The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certian when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
The Previews: Griffin Gotta/Straight Outta Vancouver
The Grizzlies made a habit of proving doubters wrong in 2010-11. When Rudy Gay went down to a season-ending injury, everyone assumed the spunky Grizzlies squad would simply go away. When they did not, everyone assumed they would bow out after their playoff cameo. When they did not, nobody knew what to assume any more from the Grizzlies.
Memphis found something that worked in the latter half of 2011 and rode it to a playoff appearance and then a surprise upset of top-seeded San Antonio, perhaps showing some of San Antonio’s age in the process. When the Grizzlies took the Thunder to seven games and nearly sprung the upset to reach the Western Conference Finals, everyone began to believe the Grizzlies have an extremely bright future.
How bright is that future?
Rudy Gay is a borderline All Star every year and had a solid season with 19.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. He is a versatile player with still a lot of room to go. But when he went down, everyone wondered if the team could pick up the scoring slack and, more importantly, wondered if Zach Randolph could be a team leader.
Randolph proved he could, averaging 20.1 points per game in the regular season and then 22.2 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game in the postseason. He shed a lot of the pre-conceived notions about him and his game and showed that he is quite a versatile and superb post player — and there are few better at playing in the post than Randolph.
But this was a team that really banded together and fed off each other throughout the postseason. Mike Conley had a breakout year and Marc Gasol paired up nicely to form a very difficult low post tandem to deal with. Gasol was the big surprise of the season and his free agency is the first question the Grizzlies will have to answer.
The identity of the team though was encapsulated in one of its role players — Tony Allen.
Allen has always had offensive shortcomings, but his defensive grit infected the team as the year and the postseason went on. The Grizzlies fed off the emotion he gave them throughout the postseason. And really he resembled the never-say-die, underdog mentality the Grizzlies took up throughout the postseason.
Now the Grizzlies though find themselves somewhere new. Assuming Memphis finds a way to resign Marc Gasol, Memphis is now considered something of a heavyweight in the Western Conference. They are certainly expected to take a step forward and comfortably make the Playoffs and maybe even return to the conference’s second round in the Playoffs.
That might be asking a little too much of this team, seeing as it was the eight seed. But the potential is there. And that has made Grizzlies fans in Memphis very excited after the team advance out of the first round for the first time.
Whether this will be the dark horse team in the Western Conference or the team that disappoints will be played out during the season. But as volatile as this team can be — remember, Zach Randolph got his big extension this offseason and is no longer in a contract year — it should not be a surprise that the team could go either way.
How the Grizzlies will beat the Magic: The Grizzlies had a lot of hunger in defeating the Magic last year in Memphis. Orlando’s 3-point shooting was not working that evening, but the relentlessness of Memphis offensively gave Orlando problems. Mike Conley had a field day with Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson and the team looked completely out of sync.
Memphis is the kind of team that will either boom or bust. But they will not stop coming at you. Those are the kind of teams Orlando had trouble with as it sleep walked through a good chunk of the 2011 season. And by sleep walk, I mean they did not play up to their potential. The Grizzlies may not have ever had the most talent in every matchup, but they played hard and played gritty.
That makes the Grizzlies dangerous to any team that underestimates them. Everyone seems to assume that they will have the same fire next year. That should keep them in just about every game that they play.
How the Magic will beat the Grizzlies: Effort, especially on the defensive end. This is not just coming from Dwight Howard either. He has his hands plenty full competing with the burly Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low. Those two alone are a handful even for a superstar like Howard. The Magic blew out the Grizzlies in the early-season game in Orlando with a suffocating defensive effort. That defense was missing in the second game in Memphis.
These are big things that were a problem for the 2011 squad throughout the season. And the Grizzlies are the kind of team that will take advantage of a team’s lackadaisical effort. Orlando would not have to play its best game to win this one. But any team going up against Memphis has to play with effort and energy to match the growing surge that Memphis can provide and lay on any team.
Photos via DayLife.com.