The Grizzlies have been quite impressive, taking nine of their last 10 and looking to be one of the more dangerous teams in the coming playoffs. But what about the compeititon? Who do the Grizzlies match up well against, and who could send them down a road of disappointment? Let’s take a look at some of the top teams in the West, and see how they stack up against the Grizzlies going into this postseason.
San Antonio Spurs
To date, the Grizzlies only playoff win came against the Spurs, when they sent them to a stunning first-round defeat two years ago. That year, the Grizzlies thrived after catching the Spurs by surprise. that sort of thing is unlikely to go down this time, as the Spurs know exactly how tough this the Grizzlies are. Neither team has changed a great deal roster-wise since then. Even the one big difference of Rudy Gay being gone is a wash since he wasn’t healthy for that series to begin with.
The Spurs have changed in the sense that offense runs a bit better than it did back in those days. Gregg Popovich has turned several role players into legitimate contributors, getting the most out of guys like Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter. Even with Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson past their primes, they have thrived under Popovich.
Meanwhile, the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili suffered a big hit recently, as Tony Parker will be out for a month with a sprained left ankle. Still, Parker will be back by playoff time, and knowing the Spurs, he’ll be looking as good as ever. Duncan is probably better than he was two years ago, because this team defies all reason and logic.
Quite simply, the Spurs will be a very difficult out. If the Grizzlies draw them as their second round matchup, it will likely be a dogfight. A matchup of polar opposites; the offensive finesse of the Spurs versus the ugly defensive grinding of the Spurs. The Grizzlies just might be able to emerge triumphant, but it certainly won’t be easy.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The current favorites in the West. the Thunder have looked scary as ever this season, as Kevin Durant has somehow managed to get even better, vastly improving this passing while shooting like a mad man. Russell Westbrook has improved as well, as his assists numbers are back to their usual average of around eight per game.
For the Grizzlies to take down the Thunder, the key would be to prevent the superstars from being able to take over. We saw this in Friday’s narrow loss to the Miami Heat, when the Grizzlies forced LeBron James into his worst performance of the season, holding him to a mere 13 points.
The Grizzlies are one of very few teams in the NBA with the defensive prowess to make superstars appear mortal. They will need to do that against Durant if they want to defeat the Thunder this postseason. One thing that might help is the loss of James Harden. That hasn’t stopped them Thunder in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different story. Kevin Martin can come close to replicating Harden’s scoring average from last season, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to impact games the way Harden did. The loss of that third star player could hurt the Thunder come playoff time, and make them appear surprisingly ordinary. Especially if the Grizzlies play tough against Durant and Westbrook,
Los Angeles Clippers
After what happened in last year’s playoff, Memphis probably isn’t home to an especially high number of Clipper fans. LA defeated the Grizz in an ugly seven-game battle that saw Chris Paul and Blake Griffin demonstrate the full extent of their acting skills. The series left a bitter taste in the fans’ mouths, and there’s a decent chance we could be headed for a rematch in this year’s playoffs.
Obviously, the key to shutting down the Clippers is getting to Chris Paul, whose court vision is unparalleled. Paul played well in last year’s series, but he was rarely truly unstoppable. The one moment when he was especially fearsome was at the end of Game 4, when he single-handedly lead the Clippers to victory in overtime. That’s the sort of thing that could make a rematch rather scary, since the Grizzlies lack an individual player who can be that dominant.
The addition of Jamal Crawford is frightening as well, as the 6th man is far more deadly than anyone on the Clippers bench last year (Nick Young momentarily catching fire in Game 1 aside), and when he gets hot, he’s pretty much untouchable.
For the Grizzlies to defeat the Clippers, they would need to be extremely disruptive, preventing them from getting into the flow of the game. if the grizzlies can force the Clippers to play Grizzlies-style basketball, they may able to come away with some sweet revenge.
Check back soon for coverage of the lower seeds in the west.