The Commercial Appeal
Memphis enters proving grounds
The most telling stretch of the Grizzlies’ season is here
The popular Statmuse Twitter account put out some startling numbers concerning the Memphis Grizzlies the other day, under the guise of what happened to this team since they got into that fracas with Shannon Sharpe last month in Los Angeles.
Before that incident, the Grizzlies were second in the NBA in NET rating and had the league’s third-best record. Since that incident, they rank 23rd in the NBA in NET rating and only five teams in the league have a worse record.
That is, of course, giving way too much credit to Sharpe – the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end who now argues with Skip Bayless on FS1 every weekday – and ignoring that Steven Adams suffered a knee injury the very next game.
But it nonetheless underscores the larger storyline for these Grizzlies coming out of the NBA All-star break.
They haven’t actually looked like the second-best team in the Western Conference for awhile, and the most telling stretch of their regular season is upon us.
Eight of the next 11 games are against teams that would qualify for the postseason as of today, and that doesn’t include two games against the new-look Los Angeles Lakers.
It starts with Philadelphia on Thursday, followed by a game at Fedexforum against first-place Denver on Saturday. There are two games with Dallas and its new tandem of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic, and the first home game with the Golden State Warriors.
Seven of the games will be nationally televised.
If Memphis really is “fine in the West,” this is their best chance to show it before the playoffs.
That’s a particularly relevant qualifier because we’re going on two months since the Grizzlies beat a contending team that was at full strength.
For the season, they are just 20-17 against teams that would currently make the postseason.
But they are below .500 against the Western Conference teams that fit into that category, including a ghastly 2-10 record facing those teams on the road.
Despite all that, Memphis is still comfortably in second place in the west, three games ahead of third-place Sacramento.
Keeping that seed is important. But getting back to the team that was barreling through November and December seems far more pertinent at this point.
The Grizzlies have had issues closing out games of late, as teams adjusted to the “Call 12” strategy of just allowing star point guard Ja Morant to take over.
They also have to figure out their bench rotation, with the recent trade deadline acquisition of Luke Kennard and the decreasing effectiveness of those reserves.
But the impending return of Adams should help, provided he’s able to be as effective as he was earlier this season.
It became clear his offensive rebounding covered up some of this team’s flaws, and his screens make life much easier for Morant and Tyus Jones.
He could also perhaps be the elixir
Memphis is still comfortably in second place in the West, three games ahead of Sacramento. Keeping that seed is important.
But getting back to the team that was barreling through November and December seems far more pertinent at this point.
the Grizzlies have been waiting on to emerge from this funk.
According to the increasingly popular “Steven Adams Stats” Twitter account, there is no player in franchise history with a higher winning percentage than Adams has through 118 games in Memphis.
That might be more startling than the swoon that accompanied his absence.