Back in the offseason, I wrote the post: Memphis or OKC: Who’s Better? As of now, you’d have to give the nod to the Thunder, who are 19-16 (who are also tied for the fifth most road wins in the NBA) and are in the eighth spot in the Western Conference. But as nice as Oklahoma City has been this season, the Grizzlies are honestly not that far behind.
Memphis is currently 17-17 and have won seven of their last 10 games. Before losing to Utah last night, the Grizzlies’ record was above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2005-’06 season. In that run where they won seven of their eight games, the team defeated playoff bound squads like the Nuggets, Suns and Blazers. They are 14-6 when they score over 100 points.
The League rewarded Lionel Hollins for his team’s turnaround by naming him the Western Conference Coach of the Month on Tuesday. Hollins is not the only member of the Grizz who deserves some credit. Zach Randolph has been in beast mode averaging 23.6 ppg and 14.2 rpg (5.6 offensive). No doubt, Z-Bo been playing like an All-Star (although we all know that’s not happening). The team’s other stars, Rudy Gay (20.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and O.J. Mayo (18.2 ppg, 3 apg), have also been having great seasons.
The team is also getting great contributions from Marc Gasol (14.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg), who has improved tremendously from his rookie season. The Grizzlies’ most unlikely hero has been their second round pick, Sam Young. The rookie out of Pitt, has put together five double figure scoring games in his last seven contests including a pair of 22-point efforts.
The team has come a long way from their disastrous 1-8 start and dealing with the whole Allen Iverson drama. What has been most impressive about the Grizzlies’ resurgence has been the heart they’ve been showing. Most of their key players are currently playing hurt: Conley (shoulder), Mayo (sore hip), Gasol (bruised right elbow) and Gay (ankle). In the game against the Blazers on Tuesday, Randolph – who had microfracture surgery on his knee four seasons ago – slipped and buckled his knee. After finding out the injury wasn’t serious, he returned to the game.
“A lot of guys play through different stuff,” Randolph told The Commercial Appeal. “I’m a soldier. I’m going to play until I can’t walk.”
The Grizzlies have a relatively light schedule for the rest of January. Half of their remaining 12 games of the month are against current non-playoff teams. With eight of those remaining games at home, this is definitely their chance to climb up in the rankings. But even if they have a good January, it’s unlikely they’ll end up with a playoff spot this year. They are making some positive strides though and could realistically fight for a playoff berth next season.