Grizzlies

Can Memphis Continue Taking Care of Grizzness?

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After the most successful decade in franchise history, the Memphis Grizzlies were expected to embark on a multi-year rebuild for the first part of the 2020s. However, they quickly showed that they were far ahead of schedule, shocking the world this season. They started slow, but quickly surged into the eighth spot in the West. As the league resumes from an unprecedented turn of events, the Grizzlies have a target on their backs, but are in a great position to show how dangerous they can be. Let’s take a look at how we got here, and what is to come.

Getting Lucky

The Grizzlies caught lightning in a bottle on a magical night on the fourteenth of May in 2019. Memphis jumped seven spots in the draft lottery, and capped it off by selecting Ja Morant in the draft later that year. The Grizzlies were still projected to be in a rebuilding phase this season, but don’t tell that to anyone walking near Beale Street.

After a tumultuous 6-14 start, Memphis was counted out by many, including local fans. Keep in mind that this was a team who just traded the last member of the Core Four, Mike Conley. While fans were eager to see Morant, they weren’t exactly thrilled with the slow start. And with a rookie head coach leading one of the youngest teams in the league, it was far-fetched to think they stood much of a chance moving forward.

Shortly thereafter, though, we would begin to see the growth of Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke. These three would begin to find chemistry with each other and show a glimpse of what they could become. Those next 10 games, the Grizzlies went 5-5 and showed sparks of huge potential. The Grizzlies were close, and the city could feel it. This city was simmering and the Grindhouse was rocking again, but that was just the start.

Morant on the Rise

Some players become superstars overnight and that’s what was happening to Morant. Ja was taking off like a rocket in the league and he was a regular on SportsCenter highlights. No Memphis player has ever caught the eye of a casual fan like Ja has. The swagger that this rookie has is so MEMPHIS! The city embraced this young player in a matter of months like he grew up here. He was one of us.

A 14-6 stretch propelled the Grizzlies to the eighth seed. Exceeding all expectations, this was a complete turnaround from the start of the season. These young cubs were growing up right before our eyes. There were amazing moments during this stretch of games that seemed to feel like it would carry the team into the back half of the season.

Unfortunately, though, the rookie wall is a real thing. February wasn’t very kind to Morant and the rest of the young squad. The Grizzlies were approaching the all-star break with lots of hype, but some questioned whether or not it was all getting to the team. The team played well going into the all-star break, winning their last two games. Immediately after the break, Memphis lost five in a row and the swagger that was once there had vanished.

The Twitter Troll

Leap Day 2020 was a day I will never forget. It was the day that I was called out on live TV by the rookie himself.

I was frustrated after the fifth loss in a row and felt like our players didn’t have that same chip on their shoulder. That Saturday night, Ja led the Grizzlies past the Lakers. He had this to say in the post-game interview:

“I’m thankful for this guy who tweeted and said I don’t have that fire in my eye no more. That game right there was for him. That’s what I do. I prove people wrong each and every night.”

I was floored he saw the tweet in the first place, but it seemed to have done its job. The Grizzlies were back and would win the next four out of six games.

In their 65th game, the Grizzlies were taken down by the Magic, but, the following night, the NBA season came to a halt due to the global pandemic. This basketball season seemed to be done and written off entirely. Then, nearly three months later, we heard those beautiful words: “Basketball Is Back.”

This season will resume and allow the Grizzlies to pick up where they left off. In playoff position, we’ll get to see how the young cubs perform on the big stage. This team may not be the Core Four, but these players may be just what we need. When we see these Grizzlies play, each and every fan will be smiling from ear to ear. The sound of shoes squeaking, the basketball bouncing, and the trash talk amongst players will be one of the most beautiful sounds we never thought we would have needed. The city of Memphis is ready for Grizzlies basketball again.

Here. We. Go.

The Grizzlies start with Portland, who they match-up well against. This game will be a good barometer of what the race for eighth will look like. Damian Lillard spoke up about not wanting to play in meaningless games so will the Grizzlies usher in his offseason sooner rather than later? I think the Grizzlies win this one and start proving people wrong.

There is a one-day break before the next game against San Antonio. The Spurs will be without their big man, LaMarcus Aldridge. Greg Popovich is a wizard of a head coach so he will have his team ready to play against these Grizzlies. Memphis is just too young and athletic to allow this Spurs team to beat them, though.

“The Grizzlies versus Errrrbody” has been a mantra of this franchise and it will be front and center against New Orleans. The NBA pushing Zion to the playoffs is a movement every Grizz fan feels strongly about. This game is on a back-to-back so why wouldn’t it be against Zion’s Pelicans? The Grizzlies are athletic but so are the Pelicans. The Pels have a lot to prove, so there’s a good chance Memphis drops this game.

This next game is against a member of the Core Four in Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have veteran leadership, wing scoring and a great big man in the paint, but will be without second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic due to injury. The strong start continues here to give the Grizzlies a 3-1 start.

The Chris Paul-led Thunder is the fifth game in this stretch of eight. Memphis and OKC have split the season series thus far, so the win here will go to whichever team can close strong down the stretch. With a healthy Chris Paul, I see Memphis not closing as well as the Thunder and dropping a game here to a tough opponent.

Hello Old Friend

During quarantine, Marc Gasol got his body right. He is now, potentially, in the best shape of his life and setting himself up right in a contract year. The defending champion Toronto Raptors are next on the schedule and a tough team here in game six. The Grizzlies can play well against these Raptors and potentially keep Pascal Siakam in check with our athletic wings. Memphis gets their fourth win here.

Next we welcome a team that the Grizzlies have never played well against and that is the Boston Celtics. These teams are fast, athletic and well-coached. I could see Boston getting the best of Memphis here and handing them their third loss. The race for eighth will be locked up at this point.

The final game is against the No. 1 team in the NBA, Milwaukee Bucks. Memphis could benefit from the Bucks resting a couple players and looking to their first playoff match-up. If the Grizzlies need to win this game, they’ll rise to the occasion and complete a 5-3 record.

Playoff For Eighth?

These Western Conference teams are below .500 for a reason and they probably won’t venture far from there during these final eight games. It’s difficult to find a path where Memphis is overtaken for the eight seed, but there could still be a playoff. Three teams — Portland, Sacramento, and New Orleans — will make a run for the ninth spot. Portland has proven people wrong before but they have struggled this season. Sacramento is a sneaky underdog that could make a good run at the ninth spot. In the end, New Orleans appears to have the best change to secure that ninth spot, landing a possible two-game playoff with Memphis. This is where the real excitement starts.

Follow us on Twitter @Grizz_Lead for the latest Grizzlies news and insight.

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About Daniel Greer

Father to two beautiful girls & husband to my smokin hot wife. Co-host of the Free Basketball podcast. TLSM contributor for Grizz Lead. #DannyGoodTakes #NoChip

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