Tag Archives: Memphis Grizzlies

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview: #2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #7 Memphis Grizzlies

By: Jon

Over the past few seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been in the playoffs and have succeeded during their time in late April and May. However, the Grizzlies almost did not make the playoffs this season even though they were 18 games over .500. At the beginning of the season, the Grizzlies had trouble transitioning from Lionel Hollins’ to Dave Jaeger’s style of basketball. Also, Marc Gasol, the defensive player of the year last season, was injured throughout the beginning of the season. After the change of the calendar year, the Grizzlies have played great because they are reverting to their great defense. While the Grizzlies needed wins at the end of the season, the Thunder have been comfortably in the playoffs since the start of the season.

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Although the Oklahoma City Thunder won the second most games in the west, they had a roller coaster type season because of the status of Russell Westbrook. However, Durant has taken the next step forward and was able to lead the team without Westbrook, one of the ten best players in the league. Despite Westbrook making the Thunder a more talented and dangerous squad, he can be extremely inconsistent and take shots away from Kevin Durant. The departure of Russell Westbrook forced Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka to improve as players and become more integral members of the team. If Westbrook does hurt his knee again during the playoffs, the team will be ready to play at a high level. Last season, the Grizzlies and Thunder matched up in the second round and the Grizzlies were able to win the series in five games. The Thunder did not have Russell Westbrook and the team was unable to play at a high level. Kevin Durant was unprepared to put the team on his back and lead them to a victory over the rough and tough Grizzlies.

 

Why the Thunder will win?

Kevin Durant. Although some may believe that James is the best overall player in the league, Durant has been the best this season and will win the MVP and scoring title. Durant has taken his game to the next level and showed that he can lead a team all by himself. While improving his scoring, his defense has taken a monumental step forward. Durant is unstoppable on offense and his full array of skills will be on display in the first round against Memphis.

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Along with Durant, Westbrook is finally healthy and should be able to play at a high level. In his last four games, Westbrook has scored over 20 points per game while shooting 43% from the field. Westbrook is one of the most talented players in the league because he is among the most athletic in the league. Without Westbrook in the rotation, Jackson and Ibaka took a step forward and showed  they can be consistent contributors in the playoffs. Both players have scored over 13 points per game, which will be important for OKC. Both need to play at a high level in order for the team to win the championship because they will be open a lot when teams devote attention to Durant or Westbrook.

During the season, the Thunder went 3-1 against the Grizzlies because they have more talent and matchup well against the Griz. Westbrook has the ability to shut down Conley and Ibaka has the length and agility to stop Randolph.

 

Why the Grizzlies will win?

After a few lengthy playoff trips, the Grizzlies have the experience to take another long trip into the playoffs. The Grizzlies will be led by their three best players Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. The trio has been together for the last few seasons and extremely underrated as a trio. Mike Conley is one of the most underrated point guards in the league and has taken massive steps in the last few seasons. This season, Conley had the best season of his career and averaged 17 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. Although many believed that Conley was overpaid when he signed his contract a few seasons ago, he has become one of the best players on the team and his contract proved to be a bargain. Conley will not turn the ball over frequently and will make his team run an efficient offense.

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Like previous seasons, the Grizzlies will rely on their big men to score and stop the opposition from scoring in the paint. Randolph has been one of the most consistent players in the league because he has averaged at least 17-10 over the past 6-8 years with different teams. Randolph may have difficulty scoring against the great shot blocker that is Dr. Nasty. However, Randolph will have a massive weight advantage over Ibaka. If Zach can use his strength to overpower the mangily Ibaka, he will grab a lot of offensive rebounds and give the Grizzlies extra possessions to score more points.

Along with Randolph, the Griz have another talented big man in Marc Gasol. He was an MVP candidate last season because he has the ability to do everything on a basketball court. Like his brother Pau, he is a great passer. Gasol can block shots, play defense, pass, score, and rebound at an extraordinarily high level.  The Thunder do not have an answer to Marc Gasol and he must play at his best, if the Grizzlies are going to win a few games in the series. Last season, Grizzlies were able to win because Marc Gasol did everything he could to lead the squad.

 

Prediction: Thunder win in 5 games

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The Thunder are playing at a great level right now. Kevin Durant is playing at an extraordinarily high level and he will not be stopped in the first round by a quality Grizzlies bunch. Although Memphis will definitely win a game or two because they are a good team and great at home, I do not see them winning three games against this great Thunder squad. The Grizzlies do not have an answer for Durant and it will become evident when he scores over 35 points per game during the series. Although Tony Allen may be able to limit Russell Westbrook’s stats because Allen is a fierce perimeter defender, Russell will be too much for the Grizzlies’ defenders. Although the games will be close because the Grizzlies play great defense, the combination of Durant and Westbrook will not be stopped towards the end of games. Marc Gasol should show that he is again one of the best centers in the game during this postseason.

 

All Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

Western Conference Southwest Division Preview

By: Evan

The Southwest division will be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA with the potential for three different teams to win the division. The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies all have talented teams that made significant runs in the playoffs last season and will look to make even deeper runs this season. The most significant change for the Rockets is the addition of Dwight Howard, who signed a four year $88 million dollar deal with the potential opt-out after year two. With a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are looking to win a title.  But they need to best the Spurs and Grizzlies, two experienced teams with elite players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  It should be an exciting season, now let’s look at some predictions. *Denotes playoff team

1.) *Houston Rockets

The Rockets have a formidable starting lineup, one that can shoot and score inside.                    Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

Dwight Howard is a tremendous addition to an already talented Rockets starting lineup, providing a low post presence that will take some pressure off of James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the perimeter. The main issue for the Rockets will be establishing a pace as last year they averaged 106 points per game, good for second in the league, but D12 likes to body his defender in the post and slow the game down. If Kevin McHale can set the tone and find a balance, the Rockets will be tough to beat.  Another key will be Jeremy Lin’s growth from last season as the media world focused on him and his play regressed from his days in New York. If he can eliminate some turnovers and improve his 34% 3-PT shooting, the Rockets will have a scoring threat from almost every position. As Jon mentioned before, James Harden has seized the opportunity to lead a franchise as he posted a ridiculous stat line of 26 ppg 5.8 rpg and 4.9 apg, all career highs. Look for him to better his assist numbers as well as efficiency since Dwight Howard will draw some double-teams in the post. This team is dangerous and when they make the playoffs, they have a shot at knocking off the Heat.

2.) *San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich were one rebound away from a fifth NBA championship.                                                                                                               Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The only reason why the Spurs are not the top team in this division is their age.  Popovich likes to rest his older players during meaningless regular season games, which lowers their seeding.  After the disappointment of losing in the Finals last year, it will be tough for the Spurs to get back as so many other teams improved.  Last year might have been the last chance for this current Spurs’ core to win a championship, but that has been said for a few years now, and the Spurs have continued to excel.  This year the plan will be similar for Pop — give Kawhi Leonard more of Tim’s minutes and hope Tony and Manu stay healthy.   It will be interesting to see the growth of Kawhi Leonard, a player who was considered a role player, now being called on to take the reigns from one of the greatest big men of all-time, TIm Duncan.  Kawhi has emerged as a tremendous two way player with terrific athleticism, defensive intensity and an underrated 3-PT shot. The other player to watch is Tony Parker, who made a solid case for MVP last season, putting up 20.3 ppg 7.8 apg and shooting an insane 52% from the field. If he can replicate his play then Houston and San Antonio could switch spots come May. For Spurs’ fans, its all about the playoffs.  If the Spurs stay healthy, they might have another run left in them.

3.) *Memphis Grizzlies

Can Gasol and Z-Bo lead the Grizz to a title?                                                               Courtesy of Grantland.com

The Grizzlies are another interesting team that had a shot at the NBA finals last year when the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was injured.  The Grizzlies needed an elite 3PT shooter last year so they added Mike Miller, a stud shooter who is prone to injury and is also a liability defensively. I don’t think he is enough to make the Grizzlies true contenders to represent the West in the Finals.  But now let’s look at the positives, they have Z-Bo and Gasol, two elite post players who compliment each other’s game very well as both are good passers and can make a 15 foot jumpshot. They also have Tony Allen, probably the best perimeter defender in all of basketball, but he can’t score, making him a non-entity on the offensive side of the ball.  The other player worth noting is Mike Conley Jr, a solid point guard who played well last season, but was eventually overwhelmed by the elite point guard play of Tony Parker in the Western Conference Finals. This Memphis team might need to make a mid-season trade for a perimeter scorer if they have any hopes of making a long run in the West. The Grizzlies are good but not good enough to be a top four seed.

4.) *New Orleans Pelicans

This core of Pelicans should give the Big Easy something to be excited about.                                                                          Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

The newly named Pelicans are young, and a sleeper team.  The team has a terrific young core with Jrue Holiday 23, Eric Gordon 24, Tyreke Evans 24, Ryan Anderson 25 and Anthony Davis 20.  New Orleans’ biggest move was trading away next year’s first round pick to Philly for Jrue Holiday, a surprising move for some as the first round pick in 2014 could be a star, but New Orleans opted for a proven All-Star in Jrue Holiday. NOLA also signed Tyreke Evans, who was in a dreadful situation in Sacramento and although he has regressed since his standout rookie season, with more shooters and playmakers, he should be able to find more ways to score. The key will be Eric Gordon, an oft injured shooting guard who has past history of being a 20 point scorer and could improve the Pelicans’ playoff hopes if he stays healthy. The other integral member of this squad is last year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who was the most efficient rookie last year with a PER of 21.86 good for 15th in the entire NBA. He is a menace on the defensive side and his offensive game has clearly improved since his Kentucky season and Davis could be an All-star. The main problem with this team is the lack of girth up front as Davis isn’t your ideal big man with size and strength.   Davis is more finesse and quickness than power.  If  NOLA  trades one of their shooters like Ryan Anderson for a defensive big man, the Pelicans would have a solid team at all positions. The Pelicans should improve greatly from last season, and develop nicely as these young, talented players mesh well.

5.) Dallas Mavericks

Should the Mavs trade Dirk? Courtesy of ESPN

The Dallas Mavericks have gone from NBA champions in 2011 to the edge of irrelevance in 2013-2014. Most of this is due to the missed opportunities in free agency including the Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Now the Mavericks have constructed a team with Dirk at the helm and Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis as secondary players, a team that will be lackluster defensively to say the least. Mark Cuban won’t settle for medicority and that is why I posed the question, should the Mavs trade Dirk? The team publicly has said they want Dirk to retire a Maverick but if a borderline-championship team offers valuable picks for an aging veteran, the Mavs would be unwise to pass on the opportunity.    Dallas is not a serious contender, and they are in a rebuilding mode whether they know or accept the fact.   If this is Dirk’s last season as a Maverick, he will probably land with a contender by Christmas, and Dallas will look to get some new talent in the stacked 2014 draft.

Stats from ESPN