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NBA Playoffs 2011: Can the Memphis Grizzlies Win the Western Conference?

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NBA Playoffs 2011: Can the Memphis Grizzlies Win the Western Conference?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
April 29, 2011: Zach Robinson, left, Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol go for a board in Memphis. The Spurs are bored at home after last night.

Does their bite against the Spurs show that the Beale Street Bullies—the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies—are now contenders in the Western Conference?  Why, yes—of course.

Having acquired the label of a very tough team during the course of the season, the Grizzlies, behind their head coach Lionel Hollins, shocked San Antonio—but not the world.

Charles Barkley and I predicted the Spurs' demise—me before Sir Chuck.  Now Spurs fans who were furious at me in their criticism have been forced to feel like upchucking.

Thanks to the big, bad boys off Beale Street, their No. 1-seeded Spurs have looked more like the team I predicted they’d be this season.  The San Antonio Spurs went out in the first round of the playoffs for the second time in three years.  Anything else would have been uncivilized.

Memphis became only the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to advance over a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven series.  The Golden State Warriors did it to Dallas in 2007.

Instead of the wastelands, Memphis has suddenly become a basketball civilization inhabited by wild upsetters.  The Grizz adeptly knocked off the No. 1 seed in the conference and now face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With a thunderous Zach Randolph—the bully on the low blocks—Memphis, OKC, "Z-Bo" and Kendrick Perkins will go at it for the blocks and the right to play in the Western Conference Finals against either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Dallas Mavericks.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
April, 29, 2011: Tony Allen displays his allegiance to the Grizzlies of Memphis. He has become a home crowd favorite.

I’m picking the Grizzlies to shock the Thunder, if nothing more, just for shock value.  Oklahoma City is my real pick to advance. 

In a very interesting matchup among upstart teams, Memphis faces Team USA mates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  The Thunder are the more playoff-experienced bunch, while the Grizzlies are the hungrier. 

"Z-Bo" Randolph and Tony Allen are as tough as they come and are having the time of their lives eating up the southern hospitality in Tennessee.  Two of the fiercest competitors in the NBA, the pair have permanently etched their names in the "players to be feared" on the court category.

Others in this category include Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson and any other dude crazy enough to rush a fan.  Allen and Randolph haven’t done it yet, so they get feared on the court recognition only.

Neither one of them is to be messed with.  Allen was in the top 10 in steals this season.  So was point guard Mike Conley Jr.  Conley was born with a gold medal in his mouth, but he’s taken on some of the court toughness oozing from Randolph and Allen.

His father—Mike Conley—was an Olympic Gold Medal-winning triple-jumper and is a successful sports agent.  His son is jump-shooting in the NBA.

The point guard had to be mentally and physically tough to stand his ground against a former NBA Finals MVP in Tony Parker.  In Round 1, Conley outplayed Parker for most of the six-game series.   

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Now, the son of a former international track star turned sports agent, Conley is primed for success.  He was Greg Oden’s point guard at Ohio State when they went to the NCAA finals in 2005.  They're homies without question. 

Both Oden and Conley hail from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Are you imagining Oden joining the Grizz to provide size and rebounding?  Forget it.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves.  For now, the Grizzlies have a daunting task in front of them in trying to make it out of the Western Conference.

The four remaining teams all finished ahead of them in the standings, of course.  Some people accused them of positioning themselves at No. 8 in order to face the Spurs in the first round.

If this was their plan, then they get cool points for it from me.  The playoffs are all about matchups, and they matched up well with the smurf-sized—by NBA standards—Spurs.  The Grizz led the league in paint points—scoring in the lane—with over 51 per game. 

Maybe you’ve heard about Zach Randolph painting or punching a teammate in Portland.

We also heard about Tony Allen beating O.J. Mayo down over a card game on the team’s charter plane.  I don’t know how true it is, but Allen is no softy.  He’s now starting and Mayo is coming off the bench.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
April 29, 2011: Lionel Hollins directs his team in Memphis against the Spurs. He produced an upset victory to stun the NBA.

Speaking of softies, Perkins broke down and cried after hearing he was traded from the Celtics.  Nate Robinson likened him to a “soft giant” in a documentary broadcast on NBA TV chronicling the Celtics season on Friday.

Speaking of Friday night, the Grizzlies hardcore defense was busy keeping Tony Parker out of the paint.  It was a key to their victory.  It allowed Randolph to be able to seal the deal in Memphis.  Parker started scoring later in the series but he was doing it from the outside for the most part.

If they can do the same thing to Westbrook, then they have a chance to beat Oklahoma City.  It will be a tough task because he’s bigger, stronger and more ferocious than Parker.  Conley will have a very tough time containing him one-on-one. 

Memphis will also have problems guarding Kevin Durant, like almost everyone else.  Ron Artest does a marvelous job on Durant.  Naming the next best defender on him is a toss-up.  Durant’s not afraid of Allen or Randolph.

Maybe you’ve heard of Durant labeling Chris Bosh a fake tough guy according to an Associated Press article on ESPN.com.  "There's a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he's one of them,"  Durant said.  There’s more:

“I'm no punk. I wasn't even talking to him, first off.  He decided to butt in and I'm not going to just let that slide, especially in our house,”  Durant added.  The tiff was apparently over whether or not one of the Thunder players could dunk on Chris Bosh

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
April 27, 2011: Kevin Durant stares the basket down in Oklahoma City. He shot the Nuggets off their high horses.

Think a similar scenario will occur in Memphis? It won't.  Calling Randolph a fake tough guy?  He was tough enough to lead the Grizzlies to the Western Conference semifinals.

This matchup will finally be a bar fight in the Western Conference.  Those were reserved for the East.  Remember the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat?  They were barroom brawlers just to get a basket back in the day.

It’s a new day and a shootout in the Midwest and the South is about to go down.  Speaking of what's about to go do down, I’m going to jump out on a limb, shoot myself in the foot and tell you how the Thunder will win this entertaining matchup—a different kind of Western Conference playoff series.

 

Prediction

Kevin Durant will not call any of the Memphis players fake tough guys—not to their faces.  Let's face it.  He's no punk, but he's no dummy. 

I do, however, expect at least one big melee to occur.  I believe it could happen early in Game 1.  Cooler heads will prevail, and the barroom brawl will be about baskets instead of bullies.

Memphis just now won the franchise's first playoff game.  They're too green to win the West.  The Thunder will outrebound them, but Memphis will defend hard and give themselves a chance. 

Zach Robinson will be Z-Bo, but Memphis' lack of three-point shooting will hurt them as OKC doubles and triples him.  Oklahoma City’s experience and the depth of their frontcourt will allow them to advance over the Grizzlies. 

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