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Schmeelk: Grizzlies Are Upstarts, Not Champions

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Forward Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Forward Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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The Grizzlies just got a reality check from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Memphis’ turn-back-the-clock style of play, focused around post play and defense, was shut down by a more athletic team.

It’s refreshing to see a club play with an adherence to the old-school power forward/center interior dominance, but people were jumping on the Grizzlies’ bandwagon way too quickly.

The way the NBA is officiated now, the game is focused around guard play and wing players. Minimal contact is allowed on the perimeter, and guards are allowed to jump into shot blockers and get to the free-throw line — even when they don’t deserve it. The same benefits are not given to big men, as was obvious to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol last night when Oklahoma City got physical. No whistles were blown.

Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are both excellent defensive big men, and there’s a good chance this pattern could continue, even in Memphis. The Grizzlies don’t have  consistent enough backcourt scoring to be a serious threat moving forward in the playoffs.

The success of the Grizzlies and Hawks has also spawned a movement by Knicks fans (and some writers) who suggest New York might be better off had they not traded Jamal Crawford and Randolph. Apparently, they still think the Isiah plan would have worked if it was just given enough time.

Here’s a reality check:

If Crawford and Randolph remained on the Knicks there would have been no free agent additions the last two seasons. No Amar’e Stoudemire, and therefore no Carmelo Anthony. This offseason, the Knicks would have had to make a decision whether or not to give Crawford, Randolph, and Wilson Chandler big money contracts.

Let’s say theoretically all three came back and joined Danilo Gallinari, David Lee and a point guard to be named later. Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries, and Nate Robinson could have come off the bench. That’s a terrible defensive team with streaky offensive players. They would max out at 45-50 wins. They would be the Hawks, stuck as a four-or-five seed, an inevitable first or second round ouster for the foreseeable future — with absolutely no cap flexibility.

Is that good enough for Knicks fans? Or would they rather have  Stoudemire and Anthony? Not to mention a ton of potential cap space in 2013? There are no guarantees — but there is a much better chance of the current roster becoming a championship team than the imaginary one above. Anthony and Stoudemire are the best two players on those combined rosters.

Do not overrate Randolph and Crawford just because they are in the second round of the playoffs. It’s true both can score with anyone but there are many flaws. Both are terrible defenders that have never seen a shot they don’t like. You think Anthony is a ball stopper? Randolph is much worse. There’s a reason he has been traded so many times, and teams decided he wasn’t worth the exorbitant contract he was given.

Randolph played over his head in round one of the playoffs. This is the first time he has ever gotten out of the first round as the top player on his team. It’s the second time for Crawford.

Randolph is just not as good as Stoudemire. Crawford is the sixth man on a middling Eastern Conference team. Everyone needs to relax. Those guys aren’t leading anyone to a championship, and neither is anyone else the Knicks jettisoned.

Finally, here’s a quick word on the Heat-Celtics series:

It’s far from over. The Celtics can still win it, but they have to play better. Great performances by Dwyane Wade, James Jones and LeBron James in Game 2 have something to do with it, but the Celtics are not helping themselves.

It’s possible that Boston is just too old to deliver their “A” game on a consistent basis, but I don’t think they’re dead yet. We’ll find out in the next two games. They won’t fold mentally, but we’ll see if their bodies have enough left. I still think they do.

I don’t think the Heat will have the mental toughness to stay with Boston. The Celtics will give them a bloody lip and win a couple of games. The question remains: Can Boston push Miami to the brink and force a potential collapse?

You can follow me on twitter at: twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk

Knicks fans: Are the playoff successes of Randolph and Crawford getting under your skin? Let Schmeelk know below…

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