Memphis Grizzlies More Than Just Dark-Horse Contenders, but Will NBA Fans Care?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterNovember 17, 2012

If you haven't seen the Memphis Grizzlies play yet, cancel your reservations at Olive Garden, reschedule your orthodontist appointment and set aside a different night to see Skyfall.

This team is the real deal, and they deserve our attention.

After waxing the New York Knicks off the floor for the majority of the second half Friday night, it became rather evident that this was a different Grizzlies team. They were ferocious on defense and disciplined on offense. It was the physical, high-quality basketball you see deep into the playoffs.

By the way, the "Bond girls" deserve our attention too, but that movie will probably be out for another few months, so we're all good. 

Anyway, it's only natural for us to take this team for granted. In 2011, they knocked out the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, only to tease us into thinking that they'd taken the next step. In 2012, they lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers.

But something looks different this November. They look older...wiser. Like that year when you shed your braces and grow a little mustache. Only a year goes by, but it looks like three.

The Grizzlies are balanced. Mike Conley has turned into one of the better game managers in the league. Rudy Gay can be a go-to scorer. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are a handful together down low. And Tony Allen still plays lockdown perimeter defense—a big-time asset in the playoffs.

They came in Friday night against the Knicks with a game plan, and they executed it to perfection.

Coach Lionel Hollins recognized New York's undersized frontcourt and exploited it with oversized monsters. At one point in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Rasheed Wallace all picked up their fourth foul. They just didn't know how to handle Memphis physically without overdoing it.

Much of the night, Memphis isolated Marc Gasol on the low block against Anthony. Gasol's ability to facilitate out of the post makes the offense incredibly difficult to defend because of the multidimensional threat he poses as a scorer or playmaker.

Below, we have Gasol posting Anthony. He has the option of backing him down or drawing the double and kicking it out. Between Gasol's vision and the Grizzlies' understanding of spacing, they're able to play "pinball" basketball, hitting multiple hands without the ball touching the floor.

Almost all of their looks Friday night were good ones, using chunks of the shot clock while patiently operating their offense sets.

Can they compete with Oklahoma City and San Antonio—the natural powerhouses of the West? Only time will tell, but the Grizzlies sure don't seem like that one-and-done warm-up test anymore.

It might be time to consider Memphis as one of those powerhouses after reeling off seven straight wins, the last three against the Miami Heat, the Thunder and the Knicks.

I know, I know. It's early, and it's tough to just break the mental boundary of considering the Grizzlies a contender. 

My hips might lie, but my eyes don't. This Grizzlies team is for real, and you better believe it.