After four consecutive seasons in which the Memphis Grizzlies have improved their winning percentage, coach Lionel Hollins' team's 6-1 start has finally put the rest of the league on notice.
Their 107-97 road win over the defending Western Conference champions increased their scoring differential to plus-9.14 (second best in the NBA).
With double-digit wins against playoff hopefuls Golden State and Milwaukee and an 18-point drubbing of the defending champion Miami Heat already under their belt, the Grizzlies appear ready to enter the realm of the NBA's elite.
Sporting the league's fifth-most potent offense (101.57) and the eighth-stingiest defense (92.43), Memphis has shown the ability to find wins on either end of the floor.
On Wednesday night, they displayed that two-way dominance during a second quarter that saw them turn a 10-point first quarter deficit into an 11-point halftime advantage.
Memphis held Oklahoma City to its lowest scoring period of the season (15), harassing the Thunder's shooters into just 31.6 percent shooting in the quarter.
Hollins' nine-man rotation features a roster of well-rounded players with well-defined roles.
On Wednesday, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph shouldered the scoring load for Memphis, finishing with 28 and 20, respectively. Randolph (the league leader in rebounds per game with 14.0) added to his rebounding totals with a game-high 11.
Point guard Mike Conley's decision making (seven assists to two turnovers) embodied the Grizzlies' control of the game. Memphis forced 15 Oklahoma City turnovers, while committing just eight themselves.
Memphis even flexed its depth (something that many analysts worried about after the departure of former super sub O.J. Mayo) with five players scoring double-digits.
A nationally televised win over the Thunder may have spurned the Grizzlies' rise on the national stage, but this team has pestered the NBA elites for a few seasons now. Coach Hollins' team pushed the revamped Clippers to seven games in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs and upset the top-seeded Spurs in six games during the 2011 postseason.
During the 2011-12 regular season, the Grizzlies split their season series with the Chicago Bulls, won their lone matchups with the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks and swept the Denver Nuggets. In other words, this isn't a franchise that only feasts on the NBA's cellar-dwellers. This is a franchise capable of playing with (and beating) any team on any given night.
Whether or not the Grizzlies remain on the national stage throughout the regular season is hardly a concern for Hollins or his players.
After all, they've proven quite capable of surviving—and thriving—on their own.
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