OKC Thunder: Underestimating Grizzlies would be Thunder's first mistake

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, sounding equally concerned as complimentary. “Two-seven, that means zero. It’s us against them. They’re a very good basketball team.”
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 17, 2014

The Memphis Grizzlies are good.

Real good.

That’s the first thing you need to know about the Thunder’s first-round opponent. Don’t let their playoff position fool you. The Grizzlies aren’t your typical 7-seed.

A season of instability and incessant injuries made Memphis have to creep into the playoffs. But the Grizzlies have gotten healthy at the right time and enter Saturday night’s Game 1 as the most dangerous low seed on either side of the bracket.

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, sounding equally concerned as complimentary. “Two-seven, that means zero. It’s us against them. They’re a very good basketball team.”

These same Grizzlies needed just five games to eliminate the Thunder in last year’s semifinals. But the Thunder can take solace in knowing Russell Westbrook wasn’t around for that series as he watched while recovering from knee surgery. Memphis, on the other hand, can view the Thunder as a team it has never lost a playoff series to without James Harden on its roster. When the Thunder outlasted the Grizzlies in Game 7 of the 2011 playoffs, Harden still was a rising star coming of OKC’s bench.

That history adds acrimony to what already is destined to be a ferocious battle.

And now, after a trip to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Grizzlies are out to prove they still belong in the same conversation as the conference’s other elite clubs.

Many wrote off Memphis after a poor start. John Hollinger, the Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations and former numbers cruncher/NBA writer at ESPN.com, even poked fun at himself earlier this week for how the formula he invented while at his former employer gave the Grizzlies just a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs in mid-December.

Back then, though, things were looking bleak.

Memphis was 10-15 and mired in a five-game losing streak. The Grizzlies’ vaunted defense appeared to be a shadow of its former self, allowing at least 100 points in 12 of those first 25 games, and no end was in sight to their mounting losses.

But there was a reason for Memphis’ struggles.

The Grizzlies released coach Lionel Hollins from his duties after a 56-win season a year ago and went a different direction with first-year coach Dave Joerger. Although an assistant on Hollins’ staff, Joerger still had the challenge of stepping in as a new voice, with new ideas and, in some ways, new principles.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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