The playoffs. Physical basketball. Hard fouls. Last-second shots. Find a way to win. No rebounds-no rings. Offense sales tickets, defense wins championships.
These are phrases and slogans that are synonymously used when referring to the NBA playoffs by coaches, players, and television analysts and commentators.
There is one more term that refers to that team that may not finish at the top of the standings, but is a team that is mutually respected by NBA analysts and players because of their threat to make a serious playoff run—the dark horse.
In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been the favorite for most of the season. The San Antonio Spurs quietly have played well all season and edged passed the Thunder at season's end to capture the top slot in the standings. But the team that is most feared and no one really wants to face is the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are not as exciting as the Los Angeles Clippers, who have come to be known as "lob-city." They are not as efficient on offense as the Spurs. They don't have the star power or championship history like the Los Angeles Lakers. But they may be the most balanced team in the entire conference.
They are definitely one of the hottest. They won their last six games of the season to surpass the Clippers and finish fourth in the West to gain home-court advantage. This looms large in their first-round series versus the Clippers. The Grizzlies are riding a 10-game home winning streak into the playoffs.
The Grizzlies are not a brand new playoff team though, as some may think.
In the 2011 playoffs, they eliminated the top seeded Spurs in six games. The Spurs were without their All-Star guard Manu Ginobli during the series, but the Grizzlies were also without their All-Star small-forward Rudy Gay. So the Grizzlies earned their first playoff series win in franchise history and got the reputation as being a very physical, hard-hat, defensive team.
This year they are so dangerous because for the first time all season, they are at full strength. Zach Randolph, one of the league's best offensive threats in the post, missed most of the season and is back from injury.
They can play well at multiple styles. They are very athletic and quick and are pushed by one of the quickest point guards in the NBA in Mike Conley. They have the athleticism on the perimeter in Rudy Gay and known defensive stopper Tony Allen, to match up with anyone.Their post players, All-Star center Marc Gasol and Randolph, are as skilled and big as any frontcourt combo in the west.
They also post a deep bench with O.J. Mayo, who could start on many teams; Mareese Speights, a power-forward who was picked up when Randolph went out with his injury and was in the playoffs last season with the Philadelphia 76ers; and Gilbert Arenas, who many felt had fallen off but came to the Grizzlies during the season in shape and willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.
The Grizzlies are by no means invincible, but they present major problems for whomever they face. They're the type of team that if you beat them in the series, you will have endured such a battle that it will question how much there is left to continue on to the next series.
They continue to be the team that others hope "get eliminated before they play us."