Dec 15, 2011, 8:05 PM EST
Last season: 46-36, good enough for the eighth seed in the West, but then they pulled the shocking upset and beat San Antonio in the first round. They fell to Oklahoma City in a hard-fought second round.
It was the kind of playoff run that raises expectations for next season.
Head Coach: Lionel Hollins, who is entering his fourth year as head of the Grizzlies.
Key Departures: Shane Battier, who left via free agency to join the Miami Heat.
Best case scenario: They take the next step after a promising playoff run and they start challenging the big boys in the West.
For that to happen: They need to learn to integrate Rudy Gay into what they did during the playoffs. Gay is one of the better perimeter players in the league, but when he went down with a shoulder injury the Grizzlies found a more focused offensive identity — they pounded it inside and played inside out. With Gay back that can’t get muddled, Gay needs to play off Gasol and Zach Randolph, not become the focus of the offense again. They need a balance they lacked before the injury.
They also need improvement from players because the Grizzlies will miss Shane Battier on the defensive end and as a shooter. The team won it first ever playoff game largely because of him, and they didn’t get a replacement. Guys have to improve.
More likely the Grizzlies will: Be good but not as good as advertised. They will be tough to beat for a lot of teams because the Gasol/Randolph front line is a force. If they get the right matchup in the playoffs like they did last year they could be a surprise. But I’m not convinced they can beat the Lakers, Mavericks, Thunder in a playoff series right now. They may be the fourth or fifth best team and be a squad on the rise, but they still have strides to take.
Prediction: 39-27 record, and they will be the team everyone wants to avoid in the first round. But getting out of the first round again will not be easy.
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