1. A Team Emerging: Don't look now, but the Grizzlies are starting to look like a real basketball team. With a convincing win tonight, the team has won four of its past five and, at 5-9, is only a few tantalizing possessions away from being 7-7. They aren't that far from being a decent team (which makes the boneheaded way they rounded out the roster at the end of the summer even more depressing, but I've bemoaned that too much lately already) and aren't that far from being a fun team to watch, though a 1-8 start and the Iverson debacle have guaranteed that it'll be hard to get people to notice.
Tonight was a quality team win, with all five starters in double figures, good contributions from the bench, and six players with two or more assists. And an identity is emerging: One of the league's most rugged yet skilled post tandems (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) as a focal point, flanked by a couple of dynamic perimeter scorers (Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo), with young, hustling, defensive-oriented role players (Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll, hopefully Darrell Arthur later) off the bench. If the team can straighten out its point guard play (more on this in a bit) and mold top pick Hasheem Thabeet into an every-night contributor — neither an easy task right now — this team will start to make a lot of sense.
I know that teams built around dominant individual stars usually win big, but I have a long personal history of rooting for balanced teams (Bad Boys Pistons, Pippen/Sheed Blazers, Miller/Smits Pacers, Webber/Divac Kings, etc.) against superstars. I can get behind a team that has four players averaging between 15 and 22 points and looks like it's starting to grow some backbone. The question now is whether this progress can survive the five-game West Coast road trip the team embarked after tonight's game.
Alright, I'm courtside at FedExForum hanging out with several hundred other local basketball fans. It's homecoming night with Tyreke Evans making his first Memphis appearance as an NBA player. And it's revenge night as the Griz try to make up for their most bruising loss of the season, memories of Beno Udrih going backdoor ringing in Mike Conley and Zach Randolph's head.
I'll have a post-game report up later.
As for now, let's do this.
This three-pointer is going to be a little different as the time between Saturday night's loss to the Bucks and this afternoon I was too busy with family stuff and Flyer deadlines to do any blogging, so instead I'll look back at the two games from this past weekend and look ahead to the game tonight. Briefly:
1. Grizzlies 102, 76ers 97: This was the best game of the season so far for the Grizzlies and the first road win, but what was most memorable about it is that it may be the best game Rudy Gay's ever played. Gay scored 33 points on 14-22 shooting, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that despite this scoring eruption, Gay's most memorable moments were generally not the points he generated: Aside from his clutch jumper to seal the game late, Gay's highlights were an explosive block at the rim on a Lou Williams drive, tracking down an overthrown outlet and whipping a behind-the-back bounce pass to set up an O.J. Mayo lay-up, and, most impressively, hustling back after a Grizzlies turnover to stop a Sixers' break with a steal. These kinds of plays aren't exactly unprecedented for Gay, but we rarely see him string them together. And while he was lighting up the scoreboard, his man wasn't, as the Sixers wings did little damage.
This game is a standout, but it's more meaningful as part of a recent pattern of better effort, better focus, and more diversity from Gay, who has notched double-digit rebounds in each of his past two games and whose 13 assists over his past four games are one more than he had in the previous nine games. Is he still forcing some tough, mid-range jump shots? Yes. But though Gay's game still needs fewer of those generally low-percentage looks, he's also making quite a few of them. Making tough shots is something elite scorers do, and Gay may well have it in him to earn that designation.
Alright. I'm courtside at FedExForum where the Grizzlies are getting ready to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Really looking forward to this one: The Grizzlies have won three in a row and played really well in Philly last night. Meanwhile, the Bucks show up with Brandon Jennings, the rookie who has become one of the most exciting players in the Association a mere 10 games to career and has been carrying my Grizzlies.com fantasy team.
Tonight's game is not televised locally (except, I guess, on League Pass) so follow my tweets for color commentary and feel free to drop into the comments thread here with any questions, rants, or astute analysis.
I'll have a post-game report sometime: Might be later tonight. Might not be until tomorrow.
Let's do this.
A choice excerpt:
On if he thinks AI’s unwillingness to play a supporting role is hurting his chances of finding a team that will be a good fit for him:
“I think so, but he doesn’t think he needs to. Here’s what happened - when he thought about coming with me he said coach I don’t care if I start, you just give me an opportunity to start. And I said that’s fair. I hope I do that with all my players. But I told him that if he came with me, I have two guards sitting there and they would be unhappy, and I didn’t think that was fair. So when the Memphis situation came up, I looked at their roster. One, he made more money with them which I thought was a factor. And two, they just had Conley and Mayo and he was under the opinion that he would get a chance to start. Well, he missed all of training camp and I think that hurt. And then he was a little impatient. But the real factor was his family wasn’t with him. His family’s in Atlanta and I think they didn’t want to move to Memphis. And I think that was the major reason he wanted to leave.”
The Grizzlies won their second game in a row with a 15-point victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. What I saw at the Forum:
1. Bench Play: I wrote in my pre-game post that I would be interested to see how the team's three rookies faired tonight, and that getting solid contributions from DeMarre Carroll and/or Sam Young would be a key to victory. Well, all three rookies gave the team good minutes tonight.
Carroll had 10 points (4-6 shooting) and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes and made some of the energy plays that are key to his game: Stepping up to take a charge from a rumbling Craig Smith, following his own miss for an offensive rebound, finishing plays around the rim off setups from teammates.
Young played 12 minutes and was an efficient scorer with 6 points on 3-6 shooting. He missed a dunk off a terrific Marc Gasol feed, but made a Tim Duncan-esqe mid-range bank shot that I'm almost certain was intentional. After shooting an abysmal 5-24 over the previous four games, Young has gone 10-17 in this two-game win "streak." And I think that's far from an accidental correlation.
As for Thabeet, he came back from injury to give the team respectable back-up center minutes: 4 points (2-4 shooting) and 4 rebounds in 11 minutes with a nice weakside block on an Al Thornton drive. Thabeet's complete lack of fluidity on the offensive end is discouraging — he scored his first basket on an alleged baseline jump hook that was more like a flukish jump "push" and one offensive rebound that should have been a putback dunk came up dry as he was unable to gather himself to get back off the floor in time. But we all know now that we aren't judging Thabeet by typically #2 pick standards: He needs to become the next Joel Pryzbilla before he can start thinking about being a poor man's Mutombo. Thabeet's rookie season is about baby steps, and he took one tonight.
Overall, the Grizzlies got 31 points from a group of bench players who had averaged a collective 17.2 coming into tonight.
Alright, I'm courtside at FedExForum where the Grizzlies will host the Clippers in an attempt for an elusive two-game win streak. Jamaal Tinsley will likely make his Grizzlies debut, while Hasheem Thabeet will likely return for his first game since fracturing his jaw on Zach Randolph's head. The fun begins in about 20 minutes. As always this season, I'll send out the occasional tweet and will be happy to try to respond to comments here if anyone has any during the game.
Check back later tonight (or in the morning) for a full post-game report.
Let's do this.
The Clippers have lost four of five games since beating the Grizzlies 113-110 in Los Angeles November 7th and are now playing not only without top pick Blake Griffin but second-year emerging star Eric Gordon, who is out with a groin injury. The Clippers come into FedExForum — much like the Wolves did — on the second night of a back-to-back set, having lost 110-102 to the New Orleans Hornets last night. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have had three days rest and have had a chance to start putting the Allen Iverson distraction behind them.
The Grizzlies played the Clippers well in Los Angeles — the team's first game following Iverson's butt-soreness-prompting departure — building a slim lead midway through the fourth quarter but executing poorly down the stretch (a previously hot Rudy Gay forcing too many shots). Gay had a three-point look to tie at the buzzer, but missed (and foot was on the line anyway). Tonight the Grizzlies get to make up for one that got away.
Let's take a look at Tinsley, past, present, and future:
Glory Days: Jamaal Tinsley's been a non-entity for so long that it's easy to forget how good he was not so long ago. Here's an excerpt from John Hollinger's last Pro Basketball Forecast book previewing the 2005-2006 season:
With Indiana's three best scorers suspended, Tinsley shifted his energies from setting up others to scoring himself. He raised his 40-minute scoring average by six points and more than tripled his rate of free-throw attempts… Also, Tinsley has improved as a shooter, making 37 percent on three-pointers for the second straight season after struggling with the jumper early in his career.
Defensively, Tinsley is one of the best guards in basketball. He has good quickness and fast hands that plucked two steals a game. Moreover, he's a good rebounder for a guard and is big enough to defend shooting guards if the situation requires.
Overall, he's on the cusp of becoming an all-star point guard if he can ever stay healthy. Tinsley has played only 92 games the past two seasons and has limped through Indiana's playoff defeats in two straight postseasons. While much of the attention will be on Ron Artest, Tinsley is arguably a bigger key to Indiana's championship hopes. If he's in one piece in June, the Pacers will be tough to beat.
Now that Allen Iverson is no longer under contract with the Grizzlies, more details of his brief, tumultuous tenure with the team are starting to come out, starting (but probably not ending) with a couple or interesting pieces today.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins comes clean — at least from his perspective — with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Phil Jasner:
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, a onetime Sixers guard who won a championship with the Portland Trail Blazers, views the situation as "strange."
"He got hurt in training camp, so I hadn't even had a chance to fit him in," Hollins said. "But I do know that every issue was addressed before we ever started. Our owner told him he was being brought in to mentor the young guards, to come off the bench. He didn't blink.
"I said he could compete [with Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo] for a starting spot, see whether it works. I asked him if he could handle it if it turned out he would be coming off the bench. He didn't blink.
"I told him I wasn't out to prove I was the boss; I wasn't out to break him. I told him, 'You're stubborn, and I'm stubborn, but if we react to each other like that nobody wins.' He laughed."
These comments from Hollins echo some off-the-record info that began to drift around FedExForum in the past week, push back against the idea that the team hadn't fully discussed potential roles — including coming off the bench — with Iverson. But as long as Iverson was under contract, team officials were always vague about their meeting with Iverson. That has clearly changed now.
The Memphis Grizzlies today released the following statement from General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations Chris Wallace.
“The Grizzlies and Allen Iverson have come to a mutual agreement that because of personal matters that forced him to leave the team on November 7, Allen will step away from the game at this time, allowing him to focus on those matters.
“As a result, we will be ending our contractual agreement with Allen, which will allow both parties to move forward. We wish Allen the best.”
The initial read around the country was that no other team would have interest in Iverson, but it looks like there may be one exception: The New York Daily News' Frank Isola is reporting that the New York Knicks management will look to meet with Iverson to explore a potential signing.
The Grizzlies snapped a seven-game losing streak Saturday night with a win over a depleted Minnesota Timberwolves team:
1. Finally, a Win: Okay, so it wasn't an impressive win: The Timberwolves are one of only three teams with a worse record than the Grizzlies (also: Knicks, Nets) and heading into tonight were the only team with a worse point differential. The Wolves, already missing their second best player, Kevin Love, all season, were playing tonight without their best, Al Jefferson. They were also coming into Memphis on the second night of a back-to-back set against a Grizzlies team coming off two days rest. And the Wolves threw out potentially one of the worst starting lineups you will ever see in a regulation NBA game: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Nathan Jawai, and Ryan Hollins.
Despite all this, the Grizzlies had trouble shaking the Wolves, going into halftime with a 45-45 tie before turning up the defensive intensity and pulling away. But, hey, with all the losses and upheaval the Grizzlies have been dealing with lately, they'll take it: "It's a big win for us from that perspective," coach Lionel Hollins said of breaking the seven-game losing streak. "You have to get some wins so [the players] will believe in the system and believe in themselves."
I just arrived at FedExForum where the 1-8 Grizzlies will play what should be the most winnable game of the year against a 1-9 Minnesota Timberwolves team. More on this in a minute.
First, there's a new Griz player in town in the form of former Indiana Pacers point guard Jamal Tinsley, who the team signed today. Tinsley is on the roster but will not be with the team for tonight's game. He's expected to rejoin the team for the next practice and, potentially, make his debut Wednesday against the Clippers.
I've been doing family stuff all day until just now so I haven't had time to talk to many people about the Tinsley signing, but I have been told — for whatever it's worth — that the signing is unrelated to Allen Iverson's status with the team. There's been some scuttle that Iverson could be back with the team before Thanksgiving, but team officials would not put a timetable on his potential return.
I'll have more to say on the Tinsley signing in the post-game report.
As for tonight, the Grizzlies are facing a team that's been even worse (in terms of both record and point differential) and is missing its two best players in post tandem Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. Further, the Wolves come to FedExForum on the second night of a back-to-back with the Grizzlies coming off two das of rest. No excuse not to win this one.
As will be the norm this season, no live-blogging tonight. I will throw out the occasional tweet as seems warranted but will focus on the game and working on my post-game "three-pointer." Look for that later tonight.
Let's do this.
Former NBA star and actually pretty good TV commentator Jalen Rose with a common-sense take on the Iverson situation:
The Grizzlies hung with the methodical Portland Trailblazers for one half tonight only to be picked apart in the second half for a depressing and dull loss that brings the team to 1-7 on the season. Three quick thoughts on the game:
1. No Iverson: This should have been Allen Iverson's home debut for the Grizzlies, but apparently he's only interested in playing basketball if everything is on his own terms. So instead of helping his team, he made a cool $35 grand or so sitting at home stewing. In a game where the team struggled to score and the backcourt rotation outside of O.J. Mayo combined to shoot 6-22 from the floor, even a petulant, freelancing Iverson would have been helpful. Then again, so would Hakim Warrick or any number of less flamboyant free agents the team could have signed instead.