns, eliminating Phoenix from postseason contention and punching themselves a ticket to the Western Conference Playoffs. ZBo continued his late season dominance, posting a season high 32 points for his first 30+ game since 2012. His final score came with 47 seconds left off a 1 on 2 lumbering “fast break”. ZBo’s bear paw stole a Goran Dragic pass as he set off on a marauding full court rampage. He came to a jump stop, then pulled an up and under move on P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye before kissing the orange off the glass. Memphis led 95-91 at that point.

Mike Conley was his usual clutch self with 8 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds in the final five minutes. Mike Miller, who stands as the lone Grizzly to play in all 81 games thus far (who woulda thunk it), recorded his own season high of 21 points, going 5-6 from beyond the arc, including a pivotal bomb from the right wing with just over 3 minutes remaining. A Conley three coming from the same spot as Miller’s gave Memphis the lead for good at 93-91.  The next possession, Zach got his coast to coast bucket which was eerily similar to a sequence that came against the Spurs in round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Going 1-4 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds, Conley left the window open, but Memphis prevailed anyway by a final score of 97-91.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tony Allen brought his essential, erratic energy as usual. After a strong third quarter by Phoenix saw the Suns take the lead, TA went end to end and gracefully (no, but really) scored a scooping layup (pictured above) as the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter.  Down the stretch he guarded Dragic, alternating with Mike Conley and forcing others to initiate the Suns’ offense.

The win clinched a franchise record fourth consecutive playoff berth, and an opportunity to seize the 7th seed and a matchup against OKC should the Grizzlies get past Dallas on Wednesday. Beating the Mavericks would also give the Grizz another franchise record in the form of 14 straight home wins. Last Friday’s win over the 76’ers tied the previous mark of 13. A series with OKC would obviously be more desirable than one with the Spurs, who own the best record in the league at 62-19. That also happens to be the best record San Antonio has achieved in the Popovich-Duncan era. For reference, the Spurs are about to embark on their 17th consecutive playoff campaign, tying the Lakers streak from ’77-’93 which saw them win 5 championships.

Just prior to tipoff, Matthew Preston, aka Grizzlam (twitter handle @mattyp90), sent shockwaves through the twitter verse, silencing @sunsaholic’s tiresome all-caps rant.  Additionally, he dropped this masterpiece:

 

image by @mattyp90

image by @mattyp90

All of the Grizzlies pictured above, in addition to Mike Miller, played a critical role in downing the Suns, led by the Dragon.  Admittedly, Dragic had an incredible season pacing Phoenix under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek.  A team predicted to win 20 some odd games grossly overachieved, especially considering Eric Bledsoe missed almost half the season (39 games).

With the Grizzlies failing to clinch a playoff spot until last night, some fans might have wondered if ZBo could possibly be playing his final home game in FedEx Forum Wednesday night should Memphis miss out on the postseason. An impending contract situation plus front office desires to further leave their mark on the team has created doubt in the minds of a couple people. For now, Zach refused to let his time in Memphis get cut short, as he has added at the very least an additional two home games to schedule. In management’s defense, Tony Allen’s new contract is nothing short of a sign to further commitment with the current core. With Memphis etched into this year’s playoffs under first year coach Dave Joerger, it would appear ZBo will be donning Beale Street Blue for the foreseeable future, and that’s how it should be. Plus, can you imagine him in any other uniform now?

(AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

 

-Travis Nauert

Heat can’t stand Grizz, West race tightens

In the hours following Wednesday night’s Grizz-Heat slugfest, punctuated by a Tony Allen slam cementing his return to form (Grizz fans hope and desperately pray), Geoff Calkins nominated the contest as a candidate for best regular-season game in franchise history.  I’ll leave rankings to individual preferences, but it had all the necessary ingredients.  Importance?  Immeasurable.  Highlight plays?  Myriad.  There were antics that only the Grizzlies can perform in a season saving game and yet still emerge victorious.  From Marc Gasol’s feisty Spanish temper convincing him to engage Lebron in a one man full court press, to Tony Allen’s steal turned behind-the-back pass, not to be outdone by what Yahoo Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie editor Dan Devine perfectly described as “one for the pantheon of missed Tony Allen layups”, this was a game that deserved a national audience.  The Grizzlies summoned enough heart, grit and grind, outlasting Lebron’s 37 points and rim rocking jams to remain alive in the savage and cannibalistic Western Conference playoff race.

There was also this absurd sidewinder pass from Marc to Courtney Lee:

SBNation

SBNation

And heres that full court press:

courtesy @mattyp90

courtesy @mattyp90

Something or someone pissed off ZBo as he got started early and often, connecting on all 8 of his first quarter attempts.  Among those included a 36 second span in which he hit a three pointer from the top of the key and dunked off a Marc Gasol assist.  Yes, it was the kind of night on which one might spot a unicorn underneath a blue moon while the calendar read February 29th.  Much of Zach’s damage came at the expense of Shane Battier, whose final appearance in Memphis was about as appropriate as the response the Grizzlies delivered.  With Hubie Brown announcing, Penny Hardaway sitting court side, and Mike Miller donning Beale Street Blue once again, Battier scored all 9 of his points on three first quarter 3-pointers to satisfy the cravings of Memphis basketball fans that span three decades.  It was a special night indeed.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

When ZBo’s scoring production faded, Mike Conley found his stroke hitting three fourth quarter 3’s, including two assisted by Nick Calathes on fast break opportunities.  The line up of Conley, Calathes, Allen, Randolph, and Gasol has performed well together, closing out games (4/4 vs Denver comes to mind) with the requisite amount of ball handling and security, defensive prowess, and of course, enough bruising and badass-ness from TA, ZBo, and Big Spain.

 

 

The Grizzlies won a game they had to have, as the Suns fought off New Orleans to remain a game ahead of Memphis.  After San Antonio took care of business against the Mavericks, fans will continue to back the Spurs in tonight’s game against Phoenix. The Spurs overcame Tony Parker’s absence and held their collective Tex-Mex breath during a scary moment when Tim Duncan’s knee bent in a way which no human being’s should. Timeless Timmy made his way to the locker room, but returned to log 39 minutes, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.  He was just fine, but admittedly scared in the moment.

How will Pop handle his starters, up 3 1/2 on OKC? (AP Photo/LM Otero)

How will Pop handle his starters, up 3 1/2 on OKC?
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

It remains to be seen if Gregg Popovich will rest the likes of Duncan, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard in light of this near nightmare.  Granted, Pop can simply plug in an obscure foreign import and expect the same of them as he does his Hall-of-Fame trio.  The scary part is that they usually perform at that same level.  From Australia’s Patty Mills, and Canada’s Jeff Ayres, to the more recognizable Brazilian Thiago Splittler, the Spurs are capable of finding talented, egoless pieces from any continent.

What do these developments mean for the Grizzlies playoff chances?  They now control their own destiny to capture the 7th seed, and could conceivably steal the 6th spot with help from Golden State.  The Warriors screwed around and blew a 20 point lead to the same Denver Nuggets team that the Grizzlies struggled with twice in a just over a week’s time, but managed to defeat on both occasions.  Last night, however, Kenneth Faried’s brutish Greco Roman strength bulldozed Draymond Green deep into the paint, and released an attempt so lacking in fundamentals that George Mikan turned over in his grave.  No matter, the shot found its way through the basket, and Stephen Curry’s would be heroics were rendered meaningless.

Tonight, the Grizzlies take on Philadelphia in Memphis’ penultimate home game before traveling to LA and Phoenix.  The finale, of course, is another nationally televised game against Dallas which will conclude what has been a historic playoff chase and sparked discussion of revamping the entire format.  Whoever is left on the outside looking in will boast a record good enough for 3rd in the East, while the two qualifiers will aim to conquer the Spurs and Thunder.  Luckily, the Grizzlies don’t have to rely on others, and will need to look no further than the mirror should they not make the cut.

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

-Travis Nauert

Grizz Stumbling as Finish Line Nears

Grizz on Life Support

Sunday night stole even more air from the Grizzlies’ lungs as San Antonio swept the season series with Memphis.  This comes after a destructive road trip saw the Grizz lose 3 of 5, including a crushing loss in Golden State.  The magical 10th anniversary season that climaxed with a 4-2 first round win over those same Spurs seems like a distant memory.  Since ZBo entrenched himself in Memphis basketball lore, the Spurs have won 14 out of 16 games against the Grizz and 10 straight inside AT&T Center.  5 games remain for Memphis, with 3 of those coming against Miami, Phoenix and Dallas.  Dallas has all but closed the window on Memphis by holding the tiebreaker advantage, and the Mavericks look primed for a Red-River showdown (ready for college football anyone?) against #2 seed Oklahoma City. 

This leaves the Grizzlies and Suns duking it out for 8th, and Phoenix holding a 1 game advantage.  4 of Phoenix’s last 5 games are on the road, with the 1 home game coming against Memphis.  The Grizz have what appear to be 2 freebies against the 76ers and Lakers, but as last week’s games against the Timberwolves and Nuggets show (granted, both are better teams than Philadelphia and LA), nothing is free this time of year.  Teams eliminated from playoff contention find purpose and pleasure in playing the spoiler role. 

Many scenarios can play out, including one in which the Grizz lose that game in Phoenix, but win out otherwise and still find themselves in the playoffs via tiebreaker.  Phoenix is about to embark on a Southwest division foxtrot, facing New Orleans, San Antonio, and Dallas all on the road (San Antonio and Dallas is a back-to-back), followed by the game against Memphis Monday night in the desert.  Things have already gotten hairy for the Grizz, but now they could get furry, as in we will need a fur coat to hibernate through the offseason…Only it’s going to be hot as hell in Memphis during the offseason, so forget the fur coat. You know what I’m saying. 

“Tank” vs Playoff Push

Waking up in agony (exaggeration? sadly no) over this late season free fall, I’ve tuned into the Geoff Calkins and Chris Vernon shows to soak in my own sorrow.  Consequently, I was blindsided this morning when I heard the following idea thrown around: the Grizz should “tank” these last few games to draft (at worst) 14th versus 21st and likely get stonewalled 4-0 or 4-1 by the Spurs.  I heard the arguments in favor.  Why fight for your lives to play a mere 4 or 5 extra games when you could improve your draft position by 7 or so picks?  Sure, the probability of Memphis grabbing the #1, 2, or 3 picks amounts to less than 1%, but isn’t that about the same chance we have of beating the Spurs?  

Honestly, I find this talk disgusting, unproductive, and illogical.  Follow me on this one.  Say, for instance, the Grizz had taken care of business and earned a 4, 5, or 6 seed.  Say we go out and beat the Rockets or Trailblazers or Clippers in the first round.  Then, we go out and beat OKC in the second round, like we did last year.  Then what?  We still play Spurs!!!  It’s the same argument and mentality a team must bring into March Madness.  If you want to win, you have to beat everyone.  You are going to have to beat the best teams, no matter when you play them.  Enter the skeptic who says, “but what if team X (Golden State, LAC, whoever) knocks out the Spurs and the Grizzlies don’t have to play San Antonio?”  Then we still have to go out and win a series against a really damn good team.  It was already fortuitous enough that Russell Westbrook was sidelined with injury and the Grizz were able to beat OKC in the first place last season.  Good fortune always plays a part in navigating a minefield of a tournament like the NBA Playoffs.  

When I think of tanking, something like Philadelphia’s record tying 26 game losing streak comes to mind.  A spell of such abysmal play will actually benefit the 76ers in the end, as they have rigged the odds in their favor to win out out on the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker/Julius Randle/Joel Embiid sweepstakes (pending draft declaration…but let’s be real).  Tanking the final 5 games in order to improve your draft pick from 21 to 14 (rough estimates of course) will achieve little to no results.  I can appreciate that these people are thinking about marginal benefits, I’m an econ. major after all, but at some point the margins are, well, too marginal.        

Concluding this rant, I will quote Herm Edwards: “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”  In no way do I mean to insinuate the team is taking this approach.  The fact that some fans and writers are, however, is depressing and probably doesn’t even warrant the energy I’ve just spent writing this, but I digress.  I still find it completely plausible that the Grizzlies find a way in and will be playing basketball on April 19th when the playoffs begin.  As bad as the execution and chemistry has looked, Wednesday night provides the perfect stage for one last stand.  An ESPN televised game against the defending champion Heat looms, a contest that will be played inside FedEx Forum where Memphis has won 11 straight.  The crowd should be close to if not sold out, and the atmosphere will be raucous.  While the Grizz are fighting to make the playoffs, most can agree that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is already playing out, just not in the arena he envisioned.  

Godspeed Grizz Nation.

-Travis Nauert   

 

 

 

Memphis March Madness

March Madness is well underway in Memphis. The Grizzlies head west for a season long 5 game road trip beginning Wednesday with an ESPN televised game against the West worst Utah Jazz. The road trip seems untimely coming so late in the year and the Grizz having won a season high 10 straight games in FedEx Forum. However, the team wouldn’t be in such a good position now were it not for away game success throughout the season. With so many games missed from the likes of Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, combined with an early season home slump, the Grizz have found solace in hitting the road and escaping the pressure of escalating expectations.

The timing of this trip is of course due to the real “March Madness”, the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament which has reached the round of sixteen, also known as the Sweet Sixteen to you plebeians. Overall #1 seed Florida headlines the 4 programs that will descend upon FedEx Forum Thursday night when the tournament continues. UCLA, in addition to double digit seeds Dayton and Brevin Knight’s own Stanford Cardinal, will be present as well. Unfortunately, the hometown Tigers were dispatched by Virginia, who capitalized on the matchup problems many locals feared in facing the Cavaliers. This is the first time since 2009 that Memphis and FedEx Forum have hosted the Sweet Sixteen. Then, eventual champion North Carolina beat Blake Griffin and Oklahoma (so his losing ways in Memphis go deeper than Grizz-Clips) in the Elite 8.

John Branch

John Branch

…but back to the Association. The Grizzlies are continuing their late season push for higher playoff seeding as Dallas has dropped two of four in the midst of a seven game home stretch. The overtime losses to both Brooklyn and Minnesota put Dallas on the outside looking in with Phoenix in 8th and the Grizz in 7th. These standings will be out-dated by tomorrow, as things change on a nightly basis this late in the year.

Last weekend the Grizz flexed their muscles, showing just how capable they are even when facing less familiar East competition. Splitting a back to back at Miami and home against Indiana is nothing to fret over, although one can easily be frustrated that Memphis did not sweep the two. I watched almost all of the Miami game (except when my stream lost connection and the Tigers finish against George Washington became more interesting than necessary) and the Grizzlies, particularly ZBo, controlled the entire game until the fourth quarter began to wind down. The officials got whistle happy and in the Heat’s favor. Zach was mugged multiple times down low, and when he put a finger near Lebron (literally), it was as if “The King” had been hit by a baseball bat. JA Adande had a front row seat to the best “act” in town:

 

Despite the loss, a great moment was shared among Grizz and Heat fans pre-game when Mike Miller was presented with his championship ring from last year’s Finals.

ZBo got wide eyed upon seeing Mike’s newest piece of jewelry, and you know he fancies one for himself:

BjY6DcbCEAA1yc8

 

While things went south (beach) in Miami, the Grizz responded with a resounding victory against the Pacers. In the consensus “most complete game of the year”, the Pacers were overwhelmed and visibly frustrated against the league’s best 4/5 combo of ZBo and Big Spain. Jon Roser, producer of The Chris Vernon Show, provided the stat of the night, pointing to Roy Hibbert’s complete lack of presence on the boards:

After taking the East’s best 1-2 shot, the Grizz feasted on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has seen its playoff chances all but mathematically eliminated. At one point leading by 22, Minnesota coughed up a game against Phoenix that will likely prove to be their death blow.

The Grizz should be able to handle Utah tomorrow, not to look ahead, although that’s exactly what I’m going to do by eyeing Friday night’s matchup against Golden State. The Warriors will have had 6 full days of rest, last playing against San Antonio Saturday in a loss. Splash Bros Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will be locked in to keep their distance from the Grizz as the Warriors become the next team to pass in the West. It is still way too early to think about who the Grizz would “rather play” in a potential first round series, as a mere half game separates Memphis from Phoenix and Dallas. Not until a spot is clinched does creating a favorable matchup even come in to play, and in all honesty, its very possible a spot won’t be clinched until the last game of the season. As you likely know, Memphis’ final two games of the year are in Phoenix, and back home against Dallas. It’s funny how that works out when you screw around and drop games to Cleveland, Charlotte, and other inferior East teams, while also going 3-11 in the division up to this point. Moreover, a final game against the Spurs in San Antonio (NBAtv) looms, as well as a second matchup against the defending champion Heat in Memphis (ESPN).

Every NBA team hopes to play well into April and the best expect to reach May. For those hopes to become a reality, the Grizz must persevere as their home court is taken over by the collegiate ranks. March is almost over, but the madness is just beginning.

 

-Travis Nauert