Walking the walk in Memphis
Nobody saw this coming. Not even the masterful Jerry West or the everlasting Hubie Brown could have predicted what has turned out to be the most surprising story in the NBA this season. The Memphis Grizzlies will make the 2004 NBA playoffs. Heading into Friday’s game against Phoenix, they have won six games in a row and eight of their last 10 overall. They are thriving down the stretch and proving to be a match-up that no Western Conference team wants to face in the first round.
Currently, Memphis is just 2.5 games behind Minnesota for second place in the West and one game behind San Antonio for the ever-important fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round.
A Memphis-San Antonio series seems likely as Sacramento, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers seem poised to hold onto the top three spots. But Memphis is no cake-walk, not even for the Lakers.
Memphis won 3-of-4 games this season against the Spurs, although each game was decided by 11 points or less, including a thrilling 81-80 Memphis win on March 1.
Should Memphis earn home court advantage it could mean an early exit for Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Memphis is 29-9 at home this season. Pau Gasol had 22 points and 11 rebounds in a 10-point Grizzlies win over the Lakers in a game where all 4 L.A. superstars played significant minutes. On March 20, despite 28 points from Jermaine O’Neal and 23 from Ron Artest, Memphis had six players score in double figures, beating Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, 99-95.
Memphis is getting it done without a superstar, instead relying on a balanced attack and an incredibly deep roster. Gasol, Mike Miller, James Posey, Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells, Lorenzen Wright, Shane Battier and Earl Watson all average 20 or more minutes per game, and Stromile Swift and Bo Outlaw each play 19 per game.
Hubie Brown knows what he’s doing. As one of the leading candidates for 2003-04 coach of the year, Brown has made the Grizzlies the fifth highest scoring team in the league, and they give up just 94.1 points per game, 15th in the league - a better ranking than the Lakers, Kings and Mavericks.
Five of Memphis’s final eight games are on the road, including a game at Minnesota, a trip to Staples to play the Lakers and a game at Dallas. They’ll have to fight and play well to overtake San Antonio for the number four seed. Don't doubt Memphis' ability.