I wasn't able to do a full post-game report last night, so a few thoughts about the game and other issues here, with more to come:
Last Night's Game: There are many reasons for the Grizzlies' 109-95 home loss to the Suns last night. Marc Gasol having a rare bad game on both ends of the floor was a killer for the Grizzlies. In shooting 4-12 from the floor and 3-11 from the line, Gasol might have single-handedly squandered enough points to make up the 14-point difference. And at the defensive end, he was a non-factor, with Suns starting center Robin Lopez logging an out-of-character 18 and 10 and the Suns as a whole outscoring the Grizzlies in the paint 58-32. The Grizzlies couldn't stop penetration, were late on rotations, and couldn't protect the rim. A total defensive meltdown, but with Gasol as the back line of defense and generally most reliable defensive player among the starters, his lackluster play was perhaps the biggest problem.
Or maybe it was O.J. Mayo, who had one of those games where his lackluster size and athleticism for the two-guard position really hurt him. The bigger, more explosive Jason Richardson had a big game for the Suns, scoring 27 points on 12-17 shooting.
Offensively, beyond Gasol's free-throw shooting, the biggest problem was simply not finishing plays. The Grizzlies missed an unusual number of interior shots last night, and not because the Suns are a particularly daunting defensive team.
Mike Conley played a smart game offensively, passing well (as 11 assists and 0 turnovers indicate), using his speed to penetrate the defense more frequently than usual, and taking good shots. The problem is that he couldn't make any of them, running a personal missed-layup drill all game, going 0-5 on shots at the rim. And he wasn't alone. Darrell Arthur, in his second game back from injury, was 0-4 at the rim.
Of course, after losing 5 in a row and 7 of their past 8 games, the Grizzlies' problems extend beyond last night…
Present General Condition: How have the Grizzlies gone from a team what went on a 15-4 run between December and January to a team that's now on a 1-7 run? We all knew that mental/physical fatigue and a terrible bench were going to be a drag on playoff hopes, but there's more to the current slide than those factors.
My theory is that on-court chemistry is more difficult to build and sustain on teams without a clear style and pecking order. On a team with a clear-cut alpha dog dominating the ball, I would argue it's easier for players to fall in line and master their roles. On a team like the Grizzlies, with four fairly equal players trying to balance their individual skills in a team context, knowing "when to pass and when to shoot," to borrow Hubie Brown's favorite axiom, is a more difficult proposition.
I don't say this to criticize the type of team the Grizzlies have built. The Grizzlies have a balanced approach out of necessity and, as a basketball fan, I've always preferred to watch and root for those types of teams. But I do think the chemistry is more fragile, especially with a young team and with a coach who doesn't seem to have a strong control over the games.
Lionel Hollins has done a great job getting players to buy in and play hard, but you don't get the sense that he controls the games in the way Grizzlies fans saw Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello do so. On a young, balanced team with fragile and still-developing chemistry, it may be that it's more important for the coach to exert control, especially when the team concept is starting to slip.
And that's my best guess at what's happening right now: The Grizzlies are like a car that has slipped out of gear. This team has the talent to compete for the post-season, but given the lack of depth, the youth, and still-evolving chemistry/style, there's little margin for error.
Trade Chatter: Have the Grizzlies waited too long to add bench help? Now four games out of the final playoff seed with 30 games to play, the team finds itself in a precarious position relative to weighing goals for this season against long-term considerations.
My thought is that the Grizzlies should still pursue immediate help this week, but only in the form of players who could have value beyond this season. Some of the names that have been mentioned in conjunction with the Grizzlies — Utah's Ronnie Brewer, who would be a restricted free agent this summer, and New Jersey's Chris Douglas-Roberts, who would be under contract next season — would fit this bill.
The most recent name mentioned as a potential Grizzlies trade target, Sacramento's Sergio Rodriguez, would also fit. Rodriguez will be a restricted free agent this summer, and though he's yet to establish himself as a significant NBA player, I think he's got a chance. A creative, up-tempo point guard, Rodriguez was a poor fit in Portland, where coach Nate McMillan runs one of the league's slowest systems. Rodriguez has been a somewhat better fit in Sacramento and has played very well — offensively, at least — in a bench role for the Kings. But with Tyreke Evans dominating the ball as a lead guard and an effective Beno Udrih on a long-term contract, he hasn't been able to carve out a big role. In Memphis, he would immediately become the team's best back-up point guard and could push Mike Conley for more minutes. He would be an interesting guy to take a flyer on for these last couple of months.