The Memphis Grizzlies head into this weekend’s NBA first round with a different attitude. They are no longer an emerging or unknown team. Despite still being one of the youngest teams in the league, they have won over 50 games two straight seasons. Although Sunday they ended the regular season with a 15 point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, for the second straight year they finished second in the Western Conference. They will home court advantage for at least the first two rounds. They firmly believe if star guard Ja Morant had not been injured they would have defeated the Golden State Warriors last season in the second round.
The Grizzlies have never reached the NBA Finals, and they have only reached the Western Conference Finals once. After that appearance they canned then head coach Lionel Hollins, an unpopular move that still remains questionable many years later.
The current Grizzlies squad is not universally loved. Some see them as too young and immature to be a title contender. They have no one on the active roster 30 or older, and some also question whether head coach Preston Jenkins runs too loose a ship for the team to win the four rounds necessary for a title.
Some of their top players, notably Morant and defensive ace Dillon Brooks are outspoken and confident to the point they can rub some players, fans and coaches the wrong way.
Both have been suspended this season. Morant was heavily criticized and later apologized for a controversial Instagram photo showing him with a gun. Brooks has tussled with players and officials, losing time for accrued technicals.
But both were key contributors to the Grizzles getting 51 wins. Another was Jaren Jackson Jr., a potential Defensive Player of the Year who also had his best offensive season. He will be heavily counted on in the absence of Brandon Clarke, a key reserve out for the season with an injury, plus the unclear status of Steven Adam’s, who has been out for weeks and is trying to return for the playoffs.
With both the Titans and Predators currently having less than stellar seasons and Nashville SC off to a slow start, the Grizzlies have a chance to both maximize their fan base and challenge for a title.
They also can silence detractors who consider them all flash and bluster, but little substance and grit
The next few weeks will determine whether the Grizzlies truly have a great year, or just a good one capped off by a poor playoff performance.