1. Griz Win! Griz Win!:It seems silly to consider the second game in an 82-game schedule a "must win," but tonight's game felt that way for the Grizzlies since it was sandwiched between a demoralizing opening-night loss and rough five-game West Coast road trip. And it was a good win — the heightened energy level was palpable from the very beginning and the execution improved over the course of 48 minutes.
The Grizzlies had two big problems tonight — turnovers and defending Chris Bosh — and improved in these areas over the course of the game. The Grizzlies had 5 turnovers in the first 5 minutes, and 12 in the ensuing 43 minutes. The early turnovers were a bad product of good things, though — over-aggression and over-passing as a result of trying perhaps too hard to play team basketball. The Grizzlies gave up 25 points to Bosh in the first half. "Only" 12 in the second.
And most promising was how the team responded to late adversity. Going down 8 — their largest deficit of the game — two minutes into the 4th quarter, the team called a timeout, and then came back to outscore Toronto 35-19 over the final 10 minutes.
Okay, I'm live courtside at FedExForum for Grizzlies-Raptors as the Grizzlies tried to redeem their awful opening performance.
Not live-blogging this but am going to experiment with something new by trying to get my Twitter feed to run on this post and comment there occasionally. As always, I'll monitor any comments or questions on this post, or you can talk amongst yourselves. Let's do this.
Twitter feed seems to be working, but you have to refresh the page for new "tweets"
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The Grizzlies try to bounce back from their deplorable opening night showing as they host the Toronto Raptors tonight before heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip. A win tonight could help stablize the team, but a loss followed by a bad road trip could find the season unraveling before when it's barely begun.
Allen Iverson practiced with the team Thursday but still looks unlikely to play tonight. Look for him to make his Griz debut on the road next week.
I will not be live-blogging tonight but will set up the usual game template here for in-game comments and will likely be making occasional commentary via my Twitter feed. You can follow me on Twitter at @ChrisHerrington.
The Raptors enter the game on a high, having won their home opener 101-91 over Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Three potential keys to tonight's game:
1. "Interior" Defense: On Opening Night, the Grizzlies got torched by probably the league's best-shooting guard tandem in Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon. Tonight they'll face a different but also similar challenge: Probably the league's best perimeter-shooting frontcourt tandem in Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.
Two years and one game into his NBA career, Conley's outside shooting is ahead of schedule, but there are a couple of other aspects of his game that have lowered my initial expectations. One is his athleticism and the other is how he uses it.
Conley is certainly a good enough athlete to be a quality starting point guard, especially if his shooting progress continues, but he's not as electric as he seemed coming out of Ohio State. He now looks like a good athlete for his position, not a great one, and this limits his upside.
The other problem has been Conley's timidity. While not quite the athlete I first thought he was, Conley still has the quickness and handle to put a lot of pressure on defenses. But he doesn't do this nearly often enough. Conley should be breaking down defenses in the halfcourt and streaking past defenders in transition with at least some regularity, but these explosions have been too rare. If Conley can begin to use his speed more, he can still be a high-quality starting point guard. If he doesn't, then it's not going to happen.
Opening night couldn't have gone much worse for the Grizzlies, who treated an announced crowd of 17,212 to Allen Iverson in street clothes and a blowout loss to an Eastern Conference team likely to join them in the lottery next summer.
"I'm disappointed for our team and our fans," coach Lionel Hollins said in his post-game press conference, and that about sums it up. Now, the Grizzlies will play a Toronto Raptors team Friday that won its opener tonight against Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and then embark on a five-game road trip. 0-7 isn't hard to visualize.
But first, tonight's game:
1. Backcourt Annihilation: Detroit is a guard-oriented team this season and their deep backcourt rotation completely demolished their Grizzlies counterparts tonight.
Alright. I'm courtside at FedExForum where we're about 25 minutes from the launch of festivities (but hopefully not Festivus).
Allen Iverson is not listed on the active roster tonight but was out shooting a few minutes ago and looked pretty good. GM Chris Wallace suggested earlier today that he would likely debut on the upcoming road trip.
I will be live-blogging tonight's game, so check back here throughout the evening as the Griz try to get off to a good start.
Let's do this.
Looks like Villanueva will start for the Pistons, so we'll get a look at that match-up with Randolph early.
Sam Young is dressed and shooting around, so it looks like he'll play. With Iverson out and Jaric in the wilderness, the Griz need him.
Your officials for tonight: Eddie F. Rush, Bennie Adams, and Joe Forte. I expect much less coaching rage (from both benches) than we saw in the preseason.
Lil Rounds and Three 6 Mafia will be in the house tonight, and so will I. Though it will be the exception, not the norm, this season, I will be live-blogging the opener. So check back here around game time. And local readers be sure to pick up a print edition of the Flyer around town today, which features a preview piece on the team and a few predictions for the coming season.
In the meantime, here are few things to think about relative to tonight's game:
1. No Iverson: It looks like Allen Iverson will miss the team's opener as he still hasn't been able to conduct a full practice with the team. This will somewhat dampen the excitement of opening night and will mean Iverson will miss one of two chances this season to play against the franchise he had such a bad experience with a year ago.
This also would have been a good game to see the Grizzlies work through all their possible backcourt combinations, as the Pistons are likely to play some three-guard sets and probably some minutes with a small backcourt, perhaps with Will Bynum and Ben Gordon on the floor together.
As it is, with Iverson out, Marko Jaric not with the team, and Sam Young perhaps questionable, the Grizzlies will face off against a backcourt-heavy Pistons team with a rather thin group of guards. Look for the team to use a double-point-guard backcourt of Mike Conley and Marcus Williams some in this game, and for Conley's ostensibly improved three-point shooting to get an early test.
This is an important question in that the answer should help determine much of what the Grizzlies do with the rest of their roster, and one of the problems I had with the team's offseason is that the franchise itself didn't seem to be operating with a clear idea of where Mayo was headed and kind of players would help him maximize his skills.
Is Mike Conley a good fit alongside Mayo long term? If not, was there a guard in the draft — Tyreke Evans? James Harden? Stephen Curry? — who made more sense? The answer, pardon the pun, is surely not Allen Iverson.
The way the Grizzlies build their backcourt going forward should be contingent on where and how Mayo needs to play and what teammates can best help him do that. The Grizzlies — with a GM who seems intrigued by the idea of Mayo at point guard and a coach who seems unusually opposed to even testing that notion — don't seem to have a strong handle on the question.
After a stellar rookie season, there's more info to draw from in analyzing Mayo, so let's take another look at which direction Mayo's career could head, breaking down the three general types of player he could become:
The NBA season tips off tonight. My divisional preview series got sidetracked by other work, but I hope to finish those up — in somewhat abbreviated fashion — by the the end of the week. I also have a few other Griz-specific season preview items I hope to post here before the team's opener tomorrow night, one of which — on O.J. Mayo — should be up this afternoon.
In the meantime, let me get on the record here with my predictions for this NBA season:
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Utah Jazz
5. Portland Trailblazers
6. Denver Nuggets
7. Phoenix Suns
8. New Orleans Hornets
9. Houston Rockets
10. Memphis Grizzlies
11. Los Angeles Clippers
12. Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Golden State Warriors
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
15. Sacramento Kings
On the court, Randolph is well known for two primary problems: Listless defense and selfish shot selection.
Based on the preseason games I've seen, the defense has been the same as ever — I can still see Randolph getting burned on consecutive possessions by the Hawks' D-Leaguer Courtney Sims. And I can certainly remember a couple of ill-advised fade-away jumpers against double teams.
But there have been a couple of very encouraging signs with Randolph's game.
One is his three-point shooting, or the lack thereof. Last season, Randolph fell in love with his outside shot, averaging a ridiculous 1.9 three-point attempts per game. His percentage (33%) wasn't deplorable, but it still isn't a shot you want Randolph taking with any regularity. This preseason, he's taken 3 three-pointers in 8 games, or roughly .4 attempts a game. Factor in his reduced preseason minutes, and it's more in line with his career average of .6 attempts per game. This is still too many as far as I'm concerned, but it's a number the team can live with. Hopefully, this is a sign that Randolph has come to his senses regarding three-point shooting or that the coaching staff has reined in this inclination.
Owner Michael Heisley, general manager Chris Wallace, and coach Lionel Hollins have all provided different accounts of their meeting with Iverson this summer, but none of them have said definitively that the team discussed in specific terms what Iverson's role would be. As for Iverson, he's said all the right things except when asked about coming off the bench. In those instances, he's responded with variations on the refrain that no one would even consider such a thing if not for his problems in Detroit last season.
Iverson is an all-time great, no doubt. But in this instance I think he's completely wrong. Iverson is a small guard who is much more of a scorer than a distributor. He's a wobbly outside shooter whose game is dependent on quickness yet he's 34 years old and coming off a hamstring injury. In his prime, his outlandish ability triumphed over the peculiarity of his game. But those days are gone. I would argue that any team that would sign Iverson at this stage of his career would want to use him as an instant-offense sixth man, a la Jason Terry or Nate Robinson. A rich man's Flip Murray. Of course, the Grizzlies were apparently the only team this summer that was serious about signing Iverson, which, itself, tells you plenty.
Darrell Arthur will be out for approximately four months, the Grizzlies announced this afternoon:
DARRELL ARTHUR UNDERGOES SURGERY TO REPAIR
PARTIALLY TORN RIGHT PECTORALIS MUSCLE
Memphis, Tennessee — Memphis Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur underwent surgery Friday afternoon to repair a partially torn right pectoralis muscle and will miss up to four months, the team announced today. The surgery was performed by Grizzlies Team Physician Dr. Fred Azar at the Memphis Campbell Clinic in Germantown
The Grizzlies roster currently stands at 15, but the team still has one or two roster spots to play with (Trey Gilder is non-guaranteed and Marko Jaric is a buyout candidate) and might be wise to look for a cheap free-agent forward as teams continue to make cuts to get down to their final rosters.
October 31st is the deadline for first-round picks from the Class of 2006 to sign contract extensions, with the alternative to play out this season and become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2010.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford reports that the Grizzlies' initial offers to Gay have been "underwhelming." If the Grizzlies don't ink Gay to an extension before the deadline, I'll have mixed feelings about it.
While Gay is a comparable player to Aldridge and Bargnani, I tend to think the Blazers and Raptors overpaid for players still shy of all-star caliber and don't think the Grizzlies would be wise to follow suit. The team will have leverage with Gay next summer as a restricted free agent in a climate where league-wide player salaries are likely to contract. I think there are two reasons to extend a rookie at the first opportunity: If the player is a clear-cut #1 guy (and you can certainly make the case that Roy fits that criteria) or if you can get what you feel is a good deal. Otherwise, wait it out. This is the mistake I thought the Grizzlies made with Pau Gasol, maxing him out at the first opportunity when he wasn’t quite that level of player.
Note: Starting my season-preview stuff with a series of posts on individual players and topics leading up to next week's season-preview piece in the print edition of the Flyer.
Two of the panel (John Hollinger and David Thorpe) referenced the Grizzlies' assist problems in their notes, and the potential of new additions Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson to only exacerbate the problem.
This is also not surprising, as passing and assists have been a constant topic of concern around this team, and for good reason: The Grizzlies were dead last in assist ratio among NBA teams last season, and it wasn't even close.
O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay both spent a lot of time going one-on-one last season, and Randolph and Iverson both have a long track record of being high-volume shooters who create a lot of their own shots. Can you really incorporate four players like this into a functioning offense?
It's an opening-night preview tonight at FedExForum as the Grizzlies host the Detroit Pistons, who will return October 28th for the regular-season opener.
This is the last home preseason game. Since I have post-game plans, I won't be doing a standard "three pointer" but will instead provide occasional commentary in this space throughout tonight's game.
We're about 30 minutes from the tip, so check back then.
Let's do this.
Well, this has been promising. Griz jump out 20-7 with 5 assists on 8 made baskets and 12 fast-break points. Pistons are helping a lot obvious, but the aggression and execution is still a good sign. Balanced scoring among all five starters (2-6 points from each) with Mayo (2) and Conley (3) sharing assists.
DeMarre Carroll hit a Shane Battier Memorial Baseline Jumper but missed an elbow three at the buzzer. If he can extend the range on his jumper a little bit, he could be like Battier with more flair. Carroll is backing up the four tonight with Darrell Arthur out. He can play both forward spots and can potentially defend there as well as the two depending on the match-ups. I'll be surprised is he doesn't log major minutes this season.
Griz close the quarter up 33-14. They've shot 13-23 from the floor with 9 assists. Hard to expect much better. One key to the offense this year, to risk stating the obvious, is for Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph to defer to teammates more and limit forced shots against double teams. Unselfishness doesn't just manifest itself in terms of assists. Much more on that subject to come.