Piggybacking on the emerging Dark Knight theme established by our Anthony Sain earlier in the week, it seems apropos to title this round of fives “Deshi Basara,” the chant from the Dark Knight Rises loosely interpreted as “rise,” in light of the Grizzlies’ recent rise in the Western Conference standings. If you’re feeling epic, I encourage you to watch/listen to the clip from the movie whilst devouring this post. (Spoiler alert! Do not click play if you have not yet seen the film!)
Anywho, in this session of the Friday Morning Five, the 3 Shades of Blue team looked at ambitions projections for the team’s “rise,” the mysterious disappearance of James Johnson, Mike Conley’s clutch play, and more.
1. The Grizz have leapfrogged from out of the playoff picture to the 7 seed this week. How high can they realistically get by the end of the year?
Chip Crain: I predicted a 6th place finish and 50 wins before the season began. I see no reason they won’t finish right about where I predicted they would. That being said with Portland struggling the Grizzlies could pass both them and the Warriors and slide into 5th place just the same. It won’t be easy but the Grizzlies are in control of their own fate in this regards getting to play Golden State once and Portland twice the rest of the way.
John Hugar: I think they have an outside shot at the 6 seed or even the 5-seed. Golden State is a pretty streaky team, and Portland looks especially vulnerably lately. Granted, the Grizzlies have some tough games for that, but it seems like at full health, they’re one of the best teams in the league.
Carl Chaplin: 6th is the highest. Portland, even though they’ve not been playing well, has one of the easiest schedules left. Their remaining strength-of-schedule is only 0.478 and they play only 7 teams that are now in the playoffs. In that vein, the Warriors also have an easy remaining schedule with a SoS of 0.479 and they play only 6 teams in the playoffs. But they play the Grizzlies, the Spurs twice, Portland twice and Dallas. Realistically the Grizzlies could overtake Golden State and stay ahead of Dallas. However, Dallas does have the tie-breaker over the Grizzlies.
Steve Danziger: I think it’s entirely within bounds to say that the Grizzlies could push all the way to the five seed. Whether or not they will, or would want to is another question. I’m willing to wager that the permutation of top seeds in the West remains pretty constant through the rest of the year, which would leave Houston, a team the Grizzlies do not match up well with, as the home court team of the 4-5 matchup. I’d rather work up to the 6 seed and square off against the Clippers yet again for what might not be the series that Grizzlies fans need, but is certainly the one we deserve.
2. James Johnson’s playing time, or lack thereof, has been a point of contention of late. Your thoughts?
Chip: As long as the team is winning I don’t care if Larry, Curly and Moe (the 3 stooges for those two young to know this) are playing. I think Johnson has proven he can play in the NBA and can help the team tremendously down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, Prince is solid and has been improving his play lately. Miller has as well and both players have championship rings which is nice to rely on with a rookie coach on the bench.
John: It’s a bit of a bummer, because I really like his game, but it’s a result of being overstocked with talented bench players, and that’s hard to complain. Plus I think he’ll break back in soon.
Carl: I trust Coach Joerger to play him when the match-up is best for him. He will be used and in some games used a lot while in others little. It’s part of being a bench player.
Steve: From a neck tattoo giveaway in his honor to garbage time minutes and DNPs in just a handful of games, what gives? I can see why Joerger has been rolling with Jon Leuer more lately, but I have been rather fond of the “lords of chaos” lineup that features Mike Miller sandwiched between Tony Allen and Johnson in the 2-4 slots. Joerger stated his inhibitions after the win over the Lakers a couple of weeks ago regarding the viability of that lineup in playoff basketball, but heck it’s fun when we can get it. For as long as the team is winning games I’m in no position to complain about a single player’s court time, but if things begin to go south without Johnson out there, I hope Dave will keep him close.
3. Is Mike Conley the most clutch Grizzly ever?
Chip: It’s hard to say Conley is the most clutch Grizzly without a playoff resume to back it up and so far Conley has been good but not nearly as clutch as Randolph has been as a playoff performer. Conley could surpass Z-Bo as the most clutch Grizzlies player if he steps up his game in this year’s playoffs. Conley was good last season but let’s not forget he shot terrible in the playoffs and was burned repeatedly by Parker in the Conference finals.
Carl: He is clutch and can take it to the hoop or hit the jumper in clutch times. Plus, he is a great floor general for the team and inspires others to play well. As far as the most clutch ever, it is too early to say that. If he continues to improve his shooting and stays healthy, then he could become the most clutch Grizzly ever. That said, I don’t know who I would put ahead of him at this point other than ZBo.
Steve: “Ever” is a strong word, and maybe a recency bias is skewing my call, but I’m going to say yes. He has had some dynamite performances down the stretch of close games, and though his efficiency was down in the playoffs last year, his production was pretty solid. The way he conducts himself at the end of games is rarely questionable, and he seems increasingly confident in his ability to make “the play” when the situation calls for it.
4. We’ve seen some signs of life out of Marc Gasol. Is he where he needs to be yet offensively for this team to make some noise in the postseason?
Chip: Marc is having stretches of greatness but is nowhere near the caliber the team wants over a full game. However the team can make a lot of noise in the playoffs even with Gasol only 80-85 percent. This year’s team doesn’t lean on players the way they have in the past. When Gasol has struggled Koufos has looked solid replacing him giving the Grizzlies one of the best tandem centers in the league even with Gasol less than 100%. Combined with Zach they have the best big men in the game.
John: I think he’s improved quite a bit from the first few weeks of his recovery, and I think he’s back to being the best centers in the league. In the last few games, he’s looked like more or less like his old self, and I think I’ll he’ll be quite dangerous.
Carl: Not quite yet. His jumper is getting back to where it was and his inside moves are improving. It seems he is still a little hesitant to make the inside moves that he needs to do.
Steve: Marc is not going to be where we, or he himself for that matter, would truly like him to be this season, and I fear that the playoffs will expose this even further. And we’ve been burned by poor bench play so many times before that there’s a part of me that has to wonder if the role players can truly translate their awesome production into the postseason, and continue to carry whatever excess slack that they may be required to with Big Spain at less than 100%. That being said, if he can just consistently be the Marc that we’ve seen in the last few games the rest of the way out, I like our chances.
5. The Grizz play the Sixers on Saturday, who lead the league in season high scoring outputs surrendered. Who’s due for theirs?
Chip: I expect that a bench player could lead the team in minutes but I am going with Courtney Lee to lead the team in scoring. Lee has struggled with his role now that Gasol, Randolph and Conley are playing but he is capable and knows Philly better than anyone else on the Grizzlies roster thanks to his days in Orlando and Boston.
John: James Johnson breaks back into the lineup in Garbage Time, and ends up scoring 20 points in the 4th quarter – there will be a lot of garbage time.
Carl: James Johnson and Marc Gasol.
Steve: With no factual evidence or valid rationale, I’m inclined to say that we’ll see Leuer drop a new season high on Saturday. I state with candor that he was just the first name to pop into my head, but I claim not for this to be a science.
Have any questions for the 3 Shades of Blue staff to chew on? Send them our way via the comment section, calling into 3SOB Radio on Sports56 every Saturday morning, smoke signals, or reaching out to us on Twitter!