If you are looking for a good NBA trivia question, here’s one: name the only team with wins over the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets?
Your answer is the Memphis Grizzlies, who may be good enough to represent the Western Conference, when the league reaches early June.
The certainly looked the part in becoming the latest elite team to beat the Nets and do it in Brooklyn when they mostly cruised to a 118-104 win.
The Grizzlies do not possess the long winning streak like the Suns, the history of NBA finals appearances like the Warriors or a few recent 50-win seasons like the Jazz but they own a steady climb to the top with 15 wins in 19 games, a stretch that includes Ja Morant’s dynamic game-winner a week ago in Phoenix and a win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I feel like we’re all underdogs,” Morant told reporters. “We all just want to win. We all love when our teammates are doing good. Winning is the main goal, we have that will and mindset throughout the organization.”
“Since I (came) here, I’ve been saying we deserve more respect,” Morant added. “The stuff we’re doing now, obviously that recognition and everything will come.”
Morant is right even if the NBA’s national TV partners may think differently. At the moment, Memphis is only scheduled for six games on TNT or ESPN but NBA diehards know they are becoming a must-watch on league pass most nights, especially when they produce dynamic displays like Monday.
It is a team pushing the pace but also living up to their “Grind City” moniker as they were savages on the boards to a 61-33 margin, hustled their way to 29 second-chance points, seized 23 offensive rebounds and stole the ball 11 times.
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And they feature others besides Morant, the first player in franchise history with four straight 30-point games.
Desmond Bane is proving that scouting matters more than draft position at times as he was picked 30th in the 2020 draft and he finished with 29 after entering with an average of 17.2 points and spent a part of Monday suggesting Morant has a strong case for the best point guard in the NBA discussion.
“People will debate whether or not he should be an All-Star,” Bane told reporters. “I think we should be debating whether or not he’s the best point guard in the league.”
Dillon Brooks is another case for the scouting argument although he did not play due to being in the health and safety protocol. He was the 15th pick of the second round in 2017 by Houston, which promptly flipped him to Memphis. Since being limited to 18 games due to a toe injury in 2018-19, his numbers have risen from 16.2 points in 2019-20, 17.2 last season and 19.3 in 19 games before being sidelined.
And that can apply to former Gonzaga standout Brandon Clarke, the 21st overall pick of the 2019 draft, who seems to be able to get around 12 to 15 points and approximately 10 rebounds per game on many nights.
“We just have a lot of guys who can score the basketball and also make plays for others,” Morant said.
Meanwhile, as the Grizzlies continue their ascent to elite status, the Nets still remain a contender to win the East even with Kyrie Irving returning to be a part-time player, something expected to occur Wednesday.
For now, the problem of elite teams running roughshod over them is problematic.
It started on Opening Night when the Bucks cruised to a 23-point win, then came a 13-point loss to Miami. The struggles against top teams continued with a 23-point loss in Chicago on Nov. 8 that featured a 42-17 fourth quarter for the Bulls. Then came an 18-point loss to Golden State on Nov. 16 which was not that close and 13 days later there was a six-point loss to Phoenix in another game that was not as close as the final score indicated.
The only game against an elite team you can make a case that the Nets should have won was Dec. 4 against Chicago in Brooklyn. They blew the game in the fourth quarter and the four-point loss occurred despite Brooklyn scoring 54 points and 23 second-chance points.
Then came Monday when the Nets never led, were helpless as Morant slithered his way through the lane for virtually any shot he wanted. As the Grizzlies scored 62 points in the paint, Morant converted six layups a pair of floaters along with a memorable one-handed dunk during the third quarter blitz that essentially sealed Brooklyn’s fate.
“It’s about coming into the games with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor,” Kevin Durant told reporters. “Making the correct play on both ends of the floor.”
The Nets seemingly are beyond their COVID-19 outbreak that caused three postponements and saw Durant and James Harden miss three games apiece. By not consistently making the correct plays on both ends, the Nets are in their first funk of the season as Monday followed two fourth quarter collapses to Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Clippers.
And the funk is also ill-timed given what the schedule looks like next week when the Nets play a noon home game on Sunday, fly to Portland on the second night of a back-to-back and then play another back-to-back against Chicago and Oklahoma City with late tip times.
“It was just a big stop to the momentum of the season, so let’s not overreact,” coach Steve Nash said. “But that was embarrassing. We got our butts kicked, and we got to do a lot better to get back to the standard that we played out before the interruption.”