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MikeCheck: Southwest Roundtable - Grizzlies’ Bluff City thrives with Big Easy, Texas Triangle as NBA destination stops

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – When it comes to competitive balance in the NBA, the Grizzlies are in strong company.

In fact, when the season was suspended March 11 because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Southwest Division essentially stood alone with each of its five teams still positioned for a shot at the playoffs.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly informed players and teams there could be a decision on how to proceed with the rest of the 2019-2020 season within the next few weeks. From top to bottom, no division in the league has as much riding on that ultimate call as the Southwest.

With 17 games remaining on the regular-season schedule when play was stopped, the Grizzlies occupy the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference standings. The Mavericks are seventh and the Rockets are sixth in the West. The two other Southwest Division squads – the Pelicans and Spurs – are within four games of the Grizzlies in the chase to secure the last spot.

This collective push to the NBA postseason is hardly new in these parts. Since 2010, the Southwest is the league’s only division in which all five teams made the playoffs in the same season (2014-15). And in 2011, it also saw the Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks and Pelicans each post winning records.

So what annually makes the Bluff City, Big Easy, Space City, Alamo City and Big D so competitive on the court and compelling off it? Start with the collective star power and personalities of their players and the unique markets these teams call home. To that end, I’ll periodically hook up with insiders repping the five Southwest Division squads to discuss what makes our teams, players and markets stand out in the league as we await the return to NBA action.

Our panel includes TV broadcaster Mark Followill (Dallas), radio broadcaster/PA announcer Matt Thomas (Houston), writer Jim Eichenhofer (New Orleans) and writer Michael C. Wright (NBA.com, covering San Antonio for this reoccurring feature).

This week’s topic: Based on the city, what’s your favorite Southwest Division road trip?

Grizzlies Logo

Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

The easy answer is New Orleans. From food to fun to diversity to music to culture (and maybe even a taste of trouble, if one’s not careful), there are no limits to options the Crescent City provides on any and every night of the week. So this one is a given. With that said, the real intrigue is trying to determine which trip qualifies for the Silver medal among the three others outside my Memphis home market. For as much as I want to go with San Antonio, because my favorite BBQ joint and bookstore are there, I have to say Dallas has gradually become my favorite spot outside of New Orleans. There’s always something new and cool either opening or happening downtown each time the Grizzlies stop in the Big D.

Dallas Skyline
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 07: A general view of the skyline of downtown Dallas, Texas as the American Airlines Center can be seen before Game Four of the 2011 NBA Finals. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.
Mavericks Logo

Mark Followill
Mavericks TV

Definitely, New Orleans. I have loved the culture and the vibe of New Orleans since my first vacation there just out of college in 1993. The excitement of going there these days includes the amazing food in the city. If there is an off day, maybe there’s time for an excursion to the WWII Museum or a run over the Magazine Street/Garden District area or just a walk to a unique restaurant in a neighborhood like the Marigny, or do like everyone and go to a bar on Bourbon Street. There’s always something fun and memorable to do in New Orleans, and some damn good food to eat!

Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 9, 2016: Revelers pack Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras day on February 9, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French, is a celebration traditionally held before the observance of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Christian Lenten season. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images.
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Matt Thomas
Rockets Radio

This is a very difficult question to answer. I am a fan of every city in the Western Conference and trying to determine a favorite in the Southwest Division is a challenge. Memphis and New Orleans have great food and music. I have family in both Dallas and San Antonio, so it’s great to catch up with them while on the job. The best arena atmosphere in the division outside of Houston resides in the Alamo City. You could be playing a mid-January game in San Antonio and you swear you’re playing for the Western Conference title. The Rockets and Spurs have a deep history with each other with many of both teams’ most memorable playoff victories coming on the other’s home floor.

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Jim Eichenhofer

Memphis has pretty much everything I look for in a road city. The team hotel is steps from Beale Street and FedExForum; there are several phenomenal barbecue spots within walking distance. I’m sure this is partly due to Memphis being a smaller city with no other Big Four pro sports franchise, but the Grizzlies also just seem like a major part of the fabric of people’s daily lives. That’s something you don’t really sense in most huge cities.

FedExForum plaza before a game
MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 9: The Memphis Grizzlies fans outside of the arena before the game against the Golden State Warriors during Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals of the NBA Playoffs. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.

Despite what the Hall of Famers in TNT’s studio may say, I enjoy San Antonio and staying near the Riverwalk, where there are many places to eat outside in nice weather. As the division’s only city that has an NHL franchise, it’s always been fun to hit Dallas Stars games. Houston’s biggest drawback is how spread out it is geographically, but I’m a fan of their new-ish lobster roll restaurants (Mainely Sandwiches), which improbably are owned and operated by Maine natives.

NBA Logo

Michael C. Wright

Is this a setup? I’d be shocked if New Orleans wasn’t everyone’s favorite road trip in the division outside of the folks already living there, obviously. The food, the culture, and the people make that city No. 1 hands down. I covered the NFL for 10 years before switching over to the NBA, and my favorite road trip covering football was New Orleans, too. For me, personally, coming to New Orleans feels like coming home because you can have a conversation with a native, who is a stranger, yet walk away feeling like you’ve known that person for years. I love the genuine nature of the people out there.

Zion Williamson guarding Ja Morant
MEMPHIS, TN - JANUARY 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans plays defense on Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.

When Zion Williamson was set to finally make his NBA debut in January, I remember the buzz flowing through the city pretty much everywhere you went. On the Uber from the airport, all the driver wanted to talk about was Zion. When I checked into the hotel downtown, the woman behind the desk was just so overjoyed she’d be going to the game later that night and was hoping her son could get an autograph from Zion. Man, that joy and enthusiasm all over that city was special to me that night. And Zion certainly delivered with his performance. It’s really one of my fondest recent NBA memories.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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