As a young and relatively inexperienced squad, not everybody believes in the Memphis Grizzlies. In the wild west, there are so many good teams and even the best of the best will have a tough time making it to the end.
In Round 1, Memphis and their young star, Ja Morant, will face off against the gritty Minnesota Timberwolves, who recently secured their place after beating the Clippers in the play-in.
While some teams might dread a matchup against Minnesota, Morant insisted that his team is more than up for the challenge.
“You remember that quote I said? We ain’t ducking no smoke. We run up the chimney. It’s simple is that,” said Morant. "Somebody comes to this organization – they know we can’t back down. That’s soft person tendencies. We don’t got no soft guys on this team.”
Morant, 22, just finished his third season as a pro, and it was his finest yet. In 57 games, he averaged 27.4 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. Memphis finished 2nd in the West.
By all accounts, it has been a breakout season for Ja, and the world has taken notice. he has even drawn some comparisons to Kobe Bean Bryant.
"I wasn't talking about the player. I was talking about the attitude," said Shaquille O'Neal. "When Kobe came in at 19 he knew he was the s**t, he just knew it. The coach will be like, 'don't do that play,' Kobe would be like, 'nope I'm doing it.' Like this kid is really freaking good and he knows it."
"And there's not a lot of people you can say that about in this league as a young player. That's what I mean by that. He knows it, he wasn't highly drafted, wasn't highly talked about, made a name for himself late in the NCAA, but he [Morant] knows he's good. He knows that's his team and he's playing really well."
Last year, the Grizzlies fought their way into the playoffs only to lose to Utah in Round 1. It was a crushing blow, but an expected one at the time.
Now, things are different. The Grizzlies have improved and matured, and have shown an astonishing level of consistency all season long. The pressure is on.
While Morant certainly knows how to talk a big game, it'll be up to him and his teammates to back it up with some wins when it really matters.