The Memphis Grizzlies developed a reputation toward the end of the Grit N’ Grind Era of being a team that looked like a contender in February before completely falling apart in April and crashing out of the playoffs hard.
This year, echoes of 2016 and 2017 may very well haunt the 2022 edition of the team as they stand 36-18 through games of Feburary 4 and sit third behind runaway leaders Phoenix and Golden State, the likeliest candidates for the Western Conference Finals.
But that was true in 2016, when the Grizz stood 37-24 on March 4 and ended up losing 16 of their last 21 regular-season games, falling in the playoffs via sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
It was true in 2017, when Memphis was 36-25 on February 28 and landed flat on their face, losing 14 out of 21 to end the regular season and falling in six games to San Antonio when the playoffs arrived.
In 2022, Memphis is a bit better than those teams from the mid-10s, which had spent most of the season grossly overachieving their Net Rating before snapping back violently to the mean at the worst possible time.
But we’re still talking about a team that’s got a 36-18 record and a 33-21 win expectation. There’s room to fall here.
What’s worse, even though Memphis has been on an absolutely torrid pace lately, winners of 17 out of their last 21 since losing to the Warriors two days before Christmas, they’ve been pummeled in three of those four defeats.
Dallas smashed them 112-85. Milwaukee spanked them by 12. And Dallas, getting another crack at them, beat Memphis 104-91 on January 23. Throw in a three-point loss to the Sixers and that gives Memphis four losses to good teams in a stretch where they have feasted on a lot of bad teams.
Sure, they’ve beaten Phoenix and Golden State. They’ve beaten Brooklyn too. They beat the Jazz as well, but that was during a stretch where Utah went 2-11 during a truly brutal stretch in January.
In point of fact, counting a win over Chicago, Memphis is 4-4 in signature games in a stretch where they’re 17-4 overall. That’s a problem.
And yes, you beat the teams in front of you on any given night. That’s just the nature of the schedule. Teams can’t control the quality of their opposition, and to the Grizzlies’ credit, they haven’t lost any of those games that could’ve been trap games for them.
That win over Phoenix? It was on the second night of a back-to-back, and Memphis didn’t sleep on Sacramento the night before, wrecking them 127-102.
The Warriors game? Memphis spanked the Clippers and Lakers on a back-to-back before a night of rest; the Dubs win was their third game in four nights, but they never let off the throttle.
The Brooklyn game was more of the same. They clobbered San Antonio on New Year’s Eve, got a couple of days to sleep off the hangover and watch college football, then beat a contending team by 14 points.
Even the Bulls win is instructive, because it’s a different kind of show of resilience. That 13-point win came two days after Dallas handed their asses to them by 27 points. It was a bounce-back game they could easily have lost.
So I’m not going to say that Memphis is headed for a fall. They have a young core of players who come together in games that matter, elevate their games when it’s time to play the best teams, and look like a squad that could make real noise in the playoffs not just as those players mature, but right here in 2022.
Granted, Memphis is not without their weaknesses. They can’t shoot (seventh-worst in eFG% and third-worst in FT%), but they get a ton of offensive rebounds (tops in the league in ORB%) thanks to having Steven Adams on their team. They don’t turn the ball over (fifth-best in TOV% on offense.) As long as their defense (seventh in Defensive Rating) keeps the other team off the scoreboard, Memphis stands to do just fine.
Maybe it’s just the echoes of 2016 and ’17. But with the Grizzlies once again posting lofty won-lost records before the All-Star break, fans can be forgiven for being real nervous about the Grizz once the Easter Bunny shows up.