The Grizzlies locked up the final playoff spot in the West with a win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday. How relieved are you that Memphis' post season dreams don't come down to Wednesday's game against Dallas?
The Grizzlies haven't played the Mavs very well this season so I am immensely relieved to now view Wednesday's game as a possible bonus rather than as an elimination game. The Southwest Division just absolutely slaughtered the Grizz this season. (They're 3-12 against before the final game against the Mavs, currently tied for the worst division record in the NBA ... worse than Milwaukee and Philadelphia.)
Despite clinching the last possible spot in the playoffs, the seeding is still up in the air. A win over the Mavs would move the Grizz into the seventh seed. What seed do you want to see Memphis clinch based on their potential opponents of San Antonio if they remain in the eighth seed or Oklahoma City if they move into seventh?
I believe the overwhelming consensus for Grizzlies fans is a preference for the 7th seed against the Thunder, a team that the Grizzlies have had success against this season and in years past. A healthy or functioning Russell Westbrook would definitely change the dynamic from last year's 2nd round series, but between Tony Allen, James Johnson and Tayshaun Prince the Grizzlies have solid options at guarding and limiting the production of Kevin Durant. The Spurs have just had our number ever since that 2011 playoff upset. I'd imagine there's a few Spurs fans that feel the same way about potentially having Memphis in the first round, but trust me, it's way worse on this end.
A return to the Western Conference Finals seems like a long shot this season but isn't completely out of the question. What are Memphis' realistic playoff expectations?
If we end up with the Spurs initially, I haven't sensed that there is a lot of expectation to make it out of the first round, or even win more than a couple of games to be perfectly honest. It's an extremely tough road in the West this year regardless of which of the seeds advance, but I get the impression that if we end up facing the Thunder as the 7th seed that most Grizzlies fans will expect to advance to round 2 or at least take them to seven games. Anything past that would feel like gravy this season.
Zach Randolph is one of the big reasons that Memphis is returning to the playoffs. He was dominant against Phoenix on Monday. He has a player option in his contract for next season. Could a poor playoff showing by the Grizzlies jeopardize whether he comes back or is he a shoe-in to finish out his contract in The River City?
Zach has arguably been the Grizz MVP for the regular season simply because he's averaging 17/10, has missed very few games and is slinging dimes at a career-high rate. There have been already been discussions/rumors of Randolph declining his player option for next season and working out a long-term deal that would allow Z-Bo to retire in Memphis and give the Grizzlies some financial flexibility. I think it's fairly safe to bank on something like that happening regardless of what happens to the Grizzlies in the playoffs. Zach is just a huge part of this team, culture and city that it's hard to see them not coming to terms on something this off-season.
Is a healthy Mike Miller the "x-factor" for this team that no one is talking about?
This is a great question. Mike Miller has been a re-revelation this season and will be the only Memphis Grizzly to play in all 82 games this season. And these weren't the soft minutes he got in Miami last year; Mike's 21 MPG is his highest usage rate since the 2009-10 season. Let that sink in for a minute. Miller has played all 82 only one other time in his career - his rookie season in 2001 with the Magic. He's shooting one of his highest 3P% of his career (46%) and has gotten progressively better over the season, finishing March with a 3-point percentage of 55% and heads into Wednesday's finale shooting 52% from three for the month of April. Maybe it's something in the water here in Memphis, maybe it's his relationship with head coach Dave Joerger. However it's happening it's made a huge difference in the Grizzlies offense this season, and there's no reason to think the Grizzlies will shy away from him as we head into the playoffs.
Thanks, Chris. For more on the Memphis Grizzlies, head over to Grizzly Bear Blues.