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The Grizzlies Roar…

If we believe that the best team over 82 games, should get to play the worst (qualifying) team over 82 games, then nobody actually would have picked the Memphis Grizzlies to play the Western Conference champion Spurs.  Of course, the Grizzlies liked their chances against the Spurs more than their chances against the Lakers, so they tanked a few games near the end and thus spat at the feet of the Spurs.  In the past, spitting in the direction of the Tim Duncan-Greg Popovich Spurs would be tantamount to sticking a knife in your own belly, but these aren’t your older brother’s Spurs.

As it turns out, the Grizzlies were right to want San Antonio, whose silver regular season turned to brass last night when the Bearscats knocked the Four time Champs from the postseason.  For some reason, I feel some vague sense of satisfaction about this.  Maybe this makes sense: the Grizzlies do – after-all – still hold the name given to them when they were Vancouver’s own, but then I doubt too many Minnesotans claim the Lakers’ success as their own.  No, I think mostly it’s just that the Grizzlies seem like such misfits and I’m the kind of guy who likes misfits.

Memphis is led by Zach Randolph who had become such an overpriced league joke that in the span of eight months he was traded first for Tim Thomas and a retiring Cuttino Mobley, and then for Quentin Richardson; hardly blue chip talent.  Their second best player is Rudy Gay and he’s been injured since the middle of February.  After that, they have the Frank to Pau Gasol’s Sylvester; they have Mike Conley who was drafted at least ten spots too early; they have OJ Mayo who at the deadline this year they basically tried to trade for a broken dishwasher and an expired book of coupons; and – of course – they have Tony Allen!  Like I said, misfits.

In the last ten months they have overpaid to retain Gay, Conley and now Randolph.  They gave away the second pick in the draft, a year and a half after making it.  Last year they even signed up the circus, when they brought Allen Iverson on board.  And yet, the Grizzlies have somehow assembled a team that made them a trendy pre-season playoff pick.

It’s as though they followed the Atlanta Hawks model of how to build a playoff team.  The Hawks you will remember, returned to the middle of the playoff pack, despite butchering the 2004, 2005, and 2006 drafts.  Despite incompetence, the Hawks eventually acquired enough lottery picks to buoy them upwards.  The Grizzlies have basically done the same thing.  Despite drafting Mike Conley over Joakim Noah, OJ Mayo over Russell Westbrook, and Hasheem Thabeet over Steph Curry, the Grizzlies have scrapped, clawed, and bitten their way from 22 wins (two years running), to 24, to 40 and a bare miss of the playoffs last year.

The Grizzlies started the season –  as young teams do – inconsistently, winning a couple games in a row, but then losing four or five.  On December 6th they were 8-14.   After that, they went 23-11 until the Gay injury.  For an inconsistent, immature team, that might have been the end of their run, but… these are Grizzlies, not bear-cubs.  They finished off the season by going a respectable 15-8, including their two game no-show to ensure that they met the Spurs in the first round, not the Lakers.  If not for Gay’s injury, the Grizzlies might have climbed all the way to the fifth seed and set up a first round battle against Oklahoma City.  Yet, why meet the Zombies in the first round, when you can instead meet them in the second?

Something tells me that despite the Grizzlies’ mistakes, this isn’t the last time that we will witness a bizarro all-Northwest playoff battle between the Zombies and the Grizzlies.  Too bad that instead of Seattle-Vancouver, these games will take place roughly 2,500 kilometers away.  Sigh…

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