At 12-9, the Memphis Grizzlies currently sit in 4th place in the surprisingly depleted Western conference, a half game back of the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder and in the midst of a middling morass of mediocrity that defines the 3rd through 7th seeds, which are only separated by two games. Clearly, the Golden State Warriors are the class of the conference (and the league, and basketball history, and Sport, and the universe?), and the LaMarcus Aldridge-era San Antonio Spurs have put some distance between themselves and the rest of the West, which creates the very real and very weird possibility that this game between the Grizzlies and Thunder could define, in the short term at least, who is the third best team in the conference.
Could the Grizzlies, near the bottom 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, really be the third best team in the West if they win this game?
Before getting to this, it's time we start talking about how much the West has fallen off this season. The stunning regressions of both the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans (along with the expected decline of the Portland Trail Blazers) have left the West in the strange position of weakness. The inter-conference record tilts in the direction of the East for the first time in forever, and defensive efficiency has fallen off a cliff in the West. Only two of the top nine teams in defensive efficiency are in the Western Conference (the Spurs and Warriors, obvi). So while it may seem far-fetched that the Grizzlies could stake a claim to the rather inauspicious "third best team in the conference" title, that distinction has lost significant luster compared to prior years. The team that's slotted there by default is Oklahoma City (not only is that actually where they fall in the standings, but they also still have two of the top ten players in the world on their team), so a win on Tuesday could actually legitimize the Grizzlies' claim to this really small, crappy throne.
Can the Grizzlies get their first good win of the season?
Considering the horrendous 3-6 start to the season, it might surprise some readers that the Grizzlies really only have one bad loss (at Portland).*
*When we define a bad loss as a loss to a team that shouldn't beat you. Obviously, the 50-point drubbing by the Dubs was bad, but it wasn't unexpected.
Unfortunately, they don't have a single good win to their credit to this point. Beating OKC during Mario Mania was a lot of fun, but a win against the Thunder without Durant does not a statement make. Moreover, the games against the NBA's true big boys (Spurs, Cavs,
Globetrotters Nerdlucks Warriors) have all been lost by double digits. The good news is that there is such a dearth of good teams (because all the good players play for the Warriors) that if the Grizzlies continue on this trajectory of winning all the games they should, they may only lose their remaining games to the Spurs, Cavs, and Warriors, and have a good shot at a top four seed (and after making it to the second round, we can follow through with "Plan B" and deploy Tony Allen to go Tonya Harding on somebody's ass and hope for the best). But a win against the full strength Thunder (an oxymoron because Billy Donovan keeps playing Dion Waiters in crunch time and Enes Kanter isn't injured) would help a lot of Grizzlies fans believe that the march to the slaughterhouse against the Warriors is worth sticking around for.
Somebody's gonna get punched, but who?
Matt Barnes wants to punch Serge Ibaka. Serge Ibaka says he wants to punch Barnes (good luck with that, young man). Zach Randolph wants to punch Stephen Adams. Vince Carter punched Courtney Lee for some reason, and now Courtney probably wants to get him back. Russell Westbrook wants to punch Dion Waiters. Mitch McGary wants to punch Nick Collison (I'm guessing... because he's tired of hearing how he's a poor man's Nick Collison, which isn't even true because he's a poor man's Kendrick Perkins). Tony Allen wants to punch everybody.
There's some bad blood between these two teams, and the only reason that they didn't throw down last time was because they didn't wanna scuff up those fresh-as-hell throwback Sounds jerseys and because they were too busy watching Mario Chalmers go off like Steph Curry. Here are the odds that the aforementioned players get punched:
Serge Ibaka: 2:1
Matt Barnes: 3:1
Stephen Adams: 3:1
Vince Carter: 3:2 (same odds as him making a 3-pointer. If he does, no way Lee doesn't deck him.)
Courtney Lee: 3:1 (odds that Vince connects on his counter)
Dion Waiters: 1:1 (God, I hope it happens)
Russell Westbrook: 1,000:1 (odds that Waiters connects on his counter)
Mitch McGary: 3:1 (odds that if he throws a punch he accidentally hits himself in the crotch, 5:1)
Tony Allen: 50:1 (not a good idea, but Waiters and McGary are the dumbest people in the NBA)
Z-Bo: 10,000:1 (but not that dumb)
Prediction: OKC 110, Grizzlies 103
Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 7:00 PM CT
Where: FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee
How to Listen: 92.9 ESPN Memphis
How to Watch: FoxSports Southeast