MikeCheck: GrindTable debates Grizzlies-Pelicans rivalry as snowy, four-game homestand looms
MEMPHIS – The worst snow storm Memphis has seen in decades comes just as the Grizzlies prepare to face arguably their most difficult matchup of any team in the NBA.
The Next Gen Grizzlies have been unable to break through against these new look Pelicans in the past two years, having dropped four consecutive games to New Orleans heading into Tuesday’s game at FedExForum.
Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and Pelicans catalyst Zion Williamson headline the showdown as childhood buddies who were the top two picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. But there are so many other plotlines that impact the stakes when these two squads meet.
As the Grizzlies (11-11) look to get back above .500 to open a four-game homestand, our broadcasters ‘GrindTable’ breaks down three key topics entering the game. Consider it a 5-on-3 break, with the NBA’s most talented and knowledgeable broadcast crew filling lanes and scoring on each insightful point.
This week’s panel features Grizzlies TV broadcasters Pete Pranica and Rob Fischer, Radio broadcaster Eric Hasseltine and pregame, halftime and postgame radio host Jessica Benson.
Fact or Fiction: Zion Williamson and the Pelicans should be viewed as Ja Morant and the Grizzlies’ biggest NBA rival right now?
FACT: The linkage between Zion and Ja will ensure that Memphis/New Orleans will be a rivalry as long as they are with their respective teams. Additionally, both teams are in a position to be fighting for a playoff berth, or at least a spot in the play-in games. The Pelicans have had the Grizzlies’ number recently, and for the Grizz to make the play-in and/or playoffs, they’ll need to turn that around. With only three games against the Pels, Tuesday is a must win to keep hopes of a tie-breaker edge alive.
FACT-ish? They get that status by regional default, along with Ja vs. Zion. Call me back after they meet in the playoffs someday.
FICTION. It’s a nice little rivalry of 1 vs. 2 from the 2019 draft, but they don’t play the same position. And as far as rivalries in the NBA, they’re built on playoff meetings. Period. Until these two organizations meet in the postseason, it’s not really a rivalry. Rivalries need “hate” and this one just doesn’t have it yet.
FICTION. It’s tough to say “biggest rival” for any team because rivalries come with history. But logistics and the Zion and Ja dynamic make it very intriguing, for sure. The only question is, do Grizz fans have a hatred for New Orleans? That makes a rivalry, so to me it’s a fun matchup – but not a rivalry yet.
FACT. The cities are close and share the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River. Both franchises are anchored by the top two picks of the same draft. The music and unique food cultures run deep in both spots. And the teams are on similar trajectories with expectations to build and compete for playoff spots in the West in short order. Those Spurs, Thunder and Clippers rivalries are in the past. This has all ingredients of a Next Gen rivalry.
Fact or Fiction: With a .500 record right now, the Grizzlies have overachieved so far this season?
FACT: According to SportRadar, Memphis has faced the 5th-toughest schedule so far this season and its “strength of victory” (win% of teams they’ve beaten) is 4th-best in the NBA. Figuring two wins over Brooklyn and San Antonio plus wins over Philadelphia and Phoenix, the Grizzlies have played on equal terms with teams with winning records. Toss in that the Grizzlies are without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow, and have lost the 2nd-most games to injury, then overachievement is definitely a fact.
FACT. Duh! Remember when they were without Ja Morant for 8 games? Remember how they’ve been without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow for all the games? Remember how they’ve had to use a plethora of different lineups due to injuries and/or health and safety protocols? I’m asking rhetorical questions. Of course you remember! But, it’s a nice reminder of what the Grizzlies have achieved while consistently being without key rotation players almost every step of the way.
FACT. Considering what they’ve missed this year due to injuries, the Grizzlies have certainly overachieved. Most nights they’ve missed 4+ rotation guys (2 have missed every game). That’s hard to overcome, especially when your best player missed 8 games and your second-best player hasn’t played a single game.
FICTION. To everyone else around the country, they have overachieved. But this system and the players that fit in it can win some games. I feel like they are showing when they are able to get fully healthy, they can be really dangerous.
FICTION. Everything in me wants to say FACT on this one. But I’ve seen too much consistent evidence now of Taylor Jenkins squeezing every ounce of effort and production out of this team, regardless of who’s available. So it feels kind of like saying the Grizzlies have overachieved would be essentially underestimating their resilience in a challenging season. Plus, a lot of other teams are dealing with the same issues Memphis has on its hands.
Fact or Fiction: The Memphis weather this week presents a bigger challenge to endure than the Grizzlies current stretch of four games in five nights?
FICTION: I’m from Wisconsin so this snow isn’t that troublesome, except for the fact that we’ve got more plows and trucks in Wisconsin to handle the white stuff. I’m a planner, so I made sure the pantry was well-stocked before the weather hit. On the other hand, the Grizzlies had a long flight back from the West Coast ahead of big matchups with the aforementioned Pelicans and Suns sandwiched around dates with the scrappy Thunder and struggling Pistons. Thankfully all four are at home, but it’s an important stretch for the Grizzlies to hopefully get above .500.
FACT. Back in my day, we used to walk two miles through the snow and sleet and wind . . . I grew up in Colorado, so this kind of weather makes me nostalgic for my childhood. The primary difference; we all had snow tires. Thus, it is 10000000% a fact that the Memphis weather presents the greatest challenge of all in the city this week. I watched six cars get stuck downtown before noon on Monday.
FACT. The handling of winter weather in Memphis is undoubtedly more difficult. People can’t drive, everything closes down, the streets are a disaster, and you’re stuck at home with the kids. The one positive – sledding! The Grizzlies are young and can handle a rigorous schedule. They’d rather play than practice, and all the games are at home. It’ll be more difficult to drive to the game than actually play it!
FACT. I think the weather is challenging for the team because of the flight home from Sacramento on Monday and adjusting to that. But beyond that, I’m sure the players have ways to get to the arena. The other challenge is often the opponents getting into town. I’ve never seen this here, and I’ve now been here almost 20 years.
FACT. Don’t get me started on this city’s ability to handle this storm. Modern technology allows us to track weather days in advance. We saw it coming. Was it impossible to be a bit proactive and borrow a couple of snow trucks and other equipment from Nashville or Knoxville to clear some of these major streets? The Grizz have a gauntlet of a scheduling grind this week. But they won’t have to leave Shelby County to get through it.
(Catch Pranica and Fischer on FOX Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies game-night coverage, and listen to Hasseltine on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
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