This is it, folks. The beginning of the end. The stretch, as they call it. The next 30 or so games (or more like 6, if you are the Spurs) will determine where teams fall in line and set the tempo for those glorious months of April and May where boys become men, fakers are revealed, and heroes arise…aka the NBA playoffs.
And what a stretch it’s going to be for the Grizz.
The boys in blue have 31 games left on their schedule, and of those 31 contests, 19 of them are on the road. It’s no doubt one of the heavier second half schedules in the league, and with the likes of Denver and Golden State eyeing that fourth spot the Grizz currently possess, it’s going to be a trying stretch of basketball.
With all these inconvenient truths established, though (in my Al Gore voice), let’s remember we have one oh-so-important aspect working in our favor: we have the Grit, and we have the Grind.
The two capital G’s, the two holy pillars of the ever-growing religion of Memphis Grizzlies basketball. They are what allowed us to turn this expansion team into a NBA playoff fixture, they are what enabled us to carry a three-game win streak into the All-Star break after a major team shake-up, and they are what’s going to allow us to look at that daunting second half schedule, put on a Z-bo headband, look it square in the eye and say, "I’m a jackin dude, and I WILL whoop your ass."
It starts tonight in Detroit. In an increasingly tight Western playoff race, it goes without saying that every win counts, and there will be an onus on getting victories over teams that are not as good. The Pistons bring a 21-33 record out of the break, and while they have displayed some impressive young talent, this a game the Grizzlies should win. Greg Monroe has proven that he can be a solid big man, but at 6’11’’, he may find himself at odds trying to defend Gasol. Look for the Grizz to pound the post early and often.
The Grizzlies’ newly acquired length will also play into the outcome of tonight’s game; as far as NBA standards go, the Pistons are a relatively short team.
Oh yeah, speaking of that newly acquired length, this will be Prince’s and Daye’s first game back at the Palace, playing against their very recent "old team". While these guys didn’t leave Detroit in any ill will I know of, there is always that desire to come out against your former team and show out. While I wouldn’t have any qualms about a 20 point game from either of those guys, it will be important for both of them to play their game and not try to do too much. Not that it is too much of a worry; Prince is ever the professional and if Daye tries to work outside the offense I feel Hollins will have him snuggling up to Leuer on the bench.
Not much else needs to be said about this matchup. These are the games that must be won if we want to keep the Denvers and the Golden States at bay, and more optimistically, gain ground on that team from LA. If we show up, bring the G and G, and play our game, we will leave Detroit with a win and start this stretch off right, and go to Toronto to get some momentum and a winning streak going in our favor. (Speaking of Toronto, I feel as if there is some story line there…oh well, I guess I will let somebody else handle that.)