By Guest Reporter Caroline West
Photo courtesy of Caroline West (12)
The Grizzlies’ performance has surprised many, even leading ESPN TV Personality Stephen A Smith to tweet “My apologies to the [Memphis Grizzlies]. I have slept on these brothers but I love their size, athleticism, depth and perimeter shooting. This team is a legitimate threat in the West. They have my attention.”
This is good news for the young team, especially considering the playoffs are less than two months away.
On December 11, The FedEx Forum retired its first Grizzly jersey, formerly worn by Zach Randolph (Z-Bo). In some ways, this act symbolically marked the fall of the “Core Four” – Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Z-Bo – and the placement of their legacy on a pedestal across Memphis.
Although the team has struggled to rebuild a balanced dynamic on the court, Ja Morant led the young team into an exciting season. They started off well, winning games over the surprisingly young yet powerful Cleveland Cavaliers and Paul George’s Los Angeles Clippers.
The Grizzlies quickly lost their initial spark, though, ending November with more losses than wins. In a devastating loss against the Atlanta Hawks, Ja Morant suffered a left knee sprain. The Grizzlies, however, surprised the league going on two separate five-game winning streaks against teams such as Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Lebron James’s Los Angeles Lakers–all without Morant.
Foreshadowing their current shakiness following intense successes, Morant’s first game back from injury on Dec. 20 was shocking. After beating the Oklahoma City Thunder two weeks before by 73 points – the most in NBA history – they lost to the Thunder. Fans were starting to get worried, with many going as far as saying that the team was better without Morant.
In response, Morant led the team on an eleven-game winning streak.
Photo courtesy of Caroline West (12); Pictured: Ja Morant
This historic win streak by the Grizzlies included wins over the Phoenix Suns, who have the best record in the league, Lebron James’ Los Angeles Lakers, whom they beat twice in the 11 game stretch, and the Golden State Warriors, who had just gained superstar Klay Thompson back after being on the injury list for 941 days.
Three of these wins came without Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies’ primary defensive player, after he sprained his left ankle while playing against the Lakers. TCU alumnus Desmond Bane is also surprising the league with his high 3-point percentage alongside power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who has one of the highest blocks-per-game averages in the league.
However, all good things must come to an end.
On January 14, the Grizzlies lost to the Dallas Mavericks, led by Luka Doncic with 27 points. This is especially frustrating because Morant and Doncic are fighting for the same spot in the NBA All-Star game, alongside Stephen Curry.
But the Grizzlies still kept with their Grit and Grind roots and won their next game against the Chicago Bulls. The night was not only special because of the win, but also because it was the twentieth consecutive Martin Luther King Jr. Day game the Grizzlies have hosted. The game was highlighted by 25 point efforts from both Morant and Bane, a 360° layup from Morant, and Steven Adams physically lifting up a Bulls player to end a potential fight. Overall, it was a good game for the Grizzlies.
Since the end of the Core Four, the Grizzlies have only made the playoffs once. But as of now, with the season already halfway over, the Grizzlies appear to be a lock in the playoffs as either the third or fourth seed.
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