The midway point of the NBA season is approaching, with teams beginning to show whether they will be contenders or pretenders when spring rolls around.
The Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs are both at the fringe of the playoffs and could switch positions in the Western Conference pecking order when they square off on Friday in Memphis.
The Grizzlies took another step toward crashing the midseason playoff picture on Tuesday with a 119-112 win over Minnesota. The victory improved Memphis to 16-22, and the showdown with the Spurs could allow Memphis to leapfrog the Spurs into the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Yes, the Grizzlies are in rebuilding mode, and could be categorized as overachievers, especially after they struggled to a 6-16 start. But they are 10-6 since and play their next five games at home. Nine of their next 12 games are against teams with losing records.
“If we keep playing this well, sharing the basketball and understanding that the way we win is playing defense together and getting stops even when we’re not shooting well, we’ll win a lot of games,” Memphis’ Dillon Brooks said.
Brooks scored 28 points, Ja Morant added 25 and Memphis rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Timberwolves, with the win being the Grizzlies’ third straight.
Jaren Jackson Jr. finished with 21 points, including a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter after entering the period 1 for 7.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Memphis forward Jae Crowder said after his 14-point, eight-rebound performance in the win. “We are a young team — I don’t want to get them too excited. Obviously, we are right where we need to be to gain ground in the playoffs.”
Meanwhile the Spurs have been up and down, but they are on the upswing after a 129-114 win in Boston on Wednesday. The victory followed a dominating win over league-leading Milwaukee on Monday.
DeMar DeRozan led the way with 30 points for San Antonio in the win over Boston, as the Spurs shot 55.2 percent as a team to avenge a 135-115 home loss to Boston earlier this season. San Antonio scored 22 of the game’s first 25 points to drop the Celtics into their biggest deficit of the season.
Lonnie Walker IV added 19 points in 19 minutes off the bench as the Spurs won for the fourth time in their last six games.
Although they’ve been struggling, it would be foolish to count out the Spurs when it comes to the postseason. San Antonio owns an NBA-record streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances.
“Our themes have been the same for, like, 23 years,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the win over Boston. “It doesn’t change with every game. Sometimes we do well, sometimes we don’t.”
DeRozan knows that the Spurs will have to play better in the second half of the season to keep the streak alive.
“I’ve seen the league change so much,” he said. “To see the Western Conference where it is now, it’s just another one of them things. Hopefully we can come out on top.”
The season series between Memphis and San Antonio is tied at a game apiece, after both teams have garnered wins on the road. The Spurs own a 72-25 all-time lead in the series, and have won 33 of the 49 games played in Memphis and Vancouver.
–Field Level Media