Memphis Grizzlies: Keys to a Second Half Playoff Push

Nick LantzCorrespondent IIJanuary 22, 2013

Memphis Grizzlies: Keys to a Second Half Playoff Push

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    As the midway point of the NBA season draws closer, it is becoming clearer which teams are for real. Thus far the Memphis Grizzlies have to be one of the most pleasant surprises in this young season. Coming off a disappointing game seven loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs last year, Memphis has gotten off to a terrific start in 2012-13. They are currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference with a 26-14 record.

    The Grizzlies continue to be one of the premier defensive squads in the league. Mike Conley and Tony Allen continue to wreak havoc on opposing guards. Big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph remain a legitimate presence down low, making it difficult for opponents to match up with their size. The two big men are rebounding well, especially Randolph who is grabbing the second most rebounds in the league (11.6 per game) behind Dwight Howard.

    Last season, Memphis was one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs, which made them so dangerous. The Grizzlies have gotten off to a great start, but they will have to play even better to make the playoffs and get home court advantage. In order for Memphis to make an even stronger push into the playoffs this season, there are eight key elements that they should emphasize:

Feed the Ball to Gasol More Often Inside

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    Although Marc Gasol's scoring and rebounding numbers are slightly lower than last season, he is just as valuable this season, if not more. Gasol is averaging 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the 2012-13 season. He is also blocking 1.8 shots per contest which is best on the team. At 7'1", Gasol is one of the few true centers in the NBA, and one of the best at that.

    What has not been brought up much has been Gasol's increased passing ability this season. Thus far he is dishing out 3.5 assists per game, which is a career high. His assist to turnover ratio is 1.99, which is quite strong for a big man. He is able to not only score in the post, but also make plays for his teammates as well.

    Memphis should be using Gasol to his full potential. To have a further successful season this year, the Grizzlies should work through Gasol far more often. There are not many other big men in the NBA that can match his size and his ability to make plays down low is crucial to the Grizzlies success. He is putting up just 10.3 shot attempts a game. They need to feed Gasol more in order to make a playoff run.

Push for Fast Break Points Often

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    With Rudy Gay on the roster, the Memphis Grizzlies should be trying to run the fast break as much as possible. Gay is the type of player that is scary coming down in transition. He can rise up and throw down a highlight reel dunk, making a Grizzlies crowd go nuts. Mike Conley is a very capable guard to run the floor when given the opportunity.

    As one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Grizzlies should turn good defense into transition offense. Memphis comes up with 9.15 steals per game, No. 2 in the NBA behind the Clippers. They should try to get quick and easy buckets off of steals. Forcing turnovers should allow for fast break points driven by speedy guards like Conley and Jerryd Bayless, with the likes of Gay and Tony Allen finishing strong on the other end.

    For Memphis to improve their offense, they should get out in transition to get easy baskets as much as they can. The right tools are in place for the Grizzlies to have one of the most vicious transition games in the league.

Use Three-Point Shooters More

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    Quincy Pondexter has been the best three-point shooter on this Memphis Grizzlies team so far. He has been shooting 42 percent so far this season behind the arc. Pondexter has received a lot of action for early on for Memphis, but he is not shooting nearly enough. As their most accurate three-point threat, Pondexter should be getting more looks from outside each game.

    Monday Pondexter missed the Grizzlies game against the Indiana Pacers. In his place, Wayne Ellington stepped up with a huge game. Though the Grizzlies came up just short, losing 82-81, Ellington scored 17 points and hit all three of his outside shots. Ellington also has been a consistent three-point shooter, making over 42 percent of his attempts as well.

    However, Ellington was recently a part in a payroll reducing trade to Cleveland. The Grizzlies should try to take a few more three-pointers each game and should rely on Pondexter to do so. He has been proving that he is more than capable of knocking down the trey.

Get Hot Going into the Playoffs

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    Last season Memphis nearly knocked off Chris Paul and the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Memphis was heading into that series on fire, riding a six game winning streak. The Grizzlies were able to capitalize in April, the last month of the regular season. The team went 13-3 in the month of April, thrusting themselves into the four seed in the West.

    Memphis must finish this season just as strongly as they did last year. When it comes to playoff time, usually the hottest teams at the time make the deepest postseason runs. In order for the Grizzlies to make the playoffs, get a strong seed and do some damage in the postseason, the team must get hot at the right time.

If the Value Is There, Make a Trade If Necessary

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    As rumors float around and trade possibilities are analyzed, Memphis should at the least just see what is available. Lately there have been numerous reports about possibly trading Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph. It is difficult to see the Grizzlies wanting to deal Gay or Randolph without getting something big in return.

    The Grizzlies could use another big man to back up Randolph or Gasol. They could also use another wing or outside shooter. It seems as though Marc's brother, Pau Gasol, has been on the market ever since he showed up in Los Angeles. Though it is unlikely, a move to pair the two Spanish big men together could be a perfect match.

Increase the Number of Assists by Moving the Ball More

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    One thing that the Memphis Grizzlies must improve on is their passing. As a team, Memphis averages 20.46 assists per contest, which is the eighth lowest in the league. A key part of having a successful and smooth offense is ball movement. They must keep the ball moving, passing around the key and finding the open man.

    As said earlier, Gasol is a very capable passer. Memphis should use this to their advantage playing an inside-out game, where Gasol could get the open shot or find the open shooter. Mike Conley averages 5.9 assists a game, which leads the team. He must keep a mentality of "pass first" looking for the open man before finding his own shot.

Beat Elder San Antonio Team with Speed and Quickness

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    San Antonio has been pretty dominant this decade in the Southwest division. The trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobli has been a legitimate threat year in and year out. The Spurs are a much older team than Memphis, and the Grizzlies should try to outrun San Antonio when they meet.

    Memphis has the size to compete with San Antonio no question. What must happen for Memphis to keep an edge on the Spurs is for them to run the floor, make quick moves and sharp cuts. The younger scorers of the Grizzlies should look to take advantage of the age of the Spurs.

Continue Playing Defense as One of the League's Best

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    Lionel Hollins has done a tremendous job making Memphis one of the most solid defensive groups in the NBA. The Grizzlies defense ranks No. 2 in the league in opposing points per game, giving up just 89.59 points. They force a lot of turnovers and know just how to shut down even the toughest of opponents.

    Mike Conley is proving himself to be one of the better defensive players in the NBA this season. He is second in the NBA to Chris Paul in steals per game with 2.36. Tony Allen and Rudy Gay are also irritating defenders for the opposition. They too can sneak into the passing lane and make a steal. Memphis could be considered the best overall defensive team in the league. If they want to make a playoff push, they must remain aggressive on defense.