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

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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:

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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

 

Zach Randolph Day in Memphis

Mayor A C Wharton has declared today, December 27th, 2013, Zach Randolph Day.  Zach will appear at Walmart Neighborhood Market (2856 Hickory Hill Ext., Memphis 38115) at 4 p.m.  The event will benefit Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

In celebration of the mayor’s proclamation, take some time to get lost in ZBo’s greatest moments on the court with Memphis:

March 6th, 2011. Game winner in Dallas:

Game 3 vs San Antonio, 2011. ZBo 3 pointer seals first home playoff victory in franchise history:

Game 6 vs. San Antonio, 2011. Clinches first playoff series victory in franchise history:

ZBo gets tough with Perkins:

Zach goes for 38 and 21 against Phoenix in 2012:

Games 3 and 4 vs. L.A., 2013:

Game 6 vs. L.A., 2013. Memphis gets revenge over the Clippers:

The Chokehold:

The Ejection:

Game 5 vs Thunder, 2013. Sends Memphis to first Western Conference Finals in franchise history: