There’d be no better “f— you” to the NBA than seeing the Memphis Grizzlies march through the Western Conference while taking down the league’s hand-picked favorites along the way.

The professional sports world’s most predictable league just got a whole lot more unpredictable these past few days when the Memphis Grizzlies, a former laughingstock as far as NBA franchises go, upset the first-seeded San Antonio Spurs in Friday and then cleaned the collective clocks of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of their second round series on Sunday morning.

As a Nuggets fan, I will always have a rooting interest for small market teams. When the injury-plagued, short-handed Utah Jazz beat the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs last year, I suggested that all Nuggets fans root for the Jazz to beat the Lakers in the second round. (It should be noted that none of our fellow Stiffs agreed with me on that one.) And while it might be tempting to root for the Thunder, I can’t root for a franchise that was hijacked from Seattle in the most corrupt way possible nor root for a team that benefited from suspect calls to beat our Nuggets.

But the Grizzlies? Now that's a team I can cheer for.

Ranking the NBA’s 30 cities by their metropolitan statistical area Memphis ranks 27th, ahead only of Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City as the NBA’s four smallest market teams (Denver is 17th). Not only is Memphis a small market, but prior to their series against the Spurs this lowly franchise had never won a playoff game and had only appeared in the playoffs three times. Their head coach, Lionel Hollins, has coached the team not once, not twice, but three different times. Their star player, Zach Randolph, has been better known for hanging out at strip clubs than hanging double-doubles in playoff victories. And their able starting center, Marc Gasol, was nothing more than a throw-in in a much derided, lopsided trade involving his own All-Star brother, Pau.

The Thunder out-played our Nuggets in Round 1 and I stand by my previous commentary that they’re just better than us right now. But after seeing Kendrick Perkins‘ mercurial, dangerous act up close, Russell Westbrook‘s incessant whining, the referees collective adoration for Kevin Durant and knowing the back story behind the franchise’s suspect relocation away from a great basketball market with a rich NBA tradition, I have absolutely no love for the Thunder whatsoever. And it goes without saying how much I hate the Lakers, who are sure to dispense with the Mavericks in four or five games in Round 2.

Nothing would make this fan happier than seeing the Grizzlies ruin NBA commissioner David Stern’s pre-ordained Lakers versus Heat / Bulls / Celtics NBA Finals party coming this June. And the pre-ordained Thunder versus Lakers conference finals that’s “supposed” to happen before that. The Grizzlies give small market teams everywhere hope that if you play substantially better than your competition, a few unfavorable whistles can’t beat you.

I never thought in a million years that I'd be rooting for Zach Randolph. In fact, when the rumors of a Randolph-to-Denver deal came up in early 2008, I was adamantly opposed to his acquisition, thinking he would be the final piece to cemented the Nuggets as the Jailblazers 2.0 that Mark Warkentien always envisioned. But "Z-Bo" has grown up (it sure took a while) and it's fun watching a guy who doesn't run the fastest, jump the highest or look to be the most fit dominating the low post against the league's best athletic big men.

My heart was broken last Wednesday when the Nuggets pissed away a nine-point lead in the final minutes at Oklahoma City. And now, thanks to a rag-tag bunch from Memphis of all places, I have something to root for again.


On to the links…

Kroenke, Ujiri face major decisions – The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman interviews Josh Kroenke after the Nuggets 2010-11 season comes to an end.

Karl finishes fourth in NBA coach of the year voting – The Denver Post
Proving that the East Coast media bias is still strongly with us, Tom Thibodeau and Doug Collins lead the way in Coach of the Year voting, with George Karl not even coming close to winning.

Behind Randolph, the Grizzlies are no longer Cinderellas |
No hugging and celebrating. No cute little dance steps at midcourt.

Randolph lifts Grizzlies over Thunder – NBA – Yahoo! Sports
Marc Spears writes that Zach Randolph has found a home in Memphis, and the rest of the West is paying a heavy price for it. 

NUGGETS: Perseverance helps Nuggets maintain track record of success
Aaron Lopez puts a positive spin on the Nuggets 2010-11 season.

From the archives…
Witnesses: Randolph seen in Portland strip club while on leave to attend funeral