The Memphis Grizzlies moved one step closer to clinching the second seed in the Western Conference with a 123-95 win over a short-handed Golden State Warriors last Monday, the team’s fifth consecutive win and nine in its past 10 outings. They are 30 games above .500 following Monday’s win, tying the franchise record set when the team finished the 2012-13 season 56-26. Are You Ready? Ready or not, the Grizzlies are here, having pushed their way into the contender conversation at least a couple of years earlier than many anticipated when the’ “Grit ‘n Grind” chapter closed in 2019 and a rebuilding project began.
The team being built by 34-year-old vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman and coached by 37-year-old Taylor Jenkins seem to be cranking open an extended window to staying relevant in the playoffs scheme. It is also true per the bigger picture, as Memphis morphed from moribund to a play-in team with massive long-term upside during Morant’s rookie year, then took a significant step by making the playoffs during his sophomore campaign and made a major leap this season, when only the reigning Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns have a better record. Thus, it is safe to say things do happen fast with Ja Morant in the mix.
.@KendrickPerkins is ALL IN on Memphis 😤 “Let me tell you something about the Memphis Grizzlies … they don’t give a damn who you are, they have zero respect for you when it comes between those lines. … I got them winning the Western Conference.” pic.twitter.com/xnpHkg8qRr — NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 29, 2022
The Bench Stepping Up Big Time. The Team is built around Morant, undoubtedly so, but part of the Grizzlies’ success this year is due to the play of its second unit, which plays a league-leading 98.5 minutes per game. Only four other teams average more than 95. The Grizzlies (53-23) are impressively 18-2 without Morant this season and have emerged as a No. 2 seed. How so? The answer lies within a bench unit that won’t be overlooked for much longer. “Guys on our bench could start on maybe 15, 16, 17 NBA teams,” forward Kyle Anderson said. “It’s not like we have an attitude coming off the bench or anything. We are all bought into winning.” Coach Taylor Jenkins uses his bench often, evident by its NBA-leading 98.5 minutes per game. Only four other NBA teams average more than 95. The second unit leads the NBA in steals (4.6), blocks (2.5), assists (9.8) and rebounds (20.7). With Morant set for reevaluation in a week due to right knee soreness, it would be a no brainer to suggest the support cast will fill the void and make their inclusion count whenever necessary.
Everybody: The Grizzlies are 18-2 without Ja Morant this season .. Me: 🤷🏽♂️😁 GrzNxtGen MFS ‼️‼️🐻 pic.twitter.com/BHxKh0vwIH — Ja Morant (@JaMorant) March 29, 2022
Will Youth Prevail While Chasing History? The Grizzlies have gone from being perceived as a fun, young team on the rise to one with a set objective. Critics, including veterans around the league, feel that the confidence bordering on arrogance is premature for a group that has yet to win a playoff series. But the Grizzlies, as Morant so colorfully put it the other night in February at Madison Square Garden, “ain’t ducking’ no smoke. We gonna let everybody know we here” he said. Although inexperience increases the chances of a first-round upset in the playoffs, but if recent displays and results are anything to go by, the Morant led side is quite regularly proving not to be a fluke. And the Grizzlies have played every bit like a contender.
.@memgrizz are headed to the playoffs for the second straight season 🙌 pic.twitter.com/0qsqIrTsnU — NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 25, 2022