“We Climb up the Chimney. We Ain’t Ducking No Smoke!” | Ja Morant And The Grizzlies Are Cocky, Fun And Very Good

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images)

Through 54 games the Memphis Grizzlies are 36-18, third-best record in the NBA. That’s just about two-thirds of the way through the entire season. They are ranked fifth in aNET rating, and of the top five teams only they and the Phoenix Suns are in the top seven in aORTG and aDRTG. In other words, they’re really good.

Not only are they good, they’re also not afraid to let other teams know about it. During Wednesday night’s nationally televised game against the Knicks, a 120-108 Grizzlies win, Knicks forward Julius Randle tried to punk the young upstarts.

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The Grizzlies are the second-youngest team in the league, with an average age of 24.2 years old. Randle went into the Grizzlies huddle in the fourth quarter during a Knicks rally and had some words for Desmond Bane. Bane shoved Randle and both were issued technicals. Randle was ejected.

Whatever was said didn’t bother Bane, as he promptly drilled a three on the next possession.

Following the game the Grizzlies made it clear they’re not running from any team in the league, and if you want to talk they’re gonna talk too and back it up. That’s the personality of their leader and first-time All-Star Ja Morant.

“There ain’t no running in the M [Memphis] man,” Morant said. “We climb up the chimney. We ain’t ducking no smoke. We’re gonna let everybody know we’re here. We’re gonna play hard. We’re trying to get a win, and if you don’t like it? Oh well. If you going to cry, what the babies gonna do?”

Wooo! That’s tough talk from Morant. But he and the Grizzlies play with that kind of edge and swagger. It’s their fuel. All the main guys on the team are around the same age, and they have more of an AAU feel than an NBA team to them. There is no pretense in anything they do, they just show up to the gym ready to hoop and bust your ass.

“We definitely feel like an AAU team more than whatever you want to call other teams,” says Jaren Jackson Jr., who has emerged as an All-Defensive candidate. “Everybody listens to the same music. Everybody does the same things, watches the same stuff. We all vibe together. We like hanging around each other, and it translates.”

Make no mistake, the rest of the league has noticed, and they’re watching the young upstarts.

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After beating the Golden State Warriors for the second time this season back in January, Morant said he thought the Grizzlies would start to get some respect. Warriors two-time MVP and three-time champ Steph Curry took notice.

“It’s a natural evolution of a team trying to take that next step,” Curry said. “The big part is, you’ve got to show it in the playoffs. We want to be there to try to do that. I know they want to, too. Nobody’s trying to win the verbal conversation right now of who we are in January.”

A little serving of humble pie from the veteran to the young upstarts in as polite a way as possible.

The Grizzlies know they’ll be judged on what happens in the playoffs and have plans to make a lot of noise. Despite their excellent play thus far, it’s different in the postseason, and that’s another learning curve.

Two seasons ago they lost in the play-in tournament in the bubble. Last season they beat the Warriors in San Francisco at the Chase center in the play-in tournament and beat the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz in game one of the playoffs. They lost the series in five.

The next logical step is to win a playoff series, and if the seedings hold true to form, give the No. 2 seed Warriors all they can handle in the conference semifinals. If they advance to the conference semis and push the Warriors, that’s a hell of a season, and they’ll earn even more respect.

We’re about two months away from the playoffs, and the All-Star break is coming up in a couple weeks. Morant will share the stage with the other giants of the game. Another proof point that he belongs, and so too do his Grizzlies.

“Obviously, everybody’s ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Morant says. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re laying brick by brick each day to get better. At the end, we’ll build an empire.”

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