Regular Season Team MVP: Zach Randolph
First Round Opponent: Oklahoma City Thunder
Regular Season Series vs (insert opponent): 1-3
The Memphis Grizzlies are arguably the best No. 7 seed in the history of the NBA Playoffs. Like they’ve always been, the Grizzlies are built from the defense up. Memphis has the seventh best defense in the NBA, allowing 102 points per 100 possessions. Their frontline combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is probably the best in the league. And even though, at times, they struggle to put points on the board, their defense usually manages to keep them in most games. In the playoffs, that should come in handy once in a while. It did last season.
Memphis limped their way to a 18-19 start to the season, and there was legitimate doubt as to whether this was a playoff caliber squad. However, since then the Grizzlies have put together a 32-13 record and have molded themselves into the most dangerous underdog in the playoffs.
Strengths: Defense. Defense. Defense. This team loves low scoring, grind it out affairs. Memphis wants to lull its opponent up until the fourth quarter. Once there, the Grizzlies can make their offensive move and that’s how upsets happen. Last season, they nearly grit and grinded their way to an NBA Finals appearance, although, a red-hot San Antonio Spurs team wasn’t having any of that.
Like I said, Randolph and Gasol is probably the best frontcourt combo in the league, and not many teams are equipped for such a matchup. Memphis uses that to their advantage beautifully, and they know exactly who they are (as a team).
Weaknesses: The Grizzlies are offensively challenged, at times. Memphis ranks 18th (103 points per 100 possessions) in offensive rating and is 27th in points per game. They also can’t keep up with up-tempo teams. The Grizzlies play at the slowest pace in the NBA, at just 92.3 possessions per 48 minutes.
Playoff Ceiling: If the Grizzlies can someway figure out how to get passed the Oklahoma City Thunder, I think they can make a return to the Western Conference Finals. However, beating the Thunder sans Russell Westbrook (as they did last season) is much easier than beating them with a Russell Westbrook. But you never know, I guess.
What Will Happen: Despite being the most dangerous underdog in the playoffs, the Grizzlies didn’t draw the best matchup. The Oklahoma City Thunder carries a high-octane offense that rarely runs into its kryptonite. This time, Kevin Durant knows how to play without Westbrook, so he’ll be prepared either way. Though, with a healthy Westbrook in the lineup, I don’t see how the Grizzlies stand a chance.
Memphis will bow out in the first round, falling to the Thunder 3-1.