Grizzlies at the Break 

If the Griz sustain the season’s first half excellence, they’re a serious contender to win it all.

Marc Gasol

Larry Kuzniewski

Marc Gasol

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Anyone who says they thought the Grizzlies would be in this position — 38-13, second in the Western Conference standings, with Marc Gasol as an All-Star starter and Zach Randolph playing the best basketball he's played since the Griz knocked off the top-seeded Spurs in 2011 — is probably not being truthful. My season preview in these pages said that the Grizzlies had a good chance to have the best season in franchise history, and even I didn't quite think they'd be doing this.

That's not to say that all of the questions about this year's team have been answered. In the aftermath of Tayshaun Prince's and Quincy Pondexter's trade for Jeff Green and Russ Smith, the Grizzlies' offense — already much diversified from the way they used to play during the Lionel Hollins years — continues to evolve. But even though Green's athleticism gives the Griz a whole new element to deploy, his lack of outside shooting (Green is a career 44-percent shooter, 33 percent from 3-point range) means that the Griz still have to operate in the narrow windows of floor spacing they're able to create.

Vince Carter's recent injury is a depressing exclamation mark on an underwhelming season, with Carter never quite finding his shot nor becoming the outside threat the Grizzlies signed him to be. Though he's expected to return this season, teams weren't even guarding Carter from three-point range before the injury, leaving him wide open to miss. With the addition of Green and Carter's continued struggles to get on track (followed by his absence), the Grizzlies still haven't solved the problem we've been talking about for years now: the lack of a floor-spacing knock-down 3-point shooter. Courtney Lee filled the role earlier in the season but has slowly begun to regress to his career averages. Shooting is still something the Griz just don't quite have enough of — but it may be a moot point, now that the offense is beginning to fully integrate Green's athletic attacks on the rim and his ability to draw attention away from Gasol and Randolph just enough for those two to operate.

The biggest stories of the season for the Grizzlies are, without question, the two guys who were the most important players coming into the season: Gasol and Randolph. Gasol continues to play at a level that has him getting serious discussion as an MVP candidate, aggressively carrying the Grizzlies' offense when he has to. Randolph, meanwhile, is playing the best basketball he's played since his 2012 knee injury, having ceded his "first option" duties to Gasol and Mike Conley only to reclaim them in a lengthy streak of double-doubles in January and February.

The real question is whether the Griz can win an NBA title this year, and with the Western Conference still wide open, it seems like all of the preseason talk about "this could be the year" is still very much in play: This really could be the year. Assuming the rest of the conference standings shake out somewhat close to the way they are now, the Grizzlies could catch the Spurs in the first round, which wouldn't be optimal, but barring that, a return trip to the Western Conference finals seems like a reasonable outcome.

The Griz are good enough to make it to the NBA Finals this season — whether or not they do seems like it will come down to playoff matchups and which teams they have to face to get there. There are few teams with whom the Griz don't match up well, and even those teams don't feel impossible to beat the way the Grizzlies' archrivals have in years past. (I don't expect the regular season troubles, mostly injury-related, that the Spurs are experiencing to carry over to the postseason. Betting against San Antonio doesn't seem wise , no matter the situation.)

This is already the best team in the history of the Grizzlies franchise, regardless of what they're able to accomplish after the regular season. They're a veteran group used to playing with each other, with a great deal of trust and faith in each other and a real shared desire to bring the NBA title to Memphis this June. With the remaining games of the season, the challenge is whether they can continue to improve and steel themselves for the approaching challenges of playoff basketball, and whether they can continue to win games at the rate they've been doing it so far.


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