Only Phoenix Suns Stand in the Way of Memphis Grizzlies' Shot at 1st-Round Upset

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Only Phoenix Suns Stand in the Way of Memphis Grizzlies' Shot at 1st-Round Upset
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Grit 'n' grind has pulled the Memphis Grizzlies to within one win of a playoff berth and a second 8-1 matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in four years. 

They can get that berth against the only team threatening to take their spot in the postseason.

A 102-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday got them to this point. And now, with a magic number down to one, they get the ninth-place Phoenix Suns Monday at the US Airways Center.

It's a game featuring two teams that are almost diametrically opposed.

Phoenix is eighth in the NBA in pace (possessions per 48 minutes). Memphis is 30th. Phoenix is seventh in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). Memphis is 17th. Phoenix is 14th in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). Memphis is eighth.

In what is essentially already a playoff game—especially for the Suns, who trail the Grizzlies by one game with two to playthe contrast of styles will be abundantly clear.

Whichever team is able to impose its will and tempo on the other, should have the upper hand. So far this season, it's been the Grizzlies every time. Memphis is 3-0 against Phoenix, winning by an average of 10.7 points.

I guess Phoenix can take solace in the fact that the deficit has gone down in each of the last two meetings, but an 0-3 hole is still daunting and Memphis is playing better basketball right now.

The Grizzlies have won three straight, while the Suns have lost their last two.

If Memphis extends both those streaks and grit 'n' grind smothers the run-and-gun style of Phoenix, the Grizzlies could be on the verge of another first-round showdown with the Spurs.

There's still room for teams to move up and down a spot or two, but if the postseason started tomorrow, that would be the case.

In 2011, eighth-seeded Memphis entered the playoffs without second-leading scorer Rudy Gay. His absence may have given way to the Grizzlies as we know them today.

They knocked off the top seed in the West in six games behind dominant performances from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol averaged 14.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the series. Randolph went for 21.5 and 9.2.

According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), after knocking San Antonio out, Randolph said, "Emotion is high, not just for the Memphis Grizzlies but for the whole city of Memphis and the fans. It's something. It's a great accomplishment. We've got to be happy. We should be happy."

Will they be able to experience such euphoria again this season? Let's start by looking at the differences between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

In 2010-11, San Antonio went 2-2 against Memphis and finished the season with a record of 61-21. It had a point differential of 5.7, compared to Memphis' 2.3. 

This season, the Spurs are already 62-18, with a differential of 8.1. Memphis is at 1.5 in that department, and 0-4 against San Antonio.

So the odds would appear to be stacked even more heavily against the team this time around.

Is it impossible? Well, nothing's impossible, right?

I mean, Memphis has the same frontcourt that dominated San Antonio in 2011. Granted, they're three years older, but so is Tim Duncan.

And Mike Conley's certainly a better player now than he was then:

Mike Conley Then & Now
PTS PER ORtg
2010-11 13.7 15.9 108
2013-14 17.1 19.8 112

Basketball-Reference.com

Does Memphis have a shot? Certainly. Just don't count me among those saying it's a realistic shot.

It will take the Grizzlies Big Three of Gasol, Randolph and Conley playing at the top of their games, with role players like Courtney Lee, James Johnson and Tony Allen blowing up here and there.

Nobody expects it. But then again, nobody expected it when Memphis did it in 2011. Or when Golden State did it in 2007. Or when Denver did it in 1994.

Now don't let me get ahead of myself. Of course, Memphis still needs to get past Phoenix on Monday. And like I said before, a few teams could still move a spot or two.

No matter where the Grizzlies end up, we shouldn't be shocked if grit 'n' grind has a few more surprises in store for us.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of April 13, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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