During last season's playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies were a shocking success story, knocking out the Spurs and taking the Thunder to seven dramatic games before being knocked out. But in some ways seeing the Grizz sitting atop the Southwest Division (albeit by a matter of a few win percentage points), after nearly a month of the 2011-12 season, is almost equally impressive.
What's even more impressive is the way in which the Grizzlies are competing; they're seemingly playing at a playoff-like temperature already. Reading quotes from postgame reports, you get the sense that the togetherness and resolve that carried them through their 2010-11 playoff run has carried over to this season.
After Monday night's come-from-behind win over the Warriors, Rudy Gay, who scored three points in the final 23 seconds, had this to say: "We showed what we’re made of. We showed our toughness. There was a lot of yapping in the huddles. We went through a lot to get it.”
It was just the Warriors, man! Relax! Or don't! Because the Grizz need a little fire in their bellies right now. After all, they're going into battle without their star power forward and beating heart, Zach Randolph.
When Z-Bo collapsed early in the season, tearing a ligament in his knee, I thought I heard the distinctive sound of Cinderella's glass slipper shattering. There was no way the Grizzlies could repeat last season's success without their leading scorer and rebounder, right?
Wrong. You hear that sound? That's the sound of M-Town chanting "Ru-dy! Ru-dy!" The Grizz have won seven straight and Rudy Gay has been the leading scorer in five of those contests. It makes a weird kind of sense; in the absence of Randolph, the engine of last season's playoff triumph, Gay, a player who was absent for all of that playoff run, has come into his own.
I feel the same way about invoking the Ewing Theory as some people do about saying "Candyman" five times into the mirror, but it's worth noting the marked improvement of players like Mike Conley (13.9 ppg, 7.4 apg, 20.9 PER), O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol (15.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 21.4 PER) have had in Randolph's absence.
Maybe, since there's not the obvious A1 option in the post, the ball is moving around more. Maybe guys aren't ready to let go of last season's elation. And maybe head coach Lionel Hollins isn't willing to let them do so. The coach's take on Randolph's injury might lack poetry ("That’s life."), but whatever he's telling his players in the locker room is working.
A West Coast swing, like the one Memphis continues Tuesday night in Portland, is usually a big test for any team. But somehow I get the feeling the Grizzlies will come out of it fine. They are, after all, pretty good at being tested.
Around The League
- Remember how, following the botched blockbuster trade between New Orleans, Houston and the Lakers, rumored to have been nixed by NBA commissioner David Stern, everyone from Joe League Pass to Kobe Bryant was feeling a little weird about Stern's involvement in the future and fortunes of a specific NBA franchise? But Stern basically told all parties to be cool? How's being cool working out, Eric Gordon? "In terms of my contract extension, Dell Demps indicated that it’s out of his control and NBA commissioner David Stern has the last determination on the contract extension." Cool.
- Lost in the Flip Saunders news from Tuesday morning was another impressive performance by the Sixers on Monday night. Most surprising was the play of rookie Lavoy Allen, a Temple University product, who came of the bench to score 10 in 17 minutes. Allen scored the Sixers' 100th and 101st points last night. This meant those in attendance won free Big Macs the next day at McDonald's, making Allen an instant cult hero. "I'm feeling for a couple of Big Macs tomorrow," Allen said. Ah, Philly.
- Monday saw the Boston Celtics put up a little bit of fight, in more ways than one. The C's pounded the Magic, 87-56. They also got a little feisty with Orlando, as Dwight Howard and Jermaine O'Neal nearly came to blows. After the game, Howard was full of passive zings and colorful explanations for what transpired. On the near-brouhaha: "I didn't run up on him because it's basketball. We're not MMA fighters." On getting dogged by Kevin Garnett: "There's no way KG should be beating me up and down the floor. He's 40 and I'm 25." Kevin Garnett is 35.
Quote of the Day: Glen Davis
On seeing his tribute video played at the Garden last night: "I looked really fat."