The Memphis Grizzlies got Marc Gasol back and took care of the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-87 on Tuesday night from FedEx Forum in Memphis. That puts their record at 18-19, which is good for No. 10 in the Western Conference. Now that they’re getting healthy and have seen what Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos can add as bench contributors, can they grind their way back into the playoffs and how far could they go?
Winners of three straight, the Grizzlies seem to be hitting stride at the right time. Mike Conley Jr. is playing much better as of late, averaging 18.8 points, 6.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Over their modest three-game winning streak, he’s averaging 23.7 points, 9.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Perhaps just as importantly, he’s turned the ball over just three times in those three games.
There’s no question that defense and paint presence is what sets the Grizzlies apart, but Conley’s emergence as an offensive weapon is a huge bonus. He’s been terrific at penetrating and kicking out to the shooters, with new acquisition Courtney Lee getting a lot of those open looks.
Lee led the Grizzlies last night against the Thunder with 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field (2-for-3 3PT). Once the Grizzlies get Tony Allen back, they’re going to be a deep team that can match offense/defense with just about anyone in the league and we haven’t even gotten to their true strength yet.
One place the Grizzlies excel is in the paint, with Gasol and Zach Randolph. With 23 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, Randolph held his own against Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams in what could be a potential first-round matchup if things go well once Russell Westbrook gets back.
Although Ed Davis will get the lion’s share of the backup minutes in the frontcourt, Leuer and Koufos provide some quality depth and protection against foul trouble, should Randolph and/or Gasol find themselves in that position. It’s a favorable position to be in and it’s something that other teams covet.
That’s not to say the Grizzlies are bulletproof. They still badly struggle with their 3-point shooting, which is something they’re hoping will get better with Lee and Mike Miller. Unfortunately, they’re still No. 30 in the NBA in 3-point attempts and makes, although they do find themselves in the middle of the pack (No. 18) in percentage, shooting 35 percent for the year.
They’re already chasing the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks in their own division. They aren’t catching or overtaking the Spurs and Rockets, but the Mavericks do seem to be on borrowed time. They’ve also got the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns ahead of them, both of which are not more talented than the Grizzlies.
I’m not going to go crazy and claim the Grizzlies will win the division and host a first-round series, but it’s a legitimate scenario for them to grind their way back to the No. 7 spot. They currently sit four games back of there but if they continue their run, they’ll be back in good playoff position in no time.
Michael Dunlap covers Arizona sports (Suns, Diamondbacks, Coyotes, Cardinals) at Big4Sports.com. He is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.