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Memphis returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2006

Sacramento Kings v Memphis Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 8: Tony Allen #9 reacts after the Memphis Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot by defeating the Sacramento Kings on April 8, 2011 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tony Allen

Joe Murphy

Paint the town blue. Memphis is back in the second season.

The Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot on Friday night with a win over the Kings. It wasn’t easy, with the Kings continuing their plucky play of late led by Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans. Those two on the break together is a terrifying combination. But the night belonged to the Grizzlies’ unlikely heroes, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, as it has since Rudy Gay was lost to a shoulder injury before the All-Star break.

Memphis is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, since the days when Pau Gasol led a team that was slaughtered in the first round. Memphis’ chances of a second-round appearance aren’t any better this time around. But they are likely to push for a few wins, and that’s a step in the right direction. The Grizzlies banked a lot of assets on making the playoffs, and now they’re in, as a dangerous team that relies on defense and speed.

The question will be if owner Michael Heisley will stick to his word regarding keeping the core of the team together. Mike Conley and Rudy Gay are locked in for $120 million over five years. Heisley made a combination of vague threats and veiled promises that he would keep the team together, if they made the playoffs. Now Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and O.J. Mayo need extensions. That’s a lot of money for a small market. Playoff turnout and the team’s success there will likely be the next factor considered.

But that’s for the future. For now, Memphis has made the playoffs, and is the team no one wants to run into. No one wants to deal with Zach Randolph slipping in-between post-defenders, no one wants to try and keep the ball out of Tony Allen’s hands, no one wants to deal with the physical gambling the Grizzlies employ. They’re probably not going far. But they’re going to go down fighting.