NBA Playoffs 2012: Grizzlies Head into Playoffs as the League's Biggest Sleeper

Manuel GutierrezContributor IIApril 16, 2012

Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis GrizzliesRonald Martinez/Getty Images

With the NBA playoffs set to start soon, everyone is wondering who the dangerous teams will be.

The general consensus is that the champion will be either Oklahoma City, Chicago or Miami, due to their respective superstars and superb team chemistry. These teams have played at a high level during the regular season, and have both the veteran experience and talent needed to win it all.

That being said, there are still other teams that could make noise in the playoffs.

While not having nearly as much attention as these "titans of basketball," other sleeper teams do have the talent needed to not only put up a fight, but actually win. And no team is a bigger sleeper for the 2012 NBA playoffs than the Memphis Grizzlies.

After being a surprisingly tough team in last year’s playoffs, the Grizzlies started the year off in an unexpectedly mediocre fashion. They lost their first two games to the Thunder and Spurs (who coincidentally are currently the first and second seeds in the West), barely resembling the team that put forth such a valiant effort vs the Thunder the previous year.

They seemed uncoordinated and unmotivated, and suffered a brutal and humiliating loss vs the Chicago Bulls on January 1, losing by a whopping margin of 50 points.

From that game on, something changed for the Grizzlies. It didn't happen from one day to another, but the wheels had begun to turn. The team started to show life, and gradually started to play at a level that reminded fans of the team that surprised many the year before.

They went on a seven game winning streak, defeating the very same Chicago Bulls two weeks after the embarrassing loss. The team started to play better, and they found their rhythm.

As the season progressed, the team had their ups and downs, yet slowly but surely, they kept improving. They started winning tough games, and they currently hold the fifth seed in the West. They've gone 7-3 in their past 10 games, including tough and valuable wins vs. title favorites Oklahoma City and Miami. And not only did they beat both of them during the same week, they did so as visitors, playing in their opponents’ home turf.

This is the team that people remembered, the team fans longed to see. A team that didn't care about individual stats, but rather sought the collective effort from their players to achieve a common goal: to win. And while they do have an underdog aura, and have certainly thrived under it, they also have the talent needed to defeat current powerhouses in the NBA.

From the versatile Rudy Gay to the underrated Tony Allen, the Grizzlies have formidable players at virtually every position.

They’re one of the few teams that boast a true, talented NBA center in Marc Gasol, who is having the best year of his career. They have the underrated Rudy Gay, who will consistently score in double figures and provide energy and tenacity. They have Tony Allen, a guy who will not put up great stats, but is responsible for eliminating other teams’ deadly scorers. He’s done a fantastic job in recent games vs. the Los Angeles LakersKobe Bryant, and there’s a very good chance he’ll do it again during the playoffs.

Coming off the bench, they have O.J. Mayo, who provides a spark to the team and leads the second unit. They have Zach Randolph who, when healthy, is one of the best rebounders in the league, and is a tough player in the paint.

All in all, the Grizzlies are a deep team, with more players such as Mike Conley and Gilbert Arenas also chipping in during every game they play.

Ultimately, the Grizzlies are a team that other teams should not, and probably don’t, want to face in the playoffs. They have the potential to match up with any team, and have done so successfully this year.

Right now, their main concern is to get center Marc Gasol healthy and in rhythm, due to his recent knee injury. But once he comes back, the Grizzlies will be firing on all cylinders, and if they continue to play the way they have, it would not be surprising to see them not only compete, but contend.