The Memphis Grizzlies are 36-26, scoring 105.9 points per hundred possessions, 19th in the NBA, and allowing 104.8 points per hundred possessions, 9th in the league. They’re sitting just outside the brutally competitive Western Conference playoff picture at 9th place in the West. They would be third in the East.
These facts don’t really tell you about the team the Blazers (Record) are facing tonight at the Package Warehouse in Memphis. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies’ best players, both missed significant time with injuries and cost the team a lot of production. The last time the Blazers (42-21) and the Grizzlies played, Memphis was playing with their full deck and put a mighty 98-81 whoopin’ on the Blazers in- Portland.
There’s no particular reason to think this won’t happen again. The Grizzlies’ burly-as-fuck frontline of Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, combined with their madcap defensive wings — (Tony! Courtney! Mike!) — are designed to give teams like the Blazers problems. Every player in the NBA threw shade when Gasol won DPOY last year, but he is the league’s most gifted taker-of-space on the defensive end, shutting down driving lanes with his surprisingly swift feet that move under his big ol’ meatsack of a body. He can even cover guards on the perimeter from time-to-time. Had their full strength lineup played all year, the Grizzlies, who went to the WCF last year, would probably be considered a fringe contender.
Z-Bo is getting older and has been a comer-and-goer this year but on a good night he’s a mobile sack of kettlebells that punishes any team that gives him single coverage on the block. Conley is probably the best point guard who will never make an All-Star team, a 3.7 player in every aspect of his game who writes a good essay and gets into the better state school (that doesn’t make any sense).
The Blazers are aching for a win the way I ache for a lover’s caress, though, so maybe they’ll come out “fired up and ready to compete,” if you believe in that kind of thing. I’m a human SportVU machine so I don’t care about that constructed narrative. It’s why all my lovers leave.
Even if I did care about such narratives, there’s just as compelling a fake-sports-feelings case to be made for the battered and bruised Grizz, fighting against time and their conference that has conspired to shut them out of the biggest dance of all. The Grizzlies see the Thunder at the top: they can smell their blood. They crave Westbrook’s flesh. They will break the beehive that is Kevin Durant and guzzle his blood like honey. Or maybe fate wishes to give them the Spurs and Memphis will enact their revenge for the humiliation they were given in the WCF. They just have to get there. Isn’t that more compelling than “Blazers will try hard to not lose three in a row”?