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Butch and Sundance

Who are theseguys?

The Grizzlies set a new standard for wins by the All-Star break with 31 last night. The team is 5 games above .500 today. The last time the team was 5 games above .500 was during the 2005-06 season. Zach Randolph had 7 assists last night. Mike Conley scored 22 points…all in the 2nd half after Rudy Gay went down with a shoulder injury (more on that later). Jason Williams hit his first 3 pointer of the season with the Grizzlies and played twice as many minutes as O J Mayo who returned from his detention to find he’d totally lost his playing spot in the rotation.

Who are these guys?

In what has to be the biggest surprise of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies have won 12 of their last 15 games to storm back into the Western Conference playoff hunt just half a game behind Utah and Denver for the 7th and 8th spots in the conference. In the process the Grizzlies have defeated Denver, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia (twice), arch-nemsis Houston (for the 1st time in 10 meetings) and Orlando. The losses were to the Lakers, @ Houston in OT and inexplicably New Jersey for the 2nd time this season.

Did I mention that Zach Randolph won the Western Conference Player of the Month award for January? He’s the first Grizzlies player ever to be so honored.

Who are these guys?

Are the Grizzlies for real or just a mid-season surprise team that will fade down the stretch? At this point no one knows but it can’t be denied that the Grizzlies are not just winning games but winning them convincingly and they are doing it without a full compliment of players. O J Mayo missed 10 games, Zach Randolph missed a game and has ben hobbled in others with various leg injuries. Rudy Gay has missed one (the win in OKC) and most of another after he strained his left shoulder against Philly. The seriousness of Rudy’s shoulder is unknown at this time but it looked serious. X-Rays revealed that the shoulder wasn’t dislocated but some ligament or tendon damage could have occured.

So what has happened to give the team such a lift? The Grizzlies are getting bench production. That means players who aren’t starting are still making valuable contributions for those that don’t remember what bench production means. It’s been a long time since the Grizzlies had Mike Miller or Bonzi Wells ready to make a difference coming in off the bench after all. Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur are the leaders off the bench but the team is getting solid contributions from Greivis Vasquez and Jason Williams and even O J Mayo hit a three point shot. The only place the Grizzlies seem to be lacking is backup center where Hasheem Thabeet and Hamed Haddadi are not reliable alternatives.

Which makes Rudy Gay’s situation so important. If Rudy Gay goes out the Grizzlies don’t have another big SF on the roster. Sure Sam Young and Tony Allen can fill in for short stints and there is always DeMarre Carroll, who played very well in the D-League, but Rudy Gay is such a unigue talent it is hard to see the team being competitive without him for a long stretch. The good news is that the word out of the Grizzlies locker room was the Rudy Gay would be fine. Of course what do you expect players to say? Hopefully the MRI will confirm that diagosis.

Assuming the players are correct the Grizzlies are suddenly a team that goes 8 players deep, has starsat multiple positions, can playslow or fast to win games and, most importantly, are starting to believe in themselves as a team. The real test comes from the end of the all-star break until March 28th. If the Grizzlies can remain in playoff contention over that stretch then there is a very real chance the Grizzlies will befulfill Michael Heisley’s pre-season promise and reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

Then a lot more people will know who these guys are too.

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