Memphis Grizzlies: strong weekend continues forward momentum towards playoffs

This weekend was one that the Memphis Grizzlies must have had marked on their calendars for a long time. On back to back nights, the Grizzlies were scheduled to face the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.  The Grizzlies have been playing excellent basketball since the All-Star break and have shown that they deserve to be in the playoffs. Unfortunately, due to injuries earlier in the playoffs, it is highly likely that they will need to settle for a very low seed in the playoffs, meaning that they will have to face these elite teams consistently in the playoffs in order to win the NBA championship.

Until now, the Grizzlies had yet to prove that they were able to hang with elite teams, as they have failed to beat many of the best teams in the league. So the Grizzlies needed to prove that they had the ability to stay competitive with these teams if they wanted to do anything other than lose in the first round of the playoffs. And while this weekend wasn’t perfect for the Grizzlies, their very strong play shows that a healthy team is can be a serious challenge for whoever faces them moving forward.

Memphis Grizzlies

Zach Randolph, starting power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Despite losing against the Heat on Friday, March 21, the Grizzlies played some excellent basketball and gave the Heat a run for their money. They were able to contain the two biggest stars on the Heat, Dwayne Wade and reigning MVP LeBron James, for almost the whole game, as neither player had scored more than 10 points entering the last minutes of the game. When the Heat were able to get past the Grizzlies’ defense, the team would almost always respond back and negate the points the Heat had just put up. Finally, while the Grizzlies as a whole played strong offensive, some special recognition is deserved for Zach Randolph, who scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help delay the Heat’s comeback for as long as he could.  Unfortunately, some excellent shots by Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers helped get the Heat close enough where James and Wade could start making some late game shots to come back and win the game. However, the fact that the Grizzlies had control of the majority of the game shows that they are able to play up to the level of competition that their opponents will be playing at in the playoffs.

If their loss against the Heat showed that they can compete with elite teams, then the Grizzlies’ victory against the Pacers on Saturday, March 22 proved that the they can decimate some of the same teams that are considered among the best in the league. The game started with a strong 11-3 run for the Grizzlies in the first 4 minutes of the game. Although the Pacers were able to catch up from this run, they had no answers for the Grizzlies’ offense in the second quarter, where they were able to score 22 points in comparison to the Pacers’ 13. Added to the 17 points the Pacers scored in the first quarter, the Grizzlies were able to hold their opponents to a miniscule 30 points in the first half. The rest of the game saw the continuation of strong defensive play by the Grizzlies. Whenever the Pacers were able to score, the Grizzlies were almost always able to respond with their own points, just like how they were able to against the Heat. The Pacers were only able to make 36.5% of their shots from the field and were only able to put up 71 points, their lowest point total in any game this season. And although it would be wrong to ignore the fact that the Pacers themselves played some good defense throughout the game, they couldn’t do much to stop Mike Conley, whose 21 points and his field goal percentage of 60% helped make sure that the Grizzlies’ 82 points were enough to overcome the Pacers.

While it is great that the Grizzlies proved that that they can compete with some of the best teams in the league, they are going to have to keep up this level of play for the rest of the season. They will be facing some tough opponents in their 14 remaining games, including a rematch against the Heat. The Grizzlies will also be tested against the San Antonio Spurs, who currently have 53 wins, the most in the NBA at this point. Finally, the Grizzlies’ last two games will be against the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks, the two teams who are fighting alongside the Memphis Grizzlies for the last two playoff spots. But if the Grizzlies can continue to play at this level, they have the potential to be anything but a pushover in both the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.