The Southwest division leaders Memphis Grizzlies come to Cleveland for a matchup with the up and down Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon. If the season ended today, Memphis would be a two seed in the rugged Western Conference. It isn't a coincidence. Two season ago they reached the Western Conference Finals. Last season they finished the season on a torrid run to overcome an early Marc Gasol injury and qualify for the playoffs out west.
I've been impressed with the organization for some time, and wrote about what the Cavs could learn from Memphis 18 months ago when they secured their spot in the WCF. Mostly, I was impressed with their continuity:
The other continuity is simply having Conley, Allen, Randolph, and Gasol out on the floor together for multiple years. These guys are not offensive dynamos, but they know more about each other than just about any team in the league outside of San Antonio can boast. They know what they can and can't do. They fight for and love each other. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on face seem like complete opposites, but when you watch Randolph cheer for Gasol after a big play it is hard not to get fired up. The Cavaliers have installed their defensive minded coach. Hopefully our young players get lots of time on the court together. Chemistry doesn't happen overnight, it has to be earned.
Perhaps more interesting is what I had to say about the Grizzlies bond with the city of Memphis:
Memphis now has a special relationship between its players and the fans and the city. It is pretty darn cool, and I dare say it can only happen in a small market. It takes a special kind of player who embraces the city of Memphis like Zach Randolph has, but the truth is, Randolph and Memphis need each other and they both know it. I don't know if this is something that can be duplicated. Cavaliers fans thought we had this with LeBron James, but deep down we knew it wasn't real. As silly as it was to get upset about James wearing a Yankees hat, it was another sign that LeBron may be of us, but he didn't belong to us. What Memphis has with Randolph is a player and a city finding each other, with really fun results.
So, maybe LeBron does belong to us. Or we belong to him. He's our king. He plays for our team. I don't know, it's pretty complicated but it's pretty clear James' bond with Northeast Ohio was deeper than I was willing to acknowledge, or was readily apparent. That's pretty great.
The defensive coach I referenced in the first paragraph was the long gone Mike Brown, and it's crazy how quickly things turn in the Association. Still, the Cavaliers could stand to gain from continuity. I wrote about it the other day, but Kyrie Irving (22), Tristan Thompson (23), LeBron James (nearly 30) and Kevin Love (26) are prime candidates to play in Cleveland for a long time. Let them grow and learn together. If you determine that Dion Waiters or Joe Harris or Matthew Dellavedova are part of the long-term plan, let them grow and learn as well. It doesn't help to constantly tinker. If you think you have the right pieces, sit back and relax, tool around them. Cleveland might be to that place with at least four of their players.
Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 4:30 ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio
Where on my eyeballs: Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass
I won't go into too much depth on tonight's game. I'm actually heading up to Detroit to watch the Red Wings play the Colorado Avalanche. Pretty excited. Not too many things could keep me from watching Kyrie Irving and the Cavs vs. Mike Conley and the Grizz, but this is one of them. I'll catch this one on DVR.
Memphis is getting incredible play from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph is trying his hardest to make his contract extension look like a smart decision. Watching Tony Allen attempt to convert layups is endlessly entertaining. A huge story, though, is the quality play they are getting from their bench. Memphis has relied on their starters heavily for years, failing time and again to put together a deep team.
They seem to have finally put it together this season. Courtney Lee is shooting 54.5% from three point range and provides capable defense and a little ball handling. Vince Carter has some magic in the tank, as he showed in a phenomenal performance against the Warriors last week. Beno Udrih has been a steady hand at the point while Mike Conley rests. You'll see former Cavalier Jon Leuer tonight as well.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: The Cavaliers ease some minds, win 102-96.
Don't forget to sign up for FanDuel. Here's the link!