Last night was not pretty. The Grizzlies faced the Timberwolves just one night after the 10th-place Wolves blew a late lead against the Suns, a crippling blow to their postseason hopes for the season. One night later, they found themselves in Memphis, a team two spots ahead of them in the standings and firing on all cylinders, with Kevin Love having to match up against Zach Randolph.
Things did not go well for Minnesota from the opening tip. Courtney Lee struggled with foul trouble early, but the rest of the Grizzlies didn't struggle with much of anything in the first quarter. After twelve minutes of basketball, Tayshaun Prince and Zach Randolph both had 8 points, Mike Conley had 6, Marc Gasol had 9 rebounds—most of which were collected on a single possession that saw him take multiple point blank layups and miss, but still an impressive number—and the Grizzlies were up 30-15.
The Grizzlies' lead never dipped back down into the single digits again. They managed to cruise the rest of the game, going up by as much as 25 at one point.
Of note last night were the lineups used by Dave Joerger to get the job done—especially some of the "medium-ball" lineups in the first and second quarters: Ed Davis (remember him?) subbed in for Gasol in the first quarter, and with Tony Allen at home with a stomach virus, James Johnson came into the game to a huge ovation. The Grizzlies ran with a lineup of Calathes - Miller - Johnson - Davis - Koufos for a good bit of the second quarter, matching up against some of Minnesota's more athletic bigs.
For a guy who's mostly been collecting dust for months, Davis played well: he shot 75% from the field (6 of 8) and had 7 rebounds in 18 minutes. It was enough to make this Boss afficionado pine for the days when he was a regular fixture of the Griz lineup—when Davis is on, he's really on, and it's fun to watch. One wonders what sorts of moves will happen in the offseason, and whether he'll be in a Grizzlies uniform next year, but for now, it was good to enjoy Davis' slightly-confused hyperathletics while they were available for viewing.
Speaking of disappearing from the rotation, last night revealed a little bit of Joerger's thinking, and may have explained where James Johnson's minutes went: it would appear that Tony Allen is playing them, not Tayshaun Prince. With Allen unavailable, Johnson appeared early and often, playing more at the 3 than at the 4. If Joerger is really committed to not playing Allen and Johnson together, then Allen is the one who is (rightly, I'd say) playing ahead of Johnson. Doesn't mean Johnson shouldn't get some of Tayshaun's minutes, but it looks as though Joerger would rather have Tony Allen in that spot.
It's easy to say that this was a domination of a lesser team, and it was that, but it was also a game in which the other team had only a minimal interest in participating. Kevin Love, especially, looked checked out from the word go. Love didn't run back on defense, didn't contest as hard as he normally does, didn't really do much at all on the offensive glass (leaving that to Gorgui Dieng, who grabbed 17 rebounds but clearly isn't much of a match for Marc Gasol one-on-one). Minnesota didn't feel like they had much to play for last night, and as a result, they didn't fight the way they could have.
All of which helps the Grizzlies. With last night's win, the Grizzlies are in 7th place, a half game up on both Phoenix and Dallas, and 1.5 games behind Golden State for the 6th seed. Even harder to fathom is that they're also only 2.5 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the 5th seed. Everything from "5th seed in the West" to "last pick in the lottery" is in play for the Grizzlies right now, with 12 games left to play.
As they head out on this five-game Western road trip, the Grizzlies are going to play the two teams currently above them—the Warriors and the Blazers—and have the potential to create some space between themselves and the teams alongside them. For one, they already have the tiebreaker with the Blazers. If they win at Golden State, they'll have the tiebreaker with the Warriors, as well. Those tiebreakers mean the Grizzlies only have to tie with those teams in the win percentage column in order to move ahead of them in the standings—a massive advantage when the playoff race is as tight as it is.
It's hard to imagine right now that the Grizzlies have such a wide range of possible outcomes for the season. It seems criminal that any one of the Memphis/Phoenix/Dallas trifecta should have to stay home from the postseason while the top nine teams in the Western Conference all have a better win percentage than the Eastern Conference's third-seeded Raptors.
With these games against playoff-position rivals—not to mention the last two games of the season, one at Phoenix and the ultimate game at home against Dallas—the Grizzlies' fate is more in their control than it seemed to be a month ago. The way this team is currently starting to round into shape, it looks like things are starting to come together finally, but I've seen to much this season not to expect something bad to happen soon. I'm not getting my hopes up too much just yet.