I could easily be throwing dirt over Oklahoma City’s coffin way too soon, but history suggests they’re set up for evitable doom as they now the Memphis Grizzlies 3-1. Teams that have been in Oklahoma City’s spot are only 2-32 in their previous series, 1-8 in the conference semifinals. Looking at the potential opponents for Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio, you still have to lean towards Memphis as being the favorites. Would the league be thrilled to see Memphis in the Finals? Probably not, but that’s not the point.
The Memphis Grizzlies being favorites to make a trip the NBA Finals? That’s crazy talk. Yes, a Russell Westbrook injury certainly changed the equation in the Western Conference, but Memphis isn’t necessarily taking advantage of the situation. It’s just a case where Oklahoma City has been exposed as a team that actually needs Westbrook and that they more guys who would be willing to give half the effort or production that Kevin Durant is giving in this series.
Back to the point, Memphis looks primed to make a serious run. It’s not a popular opinion, but I have enjoyed watching them play. Prior to matchups against Memphis, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has always mentioned that the Grizzlies play a “playoff style of basketball.” How does Dallas, or the rest of the league, look at this and do they adapt?
Easily the biggest takeaway from Memphis’ team is their size. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph picking teams apart in the paint, they grind teams down. I think if there’s a ripple effect around the league due to Memphis’ success, teams may go against the hot trend in the league with small ball and go back to traditional, big man basketball.
First, that’s probably not realistic because there aren’t that many capable big men in the league. A good portion of the big men in the league are paid rather well and don’t do much of anything. Why? Because you can’t teach size, you’ll take the size and hope to make the best with it.
There’s a pretty simple blueprint that Memphis is working off of and that’s where Dallas needs to zero in on. Yes, Memphis does have a nasty one-two punch in the post, but you just need a capable big man who can control the paint and is, at worst, adequate on offense. Dirk is going to be the focal point on offense, so the complimentary big just needs to be ready to occupy space in the post and make teams pay. Defense is where they need to make their money and they must be the man who anchors the defense.
The mindset with the big man is also a mindset that should be looked when it comes to shifting the paradigm for the Mavs. The word that almost seems synonymous with Rick Carlisle now is disposition. The word he loves to pair with that is defensive, making it defensive disposition. Led by Marc Gasol and Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, Memphis will always commit to playing 48 minutes of grind-it-out basketball on the defensive end of the floor. Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe brought back the great link to the chart that BasketballReference.com made that showed that defense really can win championships.
Dallas doesn’t need to become a slow, plodding defensive juggernaut. They just need to realize what Carlisle has been telling them. He’s been telling them that strong defense and rebounding will get them into their offense easier. It seems like Dallas has allowed their offense to dictate their defense. That needs to flip.
Mike Conley came into the league and many thought he would turn out to be a relatively nice point guard. Six years later, it appears Conley is turning the corner as is becoming one of the better point guards the league has. He has speed and agility, but the way he’s doing it is by using his brain. The way he can deceive the opposition with his hesitation dribble and his ability to wait things out until the last possible moment is incredible. He’ll wait until the defense shows its hand before making the move. It goes back to what Dallas needs: an influx of basketball IQ.
The collective basketball IQ translates to one number: 10.4. That number indicates the amount of turnovers the Grizzlies have averaged per game in the playoffs. That number is absurdly low. For a team that is known as tenacious or a little rough around the edges, they’re extremely disciplined on the floor.
Does Dallas need to ditch the glitz and glamour and go for the grit and grind? No, but I think they’re playing a brand of basketball that can win, no matter who the opposition is. Outside the state of Tennessee, I can’t see many people saying Memphis is their favorite team to watch. The last time I checked, it’s not about looking good when you’re in the NBA. It’s about winning games. Dallas’ front office should keep that in mind.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.