The Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of a huge playoff race heading into the final stretch of the NBA season. To be in that position, without two of their best players is thanks in large part to Taylor Jenkins adjustments on the fly.
The Memphis Grizzlies, as of March 11th, sit eighth in the NBA’s Western Conference, and currently hold a 3.5 game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and Portland Trail Blazers. Following one of the most brutal post All-Star Break road trips featuring both Los Angeles teams, the Houston Rockets, and the Sacramento Kings, Memphis still sits at eighth in the West.
Getting destroyed in the final three games out west by a combined 68 points - Jenkins went back to the drawing board to find this teams identity. The team was shorthanded, and playing the toughest 29 games to end the season. The media had turned on the Grizzlies, the Pelicans and company started hitting their stride, but Memphis didn’t blink for long.
Taylor Jenkins and his young Grizzlies went back to the basics. Basics meaning what Jenkins has preached since Summer League, and that was competing every single possession. “Whether it is a drill, or a scrimmage - it comes down to competing,” Jenkins discussed in Summer League Mini- Camp.
Jenkins broke down his system really simple throughout Summer League by showing his young guys how to break a game down into four sections. Jenkins mentioned winning each quarter no matter what. Ball wasn’t going through the net? Get stops. Get the ball moving, and get out and run. Compete.
The Turning Point of the Season:
Flash forward ahead to February 28th as Memphis returned home following that horrendous four game road trip. The Grizzlies were riding a four game road trip Memphis fell to Sacramento on February 28th 104-101, but that wasn’t the point. The Grizzlies competed, and you felt your blood pulsating through your face in the final minutes because you wanted that game so bad for Memphis. The Grizzlies lost, but they found their heart again.
Memphis competed throughout the end of the third quarter after trailing by as much as 12 to the Kings. Headed to the fourth, Memphis was in prime position to get themselves out of that losing streak, but came up just short. Biggest takeaway from the loss was the final two minutes where Memphis out competed the Kings to make it a nail bitter at the end.
Seeing Grizzlies diving all over the floor for loose balls, and converting on the other end with baskets off of turnovers was a reminder of who the Grizzlies are. Defense first, push the pace, and out-compete your opponent.
Back to competing, despite being shorthanded:
Even in the loss to the Kings, Jenkins has the Grizzlies ranked number one in defensive rating since February 28th at 96.8 (6 games). Holding the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks to 88 points, and the Brooklyn Nets to 79 points, during a three game winning streak.
Despite a brutal loss to the Dallas Mavericks to end their recent road trip, Memphis is 4-2 in their last six games, and still maintains a good lead on the ninth placed teams in the Western Conference. Memphis was able to convert their defense into easy offense, and that was something that had been missing, even if the team was healthy. If the effort isn’t there on the defensive end, you give yourself no shot to be in contention when the game is headed to the fourth, and that is what was going on with Memphis post All-Star break.
Reinforcements on their way:
It was announced Monday afternoon that Jaren Jackson Jr., (knee) and Justise Winslow (back) would return to the floor in the upcoming week. It has been three plus weeks that Jenkins has been playing chess in the absence of several key guys.
We know what Jaren brings in terms of switching on the perimeter as a big and protecting the rim from easy baskets, but Memphis has something possibly special in Justise Winslow as well. Winslow was considered one of Miami’s top defenders, Winslow had held shooters to 38.7% shooting (6 percent less than their averages) per Miami Herald.
The Grizzlies are primed to begin the toughest slate of games on their schedule. If Memphis can stay the competitive course, however, they should be in the mix for playoff basketball come April.