Don’t look now but the Memphis Grizzlies and scrapping and clawing their way into the playoff picture in the Western Conference. After starting the season a putrid 5-9 the team has rebounded to go 8-5 over their past 13 games and now find themselves within three games of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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However, as strong at the team has played, their season been marred by inconsistency. They’ll win games against some of the upper echelon teams like the Los Angeles and Miami Heat but then they’ll drop games they should win to teams like the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets.
Memphis’ inability to play with a consistent focus every game has been their achilles heal so far this season.
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“We’ve got to be consistent,” Mike Conley admitted to HOOPSADDICT.com. “On defense and offense we have to get into a consistent atmosphere where everybody is working hard every day in practice. We can’t at any point feel sorry for ourselves, get tired or take anything forgranted. I think the other big thing is we have to play with a chip on our shoulder and work hard every night.”
These sentiments were echoed by O.J. Mayo.
“We need to play harder on a consistent basis,” Mayo told HOOPSADDICT.com. “I think the teams below .500, those are the teams we need to win because we do a great job of playing against the top tier in the league, we’ve won a lot of those games, but against the teams we feel we’re supposed to beat we kind of lose focus.”
Part of that inconsistency stems from the fact that the Grizzlies are a young team filled with a bunch of players still finding their way in the NBA. Because of this they have been able to get up for games against some of the tops teams in the NBA while they have coasted against teams they should win.
“We’re starting to treat these games like they are against the (Los Angeles) Lakers or Miami (Heat) or Boston (Celtics),” Conley told HOOPSADDICT.com when the team was in Toronto. “When we play those big time teams we have the focus and energy we need but then we’ll play some teams and we’ll just let down and lose games we feel we should win. I think we’re starting to grow as an unit and realize each game matters. We’re right there close to the eighth spot so we need to start looking at every game like it’s a playoff game for us.”
With the Grizzlies in the middle of a four-game road trip against teams that are all below .500 it’s turning into a crucial stretch of games for the team if they hope to make a legitimate push to being a playoff team.
“You have to play every team like they are the San Antonio Spurs because those teams are all trying to win,” Rudy Gay told HOOPSADDICT.com. “If you lighten up on them they’ll win. We are all professionals – it’s not like any of these guys aren’t as good as anybody else – it’s just some teams are just playing better. We’re all professionals here and anybody is capable of doing anything.”
Mayo took it a bit further and admitted that the teams recent road trip will be a sign of just how much they have or haven’t matured.
“This road trip is really going to show out maturity level because if we really want to be a playoff contender,” Mayo told HOOPSADDICT.com. “Winning these three or four games against teams below .500 on the road will lift us above .500 going home, so it’s really important that we sweep this road trip and win the games we’re supposed to win.”
The road trip started off well with wins against Milwaukee and Toronto, but the team had a mental letdown on Wednesday against New Jersey. The Grizzlies roared out to a 32-16 lead in the first quarter only to see the Nets rally in the second half and steal a win.
Adding insult to injury is the news trickling out of Memphis this afternoon that Mayo has been suspended for the next 10 games. Granted, it was an honest mistake, but it’s still a lose that will be considerable for the team to try and overcome. It’s exactly these kinds of losses to New Jersey and then having to play without key players that must be infuriating for coaching staff to endure.
The team kicked off their current four-game road trip with a nail biter against Toronto and after the game the locker room had a relax feel to it – not that of a team that just escaped with a much-needed win. Even though Toronto surged to substantial leads at various points in the game there was always a feeling they would fold and Memphis would escape with the win. Sure enough, after a clutch shot by Gay with less than a second remaining in regulation, the Grizzlies were able to escape with a much-needed win.
At this point in the season the team will take wins anyway they can get them.
“We just need to keep winning,” Hollins told HOOPSADDICT.com before the game against Toronto. “We’ve gotten down as many as five and six games below .500 and now we’re only two games. If we get over .500 and keep winning it just just puts pressure on the teams ahead of us or who are trying to get there to keep winning. The teams that have winning records usually aren’t losing five or six in a row so you’ve got to win five or six yourself and only lose one or two games to stay right there in the playoff picture.
Moving forward for the Grizzlies it’s all about getting a win.
“Now when we break the huddle we say win on three,” Conley told HOOPSADDICT.com. “That’s all we’re concentrated on right now. However we get it we’re going to take it. Guys are really focused right now and the locker room has a lot of energy. We’re looking good and I really feel like we’re on the right track.”
Even the coaching staff admits it’s not about how they get the win, rather it’s about escaping with road wins.
“You’ve got to go grind it out and get a win anyway you can,” Hollins told HOOPSADDICt.com. “I said to the players before the game tonight I don’t care if it’s by half a point just as long as we were ahead when it said 0.0. on the scoreboard. That’s what we’re trying to do: get wins.”
With games against Philadelphia and Washington this weekend, the Grizzlies need to gut out some wins however they can. If they win both games then they will still be able to return home with a .500 record.
However, if they throw away games like they did against New Jersey then their chances of sneaking into the playoffs will quickly slide out of their grasp.
Photo Courtesy of Nathan Gilbert