Considering he enjoyed a professional basketball career that lasted roughly 17 seasons, Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins would be the first to tell you that after 18 games of an 82-game regular season, it would be premature to discuss playoffs.
However, the former Atlanta Hawks great is convinced the Memphis Grizzlies will be in the thick of things come mid-April.
Following the Hawks’ 93-83 win over the Grizzlies Saturday night in FedExForum, Wilkins, who covers the Hawks as a color analyst for Sportsouth and FSN South, said he’s heard a number of positive things about the Grizzlies, who entered their game against Atlanta with the NBA’s best record. By game’s end, however, Memphis, after squandering an eight-point first-half lead and being limited to a season-worst 13 third-quarter points, had dropped to 14-4.
With the loss, the Grizzlies currently own the league’s third-best record behind San Antonio (17-4) and Oklahoma City (16-4) as they prepare to begin a three-game road trip starting Wednesday at Phoenix. Still, Wilkins, 52, said given Memphis’ depth, the fact it has beaten the Thunder in a pivotal road game, and had the Spurs on the ropes before falling in overtime, no one should be surprised if the Grizzlies emerge as a serious threat to come out of the West.
“They’re a good team,” Wilkins said of the Grizzlies, who were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last year by the Los Angeles Clippers. “They had a tough time tonight. But you have those types of nights.”
Saturday’s loss was the Grizzlies’ first in eight games this year versus an
Eastern Conference opponent. In having its two-game winning streak snapped, Memphis failed to garner much offensive production from its bench, which has aided the Grizzlies considerably in becoming one of the league’s most feared teams of late. The Grizzlies’ reserves, in fact, managed a combined 14 points, with Wayne Ellington accounting for eight points in 14-plus minutes.
But against a Hawks team that earned its third consecutive win, Memphis manufactured its lowest scoring output of the season, in part because key reserve Quincy Pondexter, after producing consecutive 16-point outings heading into Saturday’s contest, was held scoreless after logging nearly 20 minutes of action. The Grizzlies’ previous lowest scoring performance came in an 84-78 win against Cleveland November 26.
Still, Wilkins, a former nine-time All-Star who earned the nickname “The Human Highlight Film” because of his brilliant dunking ability, said the issues that contributed to the Grizzlies’ defeat against Atlanta are fixable, given Memphis appears as healthy as it has been as a unit since its lengthy postseason run two years ago.
“They’re just a good team, they have a lot of good weapons,” said Wilkins, a 2006 Hall of Fame inductee who also played briefly for the Clippers, Boston, the Spurs, and the Orlando Magic before calling it a career in 1999. “(The playoffs) a long ways off. You can’t worry about playoffs right now. But they’re a playoff team, certainly. That team is going to be a force to reckon with.”