There is no doubt that the Grizzlies are a dangerous team. Their starting five are arguably the most complete in the league, and that's not even factoring in their decent bench. Simply put, this Memphis team is loaded.
On the flip side, so are a lot of teams in the Western Conference.
The past two playoff runs for the Grizzlies are peculiar. Both times, somebody has been injured or not back to full form, but each gave us completely different results.
The first was when Rudy Gay was injured for the 2011 playoffs. Despite insurmountable odds against the top-seeded Spurs, Memphis prevailed, partly due to the heroics of Zach Randolph, who dominated both offensively and defensively. Not only did they pull off the upset, but they also pushed the Thunder to the limit. Ultimately, they lost in seven, but it was a year that nobody will ever forget.
The next one, not so much. While Gay returned full health, Randolph had been injured for more than a month, which did not give the team proper time to blend. When things were rolling, it was an absolute show on the court. When they weren't, Memphis looked inept to play basketball.
Barring any more major injuries to major players, next season looks to be the one where Memphis will bring it all together. A full offseason and regular season should build team chemistry, allowing a more cohesive unit.
But how far could this team go?
The key word here is potential. The Grizzlies have a lot of it, but they did not live up to it last year. With such a talented team, you must be able to get past at least the first round.
Next year, I ultimately think that we will be able to make the Western Conference Finals. Here is how I deduce that.
The Western Conference is packed with good opponents, but Memphis will be able to beat a majority of them out. Playoff teams like the Clippers, Nuggets and Mavericks will not be able to achieve victory against a healthy Grizzlies team. There is too much overall talent and hopefully chemistry among the players.
The Spurs, Thunder and Lakers are the ones who will give the toughest battles. Like I said, if Memphis can stay healthy, I can see us getting past the Spurs and Thunder. San Antonio because of age and the fact that we have beaten them before in situations similar.
The Thunder is a really tough one, but in the end, I'll take the Grizzlies. If they do meet up, it would definitely be seven games again. I'll give the edge to Memphis because of the center and power forward positions.
With those two out of the way, that leaves the Lakers.
In what has become an exciting matchup, Memphis and L.A. always give each other fits. Sadly, with the addition of Nash, the Lakers have given themselves the piece to put them over the top of the Grizzlies.
Don't get me wrong, Conley is a good point guard on the way up, but it's Steve Nash. Remember how I said that Memphis might have the most complete starting five in the league? Well, L.A. certainly isn't far behind. In fact, they're the reason for that "might".
Memphis is still missing that one superstar to put them into the Finals. Who knows, maybe one will emerge this year.
However, there is a scenario that scares me about this team.
If they are never able to live up to expectations, we could see ourselves becoming the Atlanta Hawks of the Western Conference. A good team with good players, but never getting past the first or second rounds. A perennially good but never great team.
Obviously I don't think that'll happen. But if we can't make it to the Conference Finals (or at least push the Spurs/Lakers/Thunder to seven games in the semis), it might be time to pursue other options. By that, I mean cutting somebody, such as Gay or Randolph.
I don't think this will happen, but it is always an option.
With all that the Grizzlies have, Conference Finals is a very achievable goal. Fans should expect nothing less.
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