A couple of weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies looked as if they were on their way to face either the Los Angeles Clippers on the Houston Rockets in the playoffs this year. The Grizzlies had won 14 out of their 19 games since the All-Star Break entering a game against the Golden State Warriors on March 25. A win that night would have given the Grizzlies the 6th seed in the Western Conference, which, if they held onto, would have lead to a first round matchup with the Clippers, a team that the Grizzlies would have been able to give a run for their money. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies failed to beat the Warriors, and that loss combined with one against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 27 led to the Grizzlies falling to 9th place in the Western Conference.
Things haven’t been good for the Grizzlies ever since that first loss to the Warriors. The team has lost 4 out of their last 6 games, and, despite some fluctuation, the Grizzlies find themselves yet again in 9th place in the conference. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be too late for the Grizzlies to come back to obtain the 6th seed, and, assuming the team can even make the postseason at this rate, they will almost certainly have one of the lower two seeds for the playoffs. This would mean that, if they make the playoffs, the Grizzlies will have to face either the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, two teams that they would have very little chance of beating.
There is one sole but significant reason why this slump has appeared: the Grizzlies’ defense has disappeared. During the Grizzlies’ post All-Star Break streak, the team only gave up an average of 91.5 points per game. That number in itself is extremely low, especially since it is nearly three points less than their overall total of 94.4 points per game, which in itself still puts the Grizzlies as the team that allows the 3rd fewest points per game. But in the Grizzlies’ six most recent games, the team has given up 100.5 points per game on average, which, while would be considered satisfactory for most teams, is way too high for a team that relies on their defense to win them games. Their opponents have also been able to shoot an average of 49.2% from the field in these six games, which is much higher than the 44.9% they normally allow on average.
Another major problem the Grizzlies have on defense is that they fail to contain their opponents’ top scorers. For example, Stephen Curry, star point guard for the Warriors, was able to score 33 points and sink 5 three point shots in their victory against the Grizzlies. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Trail Blazers scored 28 points and made all 8 of his free throw attempts in his team’s victory. Finally, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili of the Spurs each achieved a season high 26 points in their victory last Sunday. So while the Grizzlies are able to contain some strong offensive threats that each team have, they seem to let at least one player score more points than they should be able to against the team’s defense.
Thankfully, the offense hasn’t fallen off too much. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley continue to put up a ton of points almost every night they are on the court. The team’s field goal percentage, while nothing to write home about, is also satisfactory. However, if Randolph, Gasol, or Conley are not able to put up points, almost nobody else on offense is able to carry the team to victory. This has not been that big of a problem in the past, as the Grizzlies’ defense is what the team relies on to secure wins. But this is a team that relies on its defense, and when their defense fails, there isn’t much the team can do on offense to make a difference in games.
The Grizzlies have very little time to solve their issues on defense. With only five games left in the regular season, each game becomes more and more important for the Grizzlies to win. Any loss will bring the team that much closer to elimination from playoff contention. If there is any good news for the Grizzlies, it is that they will have a chance to face the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns in their last two games of the season. These two teams hold the 7th and 8th seeds respectively, and if the Grizzlies beat both of them to end the season, they may be able to save their playoff chances and head into the postseason. But if the defense continues to falter as it has as of late, the Grizzlies will probably not make the playoffs, and if that’s the case, the team will have nobody to blame but themselves.