x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Memphis Grizzlies turn a few heads before NBA play-offs

Though fans who follow the NBA outside of Memphis may not have noticed, their opponents are aware that the Grizzlies will be a dangerous team to face come the post-season.

With Rudy Gay healthy, no team will take the Memphis Grizzlies lightly this post-season.
With Rudy Gay healthy, no team will take the Memphis Grizzlies lightly this post-season.

Outside the state of Tennessee, the Memphis Grizzlies are nobody's darlings.

They had three winning seasons in their first 15 years in the league. On each of those three occasions they were swept out of the play-offs.

No wonder that they were an NBA afterthought.

Last season, however, they were 46-36 and shocked the San Antonio Spurs in the first round to become just the second No 8 seed to survive an opening series in the post-season.

In the conference semi-finals, they pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games.

And then they were pretty much forgotten about all over again.

That may change soon. The Grizzlies (32-23) have won seven of nine and have climbed to fifth in the Western Conference, one-and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers.

Their surge includes victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami - the latter ending the Heat's home winning streak at 17.

"Memphis is good," said Scott Brooks, the Thunder coach. "They're physical. They're good inside, good outside. They have toughness and they defend."

The Grizzlies lead the NBA in steals, offensive rebounds and scoring off turnovers.

Rudy Gay missed the play-offs last season after having shoulder surgery, but the forward is back and leading the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game. Five other Memphis players average at least 10. The Grizzlies have been bolstered by the return of Zach Randolph, the powerful forward, from a knee injury, and the recent addition of the one-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas. In his eight games with the Grizzlies, Arenas has made 43.5 per cent of his three-pointers, giving Memphis an outside scoring dimension they had lacked.

"Gilbert has brought a new spirit to our guys, because his shooting has been contagious," said Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies coach. "And Zach continues to work outside of the games to get in shape. I actually like him coming off the bench."

Just as the play-offs come into view, momentum is building in Memphis; last week the Grizzlies beat the 2011 finalists in back-to-back games.

"We feel like we're just getting better," said Mike Conley, the point guard. "Beating teams like Oklahoma City and Miami over the last couple of weeks shows the growth of this team.

"But we're not satisfied."

Most NBA fans may not notice Memphis, but their opponents have, especially with Gay back in the mix.

"They're tough. We saw that first-hand last year with the guys they had, and they didn't have Rudy Gay last year," said the Thunder star Kevin Durant.

"They're a tough, tough team."



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