No team in the west is better positioned to make a Cinderella-style run to the finals than the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sounds odd, doesn't it? They're currently sitting at fifth in the Western Conference standings and seem to be at their best when one of their best players are out.
But the playoffs don't work like the regular season. This year has been a war of attrition, and with Zach Randolph back, the Grizzlies look to enter the playoffs relatively unscathed. The playoffs belong to teams that do certain things really well. By that logic, the Grizzlies can beat anyone.
The game slows down in May and June. Sorry OKC, your fast-paced style is going to grind to a halt in a seven game series with Memphis or San Antonio. What wins in the spring is two things: big men and defense.
Let's start with the bigs. No team has a better duo than Randolph and Marc Gasol. Last year, those two led them to within a game of the conference finals. In the playoffs you need to be able to get easy baskets, and nothing is easier than a dunk. Randolph's wide array of low post moves (and his ever-improving mid-range game) make him one of the surest bets to put the ball in the basket in the NBA.
When he can't, Gasol can.
Maybe neither of them are the type of player that demands a double-team at all times, but you probably need to commit an extra defender to help to contain them both, and when that happens, the perimeter players start to take over.
OJ Mayo can drain open threes all day. Mike Conley and Rudy Gay can drive to the basket. When you have big men like the Grizzlies do, everything else opens up. It creates higher percentage shots for everyone else. In games where the first team to 80 will seemingly win, you need as many high percentage shots as possible.
Of course, for the Grizzlies to be in those types of games, they'll have to play defense. Lucky for them, they have the best perimeter defender in the league. Tony Allen has been so remarkably good defensively this year that it's nearly impossible to remember the guy Boston had a hard time finding minutes for.
Other than Memphis, all of the West's contenders are run by a guard. Russell Westbrook for the Thunder, Tony Parker for San Antonio, Chris Paul for the Clippers, and Kobe Bryant for the Lakers. These are all guys Tony Allen is perfectly equipped to contain.
Cut off the heads of these offenses, and the body will die.
Allen isn't the only defensive trick hidden up the Grizzlies' sleeve. Marc Gasol is evolving into a very good defensive center. He's not in the caliber of Dwight Howard in terms of altering every shot the opponent makes, but he controls the paint with a physicality that we rarely see from big men nowadays.
The West this year is very match-up based. Every team has a few that they'd like to play and a few they'd like to avoid. Memphis is the one team everyone wants to avoid. When you can attack with two elite big men, a wide array of outside scorers, and the best perimeter defender in the league, you're set to take on any team in your conference.
Because of that, Memphis is the ultimate sleeper in this year's playoffs.