Thursday , Mar , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

The Grizzlies are headed towards the playoffs

(Sports Network) – The Memphis Grizzlies continue to be the surprise team of
the NBA this season.

Memphis has already surpassed its franchise record for most wins in a season,
which was 28 set by the 2002-03 squad. The Grizzlies, who are currently 40-24,
are also just one win shy of assuring at least a .500 record for the first
time in team history.

The Grizzlies, barring a major melt down, are headed towards the playoffs for
the first time in the clubs nine year existence in the league. Will it be a
short ride, or can Memphis actually be a factor in the Western Conference and
do some damage in the postseason.

Led by 70-year-old head coach Hubie Brown, the Grizzlies have gotten solid
seasons from forward Pau Gasol and guard Jason Williams.

Gasol, who can play forward or center, leads the Grizzlies in scoring (17.7
ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg). He has started all 64 of Memphis’ games and has
scored in double digits in 62 contests. The 23-year-old Gasol has also grabbed
10 or more rebounds in 21 games.

The 28-year-old Williams has provided Brown with needed leadership and good
playmaking skills at the point. He has averaged 10.7 points and a team-high
6.8 assists in 55 contests this season. Williams, who at one time was a shoot
first type of player, has developed into a smarter guard who looks to find the
open man before putting up a reckless shot.

Complementing Gasol and Williams have been forward James Posey and swingman
Bonzi Wells, who was acquired in December 2003 from Portland for Wesley
Person. Posey is second on the team in scoring (12.7 ppg), while Wells is
third (12.6 ppg).

Wells, 27, had a reputation of being volatile player in Portland. Since
arriving in Memphis, the Ball State product has fit in well with his new
teammates. He has given Brown a versatile player with playoff experience.
Wells can play forward or guard, and has the ability to score from anywhere on
the court.

The 27-year-old Posey, who can also play guard, is having the best year of his
career. Besides averaging a career-high in points, the Xavier product is
shooting a career-best 47 percent from the field while playing 29 minutes per
night.

If guard Mike Miller, who is on the injured list with back problems, can come
back healthy, Brown will have another player like Posey and Wells to fit into
the lineup. The 24-year-old Miller, who can also play guard or forward, was
having a decent season, averaging 11.5 points and 3.9 assists in 51 games
before back problems sidelined him.

Memphis has also received admirable seasons from centers Lorenzen Wright and
Stromile Swift, forward Shane Battier and backup point guard Earl Watson.

If Miller can’t return at 100 percent, then Battier, who has averaged career-
lows in points (8.8 ppg) and minutes (24.5 mpg) in 62 games this season, is
going to have to raise his game to the next level. Originally selected out of
Duke by the-then Vancouver Grizzlies in the first round (sixth pick overall)
of the 2001 NBA Draft, Battier, who has not scored 20 points in a game this
season, did average 14.4 points in his rookie campaign.

The Grizzlies have a lot of versatility on their roster. Brown can throw a
lot of different lineups at Memphis’ opponents. But the one problem that the
Grizzlies do have is the lack of an intimidating inside presence. The playoffs
are a different type of game in the West, which is won on the inside in a
grueling seven-game series.

Memphis will most likely play either the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers
or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The Mavericks would
give the Grizzlies their best chance to advance, while the Lakers and Spurs
are not good matchups.

With the right opponent, the Grizzlies can make it out of the first round.
However, round two is as far as Memphis will go.

Whatever happens to the Grizzlies in the postseason should not take away from
the accomplishments that they have achieved in the regular season. Memphis has
reached respectability under the leadership of Brown and could be on the verge
of being a regular in the playoffs in the Western Conference.

MEM