x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Grizzlies are climbing high in the NBA

The team from Memphis boast the best record in the whole of the NBA, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol.
Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol.

Memphis gave the world Elvis Presley, as well as the overnight shippers FedEx, the Gibson guitar and a major port along the Mississippi River.

What it has never provided is a major sports accomplishment. Nothing worthy of banner raising and a parade. Nothing from its colleges, zero from the handful of professional teams to call the city home.

Memphis currently has only the basketball Grizzlies, from North America's four major professional sports. And in their first 15 years of existence, the Grizzlies did not win a single play-off game, which makes what is going on with the Memphis team now all the more remarkable.

It would be almost inexplicable if the past few seasons had not hinted at what was coming.

After nine games, the Grizzles have the best record in the NBA, a first for the club. After opening the season with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies have won eight consecutive games.

And they are not just mopping up the dregs of the league. Along the way they have beaten both of last season's finalists, the Miami Heat, the champions, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and handed the New York Knicks their first loss of the season. All via double-digit victories.

"It's been fun, I'm not going to lie to you," said Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies centre.

After they beat the Knicks at home on Friday, they flew to North Carolina, arrived at their hotel at 4am and beat the Charlotte Bobcats later that night. "The last two games have distinguished what personality this team has," said Mike Conley, the point guard.

The Grizzlies realise it is early. Teams who are hot in November often fade long before the spring, and they know they do not have an elite scorer.

What they do have is the league's top rebounder, Zach Randolph. And they are No 4 in the league in both offence and defence. What they do have is a tough, physically imposing team eager to play every night.

"We're playing as if we're 1-8," Randolph said. "We're not trying to act like we're big."

The first sign of life from the previously dormant franchise came in the 2011 play-offs, when Memphis shocked the Western Conference top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, then took the Thunder to seven games.

Last season they again made the play-offs, this time as the fourth seed, but fell in the first round, in seven games, to the Clippers.

Now they are back and seem stronger than ever. Certainly more confident than ever, after last week. Said Rudy Gay, their top scorer: "It showed us that we can do anything."