This season’s Memphis squad has achieved plenty of franchise firsts – first to win 50 games, first to place three players on the all-defensive team and first to make a Sports Illustrated cover.
With one more win against Oklahoma City, the franchise also plays in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals for the first time.
Either possible opponent there – whether somewhat decrepit San Antonio or callow Golden State – looks very beatable. Which means it isn’t totally presumptuous for Memphis fans to fantasize about the Grizzlies’ first berth in the NBA Finals.
Its opponent there will likely be the juggernaut Miami Heat. These Heat, of course, use the all-around genius and physicality of LeBron James along with dead-eye three-point shooting to snap into most of their foes like they were mere Slim Jims.
The Grizzlies are anything but slim.
Indeed, you probably already know this Memphis team presents the most daunting obstacle to a Miami two-peat. The Griz are strongest – in the middle and on the boards – where Miami is weakest. And they play a grind-it-out style the Heat abhor.
Are there numbers to support this premise?
Hell yeah, there are.
The Grizzlies have played the Heat three times in the last two regular seasons. Memphis won two of the three contests. But in all three games Memphis gave Miami severe problems on offense and defense, in multiple areas.
Here’s a season-by-season breakdown:
Granted, the team personnel in each of these games was slightly different. There was a Rudy Gay still playing for Memphis here, a Dwayne Wade recovering from injury there.
But these graphs still give you a big picture idea of how Memphis could easily add another furrow or 40 to LeBron’s brow. In an increasingly data-driven industry like the NBA, the numbers speak for themselves.
The following interview occurred during last month’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a time in which many Americans get away from the daily grind. Not so for former Razorback Ronnie Brewer, whose Chicago Bulls played in Memphis.
MEMPHIS – Everything is rushed for this interview.
The reporters jam into the visitors’ locker room and mass around one Chicago Bull, then another, seeking soundbites. The players look bone tired, but dutifully dispense post-game Pez into the recorders in front of them.
This is NBA life circa 2012, on the heels of a lockout that has forced 66 games to be played with four months. That’s a game every 1.8 days, alongside a slog of hotel check-ins, arena commutes and flights in and out of cities from Portland to Miami.
And sometimes the cards fall just wrong, producing hellacious stretches like the one the Bulls are in now. Seven games in nine days, folks. Even hey-day Jordan might have had trouble getting up