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Talking Grizzlies with Grizzly Bear Blues

I recently talked with my friend Kevin Yeung from SB Nation's Grizzly Bear Blues about the Mavericks' matchup tonight with the Grizzlies.

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The Grizzlies were actually the best team in the league last month by point differential, which is such a huge jump from how the started. Their explosion has been credited to the signing of James Johnson by Mike Conley, and lots of other people have credited the Courtney Lee trade. Both players have been exceptional in Memphis. Do you think one or the other player is responsible for Memphis' improvement, or was it something else?

It's hard to overstate what the Courtney Lee and James Johnson additions have been worth. Lee is balling out of his mind right now, sure, but he still shapes up as that three-point shooter that the Grizzlies have needed for a long time. Johnson plays with so much energy and has a lovely mix of athleticism and skill (well, mostly the former) that makes him a great fit for this roster and culture. The season's turnaround started about when the Grizzlies added them.

There's much more to the Grizzlies' turnaround than just two players, but they were the shot of energy the team needed to get it all going.

I actually thought that the Grizzlies could be title contenders this offseason, after they signed Mike Miller and traded for Kosta Koufos, but they started off the season really badly, even before the Marc Gasol injury. What made them so disappointing? They had all the pieces, right? Was really all they needed a few more players in Johnson and Lee?

I thought the Grizzlies had all the pieces too. The problem was that the team struggled out of the gate under first-time head coach Dave Joerger, and then, injuries struck on top of that. The team was just starting to look like it had put things together when the Marc Gasol injury struck and spent the team on a downward spiral. Not long after, Quincy Pondexter went down with a season-ending stress fracture in his right foot. Tony Allen and now Mike Conley too will have missed a lot of games. It took a while for the team to get things right with all of those injuries, but as we've seen, they have the talent to bounce back.

The Grizzlies have now squeezed their way into the playoffs over Dallas, and among Dallas beat writers, it feels unlikely that the Mavericks will be able to keep the Grizz out of the playoffs long term. How do Memphis guys feel about the Grizzlies' playoff chances? How do you feel about their chances in the offseason?

The Grizzlies are rolling, and based on what everyone's seeing right now, everyone thinks this is a team with legit chances in the playoffs. This team upgraded over last year's team that finished in the Western Conference Finals, so I'm not betting against them.

At the same time, I'm not betting against the Western Conference. Even though they can't play a lick of defense, I'm wary of this year's Dallas Mavericks because of that offense. If the Minnesota Timberwolves can figure out the wreck that is their bench, I'd be scared of them too.

I love the Grizzlies, and think they have a much higher upside in the playoffs than their 26-21 record right now would imply, but there are no guarantees in this conference.

Conley's been absolutely amazing, but as of the writing of this Q&A, it looks like he'll be out against Dallas tonight. That's obviously huge for the Mavs, since they have no one in the backcourt who can actually defend him. How badly does him being out really hurt Memphis, today and long term?

Fill-in starter Nick Calathes scored 22 points on Saturday (against the Bucks, admittedly) and he's got a confidence level in his three-point jumpshot now that will probably help. At the same time, he's still an inconsistent shooter and more of a pass-first guard.

He's definitely no Conley, which will help defensive minuses like Jose Calderon. Conley would've carved up Calderon, but the threat of that happening with Calathes is much less imposing. Long-term, I'd like to think he can the job done until Conley returns in a week or two, but that's up in the air and the Grizz could only manage 77 points against the Thunder on Monday.

Well, the worst case scenario is that Conley's out until the All-Star break, so it should be whatever.

When Memphis plays Dallas, what are you guys looking for, what's your biggest concern?

Gotta be your offense. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis? That's a pair of scary scorers, and even though Memphis has been crushing it on defense since Marc returned, I'm still wary of what the Mavs can do. Nowitzki can shoot over Zach Randolph with ease, and if the Grizzlies put Marc on him, that opens up the paint. Courtney Lee's a solid defender, but we'd probably need Tony Allen for someone like Monta. How Nowitzki and Ellis perform could be huge in how this games turns out

On a more personal level: Grit and Grind is the Memphis philosophy. When you Rise, how hard do you Grind? How important is Grinding to your day to day life?

I'm into effort and sweat, I guess? Also, I'm obviously all about the grind on the dance floor.

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Thanks Kevin! You can follow him on twitter at @KevinHFY, and you can find more about the Grizzlies at Grizzly Bear Blues.