Wiedmer: Grizzlies have chance to reach NBA Finals

Wiedmer: Grizzlies have chance to reach NBA Finals

May 13th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Oklahoma City Thunder's Reggie Jackson defends against Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (11) during their Game in Memphis, May 11, 2013. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 87-81.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Reggie Jackson defends against Memphis...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

I have a dream. I have the Memphis Grizzlies reaching the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. I even have the Griz possibly winning a game or two against the Heatles should they get that far, though I'll admit I haven't yet figured out how a feat such as that might be accomplished against King James and Co.

But merely having Memphis reach the final round would be quite an accomplishment for a franchise that's never previously advanced to so much as a Conference final, much less the NBA finals.

These Grizzlies aren't those Grizzlies, however. As they attempt to take a 3-1 lead over Oklahoma City tonight at Memphis in their best-of-seven conference semifinal series, these have become the Griz of powerful post players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and crafty point guard Mike Conley.

These are the Griz of coach Lionel Hollins, who just might be the coolest customer to walk an NBA sideline since the Celtics' KC Jones in the 1980s.

Under Hollins, the team motto has become Grit and Grind, and they are surely far from the prettiest performers to advance through the playoffs. But they led the NBA in scoring defense during the regular season and they are proving just as salty in the playoffs.

For proof, just ask Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring champion between 2010 and 2012 who was held to 25 points in Saturday's loss to the Griz.

Asked about the job Memphis forward Tony Allen did on him defensively, Durant said, "[Allen] is a great defender ... but it's the Grizzlies' team defense."

Certainly that defense has received a huge break against the Thunder, thanks to the season-ending knee injury to Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook in the opening round of the playoffs against Houston.

Durant's singular brilliance was enough to carry the Thunder past the Rockets, but should Memphis win tonight, it's difficult to see OKC rallying from a 3-1 hole.

And should the Grizzlies reach the Western Conference final against either San Antonio or Golden State, one could argue they have advantages in both.

Gasol and Randolph just might make Memphis too muscled to fall to Stephen Curry and his wispy Warriors. As for the Spurs, if they're already looking a bit fatigued against Golden State after Sunday's overtime loss knotted their series at 2-2, how tired will the AARP trio of Tim Duncan (37), Manu Ginobili (35) and Tony Parker (turns 31 on Friday) be against the Griz?

Yet who'll meet the Griz, Thunder, Spurs or Warriors in the Finals is all but certain. Miami has LeBron James. Nothing else need be said.

In much the same way Michael Jordan willed the Chicago Bulls to victory all those years, James is now doing the same for the Heat, only more powerfully, thanks to a 6-8 frame, at least 40 more pounds of muscle than the 6-6 Jordan carried and, if possible, a slightly more polished all-around game, especially with the pass.

Jordan passed when necessary. James passes for the sheer joy of involving teammates. A stunning stat: MJ amassed 11 triple-doubles for his career. James already has 36.

So boldly write the Heat into the Finals in permanent ink. Neither the Bulls, Pacers nor Knicks have remotely enough firepower to cool them.

Just don't be afraid to pencil in the Grizzlies as their Finals foe. In a town long known for its barbecue, blues and both high school and college basketball, its pro team finally looks ready to grit and grind its way to the top.

Or at least the top of the West. The top of the NBA figures to remain Miami for as long as King James remains in sneakers.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.