With Houston winning in Dallas on Thursday night, the Grizzlies have fallen from second place in the Western Conference to third. With only a game and a half lead over the Clippers, Memphis could fall as low as fifth with the Blazers holding the No. 4 seed thanks to leading the Northwest Division.
The Grizzlies have done little but fall as of late. They started the year going 21-4 in their first 25 games. After their hot start, they came back to Earth a little, going a more reasonable 16-9 in their next 25, bringing their record to 37-13. In their last 25, the Grizzlies have gone 14-11, losing three of their last four in blowout losses to the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs, all of whom are teams the Grizzlies might have to beat in a seven-game series if they want to bring a championship to Memphis.
If the playoffs started today, the Grizzlies would be playing the Spurs, and if we only look at last Sunday’s game, things wouldn’t look great for Memphis. Luckily for the Grizzlies, the playoffs don’t start for another two weeks. Tony Allen has been dealing with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss Sunday’s game against the Spurs, which likely had something to do with Kawhi Leonard’s 25-point performance. The Grizzlies are built on combining strong perimeter and interior defense to frustrate opponents, and Allen is their best perimeter defender. Without him, their defense suffers, and the team struggles to do what it usually does best: defend the basket.
If the Grizzlies can snap out of their recent cold streak, I see no reason they shouldn’t be one of the more dangerous teams in the Western Conference Playoffs. There aren’t many teams in the league that match up favorably with Memphis’ frontcourt. With the recent emphasis on spacing and long-distance shooting from big men, few teams have two bodies big enough to bang with Memphis’ traditional post-up duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The Warriors are the best team in the league right now, but I could see them struggling against the Grizzlies. Draymond Green has done a phenomenal job covering multiple positions this year for Golden State, but at 6’7” 230 lbs, can we really expect him to hold up in the post with Randolph’s 6’9” 260-pound frame backing him down over and over again in a seven-game series? Perhaps, because Green is great, but it would be tough. The Clippers are the only team with two traditional big men in the Western Conference of similar size and ability, and the way things stand now, the two teams won’t play each other until the Western Conference Finals.
The Grizzlies went 21-4 to start the year for a reason; this is a very strong team that creates a serious matchup problem for teams lacking in size. While they haven’t played as well since their hot start, this team hasn’t changed drastically over the course of the year, outside of adding Jeff Green. They haven’t suffered major injuries. They’ve simply hit a cold streak. If they can heat up over the next two weeks, don’t be surprised if you see them making a push for the Finals.