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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The NBA’s youngest team to reach a conference semifinal in the past 25 years has wasted little time turning disappointment into motivation.

Yes, the Memphis Grizzlies soaked in every lesson to help chase their first NBA championship.

“This is going to motivate us moving forward,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.

“The growth individually, the growth collectively from this season, it’s only going to make us better. This is a step in the direction of this bright future that we talk about all the time.”

The Grizzlies have been taking big strides since a franchise reorganization in April 2019. They’ve gone from being knocked out of the playoff chase in the Orlando bubble in August 2020 to earning the No. 8 seed through the play-in tournament a year ago.

The NBA’s second youngest team earned the West’s No. 2 seed for the first time by matching the most wins in franchise history with 56. The Grizzlies won their first playoff series in seven years in six games before losing in six games to the Golden State Warriors — the last three without All-Star guard Ja Morant due to a bone bruise in his right knee.

Dillon Brooks summed up the Grizzlies’ future after losing a series to the three-time NBA champs that reached its sixth Western Finals in eight years, with two Memphis losses by a combined four points.

“We’re young, they’re getting old, so they know we’re coming every single year,” Brooks said.

MORANT

The NBA’s Most Improved Player won’t need surgery for the bruised bone in his right knee that ended his best playoff series yet late in Game 3 against Golden State. It’s the same right knee he had surgery on after being the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2019 and the third injury to one of his knees this season.

Still, Morant is the superstar Memphis has never had with his jersey ranked ninth among NBA sales. He averaged 38 points and eight assists in the semifinals and joined Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history with multiple 45-point playoff performances before turning 23.

Morant, who turns 23 in August, was an All-Star starter and finished seventh in the MVP voting. He can sign a five-year extension this offseason.

RECORD-SETTING SEASON

The Grizzlies ranked second in the NBA in scoring at 115.6 points a game, a franchise record with not a single point from a player 30 or older. It was the first time Memphis finished in the top five for scoring average.

They also became the first team to lead the NBA in rebounds, steals and blocks since steals and blocks became official stats in 1973. They led the league in points in the paint, second-chance points, offensive rebounds, and fast-break points.

TRIPLE J

Jaren Jackson Jr. is coming off his healthiest season yet and doesn’t turn 23 until September. The fourth overall pick in 2018 played a career-high 78 games, and he also led the NBA in blocks, setting franchise records with 177 and 2.27 per game.

But Jackson does need to learn how to play without fouling out. He fouled out three times this postseason.

“I’m trying to work on everything, there’s a lot of things I can do on the court and I want to continue to build on all of them and just become more polished and become more efficient,” Jackson said.

DOWNTOWN BANE

The 30th pick in the 2020 draft has become one of the NBA’s top 3-point threats already. Desmond Bane leads the NBA shooting 43.5% outside the arc in that span with a minimum of 600 3s attempted, and he set the franchise single-season record with 228 made 3-pointers.

Bane became the third player in NBA history to make at least seven 3-pointers in consecutive playoff games, joining Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Bane doubled his scoring from his rookie season to 18.2 points and led the Grizzlies in scoring in their first-round series win. He shoots 49% from 3 in the postseason.

OFFSEASON BUSINESS

Memphis has two first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft at Nos. 22 and 29.

Both Kyle Anderson and guard Tyus Jones are due to hit free agency this summer. Controlling owner Robert Pera has said he’s ready to spend what’s needed to keep the Grizzlies together, and Jones gives Memphis plenty of options backing up Morant or playing beside him.

Brooks and Bane also made clear the Grizzlies now understand the need to work harder each offseason. Improving different facets of their game yes, but also at conditioning their bodies to handle the regular season and a long postseason.

“We got to be healthy and realize that every year we are going to contend,” Brooks said.

___

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Watch Thomas Frank pour beers at iconic Brentford pub The Griffin to fulfil SunSport Premier League promotion promise


THOMAS FRANK switched from football manager to bar manager at the famous Brentford boozer The Griffin.

The Bees boss stunned punters by pouring pints as he stuck to a promise he made to me when the club were promoted to the Premier League.

11Brentford boss Thomas Frank pours pints as The GriffinCredit: DAVE PINEGAR 11Frank shows off the perfect frothy head for a pint of German lagerCredit: DAVE PINEGAR 11Frank and our man Justin Allen toast an historic season for BrentfordCredit: DAVE PINEGAR

Frank pledged he would celebrate by having beers with me in each pub on the corners of the club’s old Griffin Park home.

But, because of strict Covid regulations, we were unable to organise the knees-up.

However, having ticked off enjoying drinks at The New Inn and now-closed The Princess Royal, we settled for afternoon jars at The Griffin to reflect on the club’s historic first season in the Premier League.

Landlady and diehard Brentford fan Claire Peleschka invited us behind the bar and Frank poured us Bavarian lager Hofmeister — and he did a grand job.

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He laughed: “I’ll let you into a secret. I reckon I’d have been a bar tender had I not become a teacher and then a football coach!”

Claire said: "If this football management thing doesn't work out, I could do with some extra staff."

Apart from a small bit of “wastage” as some lager frothed up and spilled out of the top of the glass, it was an impressive effort before we headed to the sun-kissed beer garden to talk football.

Despite having the league’s smallest budget, the Bees hammered reigning world and European champions Chelsea 4-1 away, beat Arsenal 2-0, took a point off Liverpool and Tottenham and completed the double over West Ham.

And the club branded “just a bus stop in Hounslow” go into their last two games safe from relegation while their more illustrious opponents — Everton away today and Leeds next weekend — face the threat of crashing into the Championship.

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Frank said: “It’s crazy. I don’t know how you rank the 50 biggest clubs in England. Is it history or the clubs’ current budgets? No matter which criteria you use, I’m certain we wouldn’t be there.”

I suggest to him Brentford are probably ranked a third or fourth tier club.

“I agree,” he said. “Maybe we’re not even top 75 in some people’s lists!

“But every Brentford fan is proud and hopefully we can recreate more magical moments but being in this position where we’re facing Everton and Leeds, who are fighting for their lives, is impressive.”

Apart from taking just one point in eight games in January and February, the Bees have never been in danger — although Frank admitted his wife Nanna had to get used to him being grumpy more often this season because of the extra defeats. 

11Thomas Frank and Justin Allen have one for the road at The GriffinCredit: DAVE PINEGAR 11Frank impressed landlady and Bees fan Claire Peleschka with his bar skills

He said: “From day one, we’ve aimed high. I’ve liked our positive approach and we had  huge belief we could be a big asset to this division. We’ve gone into every game with the ambition to win.

“Beating Arsenal in our first-ever Premier League game in front of a full house at home was special and gave us confidence. 

“But if you look at our performances throughout the season, they’ve been consistently high.

“We had a bad spell after Christmas when we had injuries but even then our performances were good.

"It was a brutal fixture list at that time as we were playing the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal. But once we beat Norwich, we didn’t look back.”

Indeed - six wins and a draw from their last nine games takes them into today’s clash at Goodison.

11Thomas Frank shares a laugh with Justin Allen as they talk footballCredit: DAVE PINEGAR 11The Brentford boss was boosted by Christian Eriksen's signingCredit: DAVE PINEGAR

And it is no coincidence their upturn began with Christian Eriksen’s emotional return to football with the Bees seven months after suffering a cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark at Euro 2020.

Frank said: “Christian’s story has been remarkable. From the first game he started, against Norwich, he has been brilliant.

“He’s playing with an extra edge and freedom. He’s enjoying his football but has that desire to do the best he can.

“I almost feel as though Brentford are now everyone’s second favourite team because Christian plays for us.”

A Bees fan approached Frank at the pub and pleaded: “Whatever you do, make sure that Danish fella in midfield signs next season.”

Will he, I ask? Frank said: “I honestly don’t know but I’m positive and believe he might. 

“Maybe that’s because I want him to stay so badly but he’s seriously considering Brentford among his options and to even be in that equation is great.  Many people don’t understand how much of a compliment that is to this club.”

While Eriksen is an established world-class player with vast top-flight experience, not a single member of the Brentford team had started a Premier League match before this season.

And two of them — Ethan Pinnock and Shandon Baptiste — even graduated through non-league. Centre-half Pinnock was at Dulwich Hamlet while Baptiste played for Hampton & Richmond.

Frank said: “When Ethan signed his first pro contract at Forest Green, who were then in the National League, he had just graduated with a PE university degree.

"So he could’ve ended up as a PE teacher but instead is now a Premier League footballer.

11Brentford boss Thomas Frank's squad had no Premier League starting experienceCredit: DAVE PINEGAR 11Thomas Frank is impressed with non-league graduates Pinnock and BaptisteCredit: DAVE PINGEGAR

“Shandon, meanwhile, was injured last year but came back pre-season very strong and we thought, ‘Wow, we’ve got a player here.’ However, he got injured before the season started.

"Yet I saw enough to want to play him but then he had another setback. But he has come back again and should be proud how many Premier League minutes he’s played.”

Star striker Ivan Toney tore up the Championship with 33 goals last season and has managed to net 12 in the top flight with five assists.

And Frank said: “Firstly, Ivan is the world’s best penalty taker. He’s also a constant threat. His link-up play is outstanding. He sees the game so well and has good technical ability. He’s constantly improving his pressing. There’s more to come from him.”

Ivan Toney is the world's best penalty taker

Thomas Frank

Brentford famously had the BMW frontline of Benrahma, Mbeuno and Watkins. Only Bryan Mbeumo remains but he has had a fine season— having already made the same number of assists as Kevin De Bruyne with seven.

The Bees boss said: “He’s been unlucky because he holds the record of hitting the post more than anyone!”

While we enjoying the spring sunshine, Frank is clearly loving the Hofmeister and says: “I never knew about this lager — I think this seriously might become my go-to beer.”

It makes me think about the tradition for opposing managers to share a drink — quite often wine — after a match in the home boss’s office.

I ask Frank who he has enjoyed meeting the most in the Premier League.

11Thomas Frank mingled with fans like Eamon and Liz Sylvesters 11Barman Ewan Peleschka enjoyed meeting Thomas Frank

He said: “I don’t know how it was before but I think post-Covid that tradition hasn’t been so common. 

“I would’ve loved to have shared a glass of wine with Sir Alex Ferguson because I knew he always invited people in.

“But it’s not the same any more because there are more foreign coaches now who don’t do that type of thing. I like that old tradition so I do invite people in.

“I’ve manage though to enjoy meeting David Moyes, my very good friend Dean Smith and Brendan Rodgers. It’s been a privilege to meet all of them.”

So what is the ambition now for next season? Having seen what Eriksen has added, there must be a desire to find other world-class gems?

He said: “Our first aim is to keep everyone and hopefully we can continue to get our recruitment right.

“It’s not a case of finding a gem no-one else knew about. Everyone will know a bit — but quite often we’ve been the first club in which helps.

“I don’t believe in ‘second-season syndrome’ for newly-promoted team. Yes, it’s a miracle we’re in the Premier League but we deserved to stay up and why not perform well again and again?”

And his big dream is for this winter’s World Cup final to feature TWO Brentford players.

He said: “I want to see our keeper David Raya against Christian so a Spain v Denmark final with both of them still being Brentford players!”

Maybe the beer had finally got to Frank’s head there but after what the Bees have achieved anything is possible.

I DON'T 'MIND THE GAP'

THOMAS FRANK could get the last laugh on Leeds after they goaded him in a video when they won promotion two years ago — ahead of Brentford.

Smug Liam Cooper and Scott Dallas were filmed singing “Mind The Gap, Thomas Frank” to boast about their 12-point margin over the Bees. 

The video was posted on Leeds’ social media platforms before later being deleted.

But next Sunday, Brentford could send Leeds crashing back down to the Championship.

Punters in The Griffin pub pleaded with him to go easy on Everton today and then sign off their season by beating the Yorkshire club to hopefully send them into the second tier.

Frank laughed: “I want to beat BOTH of them” before diplomatically telling me: “I’m not on social media but I do remember someone showing me two years ago.

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“Leeds are a massive club and I’ve always found them interesting as one of the giant English teams. I was very pleased when they got promoted because a club of their size and history should be in the Premier League.

“My focus is on ourselves to improve Brentford and I have no preference out of Burnley, Leeds and Everton who should get relegated.

“I also would like Everton to stay up simply because they’re a founder member of the Football League and have a big history. But you need competition and you must earn the right to be in the Premier League.”

PUB QUIZ FOR THOMAS

WE selected a few questions that Bees fans wanted to be put to Thomas Frank.

PAUL MOYS

Which player has surprised you most in the way he has adapted to the Premier League?

David Raya. I think he was good but he has shown he's a top keeper in the Premier League — and deserved his Spain call-up.

BEN OWEN

Do you cycle to work like a lot of Danies?

In Denmark I used to cycle with my children to school every single day. That was my thing. I loved it.

London is a little bit too dangerous to cycle around. I’d love to do more mountain biking but am more of a runner.

TINA DONOVAN

What surprised or shocked you most in the Premier League?

When you are there pitchside, the tempo and pace of the transitiion is very impressive and the quality of the players. The media demands are also huge,



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