Since the All-Star Break, the Memphis Grizzlies have had an up-and-down ride. The Grizzlies hold a 9-14 record since the (not really) midseason break, with a weird rhythm to their recent record. They lost their first five games in March, followed by four consecutive wins. They then lost four consecutive games, and then won a pair of games. They snapped a three-game losing streak on Friday night by beating the New York Knicks, but then dropped their next game in a 103-90 loss to the Detroit Pistons. In their past ten games, Memphis has gone 3-7. It’s been a strange (let’s avoid saying curious case) end of the season in The Grindhouse.
The Grizzlies’ recent losses have been against lottery and playoff teams alike. They followed up a loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers with a close overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Coach David Fizdale did not play Marc Gasol, Vince Carter and JaMychal Green in the Lakers loss, so it may not be all-bad. Regardless, the Grizzlies are a playoff team. Dropping games to sub-.500 teams is never a positive sign, regardless of the lineup.
In the Grizzlies’ early-March losing streak, the Grizzlies looked completely out of sorts. Four of their five losses were double-digit losses to teams they could have potentially competed with.
Only three of the Grizzlies’ post-All-Star Break wins have been against teams over .500 (Spurs, Hawks, Bucks.) In their win against the Spurs on 18 March, Memphis was at full strength – so were the Spurs. The Grizzlies won at home, 104-96. In that game, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley combined for 53 points. They held Spurs starters Danny Green and Tony Parker to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, putting the clamps on defensively. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have lost their two most recent matchups against the Spurs. That may have playoff implications (keep reading).
Now, some of their woes may stem from a lack of Mike Conley. Memphis lost their three games without Conley. Their losses to the New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors were not close affairs. Conley has had another solid season, playing through injuries and playing a major role for the Grizzlies’ success.
I previously explained that one of the reasons for the Grizzlies’ poor post-All Star break numbers was their decline in defense. They have improved slightly defensively since the mid-February break - but they still are a bottom-ten team in the league in defensive rating. Memphis still is ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive rating in the season, but their recent stretch has not been promising. To pair with a struggling defense, Memphis’ offense has not been able to make up for deficiencies on the other end. Their offensive rating is ranked 20th in the league. Their lack of offense outside of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol has been well documented. But a lack of pop on both ends of the ball has doomed the Grizzlies in several games this season.
Their most recent loss to the Detroit Pistons shows some of their offensive struggles. They only scored 10 points in the third quarter to Detroit’s 27. Although Coach David Fizdale rested his key players in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies’ third-quarter performance was discouraging. They committed eight turnovers in the first nine minutes of the third quarter, losing a 12-point cushion. JaMychal Green committed five turnovers in 24 minutes in the loss.
Looking Towards the Playoffs
As of Sunday night, the Grizzlies have the seventh seed in the Western Conference locked. They were the fifth ranked team before March, but their recent stretch has bumped them to a lower seed. Strong play by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Utah Jazz, as well as the return of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers’ lineup has strengthened the middle of the Western Conference playoff seeds. The Grizzlies have not seen any major changes – aside from the end of Chandler Parsons’ disappointing season. And that lack of change may be the issue.
The Grizzlies will be matched up against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs. This will be the fourth time the Spurs and Grizzlies will play each other in seven years. Essentially, the Grit and Grind era of Memphis basketball began with their 2011 victory over the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs in six games. It was a major upset at the time, and put the Grizzlies on the map.
Their next two matchups have had different results – Memphis was swept in both series. They lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Spurs in 2013, and were swept in the first round in the first round last year. Memphis will try to reverse that fortune this year, although the odds may be stacked against them.
The Grizzlies’ struggle with consistency will need to be addressed in order to avoid embarrassment against San Antonio. The Spurs are the second-best team in the NBA – and have found new life this season as a long, athletic team led by Kawhi Leonard. Stopping Leonard will be difficult, and trying to break the seal against San Antonio’s top-tier defense will also be a struggle as well.
The Grizzlies are hoping that Grit and Grind will prevail, unlike their previous two playoff clashes. With a (mostly) healthy lineup, they at least hope to make a dent in the Western Conference playoffs. It could be do-or-die for this era of Memphis basketball depending on this year’s playoff success.