Sorry for the post delay. I intended to finish this post from home last night only to find my internet down when I got back.
The Lead: This was somewhat similar to last week's home game against the Knicks, with the Grizzlies building a big lead in the middle of the game against a generally overmatched opponent only to get complacent — and then tight — as the lead evaporated in the fourth quarter. With the Bulls missing four key players — Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng — the Grizzlies led by as many as 25 and took an 18-point lead into the 4th quarter. But the team started that final quarter with an all-bench lineup of Marcus Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, and Hamed Haddadi, allowing the Bulls to slice into the lead and build momentum that continued for a while even after the Grizzlies began to get their starters back into the game, eventually holding on for the 104-97 win.
Beyond the outcome, the story of the night for the Grizzlies were a series of lineup and rotation changes: With Marc Gasol out with a strained neck (Gasol is listed as day-to-day), Hasheem Thabeet got his first NBA start and gave a decent performance. Thabeet played 28 minutes and matched career highs with 10 points (4-6 shooting) and 9 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks. He did a pretty good job contesting shots without getting into foul trouble and demonstrated that he can be a scoring threat even without a post game or a jumper provided he can — one, get better at catching the ball around the rim (he flubbed several passes, including a couple of alley-oops) and, two, become proficient at the line (2-5 last night).
The other change for the Grizzlies was the return of Ronnie Brewer, who had missed three weeks with a torn hamstring suffered in his Grizzlies debut. Brewer clearly didn't have his legs fully under him and had bad moments (including a badly missed jumper when the Bulls were making their fourth-quarter run), but generally demonstrated the kind of player he can be for the Grizzlies: Not much of a scorer, but a nice all-around player. He defended and passed the ball well. He broke up a 2-on-1 Bulls break. He had a steal. Only 15 minutes, but a decent start on the road back.
The Lead: The Grizzlies won this one 119-112, but that final score is a little misleading. This was not generally a close game. Through three quarters, the Knicks were simply outclassed both in terms of talent and effort, and were down 94-73. Then the Grizzlies got too comfortable with the lead and stopped playing defense, allowing 39 fourth-quarter points. The game never really felt in doubt, but the Knicks did get it down to 5 points in the final minute.
That lackadaisical fourth-quarter defense kept this one from being the blowout it should have been and prevented coach Lionel Hollins from being able to empty his bench down the stretch and get his starters more rest, which would have been useful with a much more talented Denver Nuggets team coming in tomorrow night.
Despite the disappointing finish, the Grizzlies got efficient performances from four of five starters (lone exception: Zach Randolph, who got a typical 24-11, but on 7-20 shooting) and useful production off the bench. The Grizzlies have now won two in a row at home and five of their past six games to move to 35-31 on the season.
With last night's 111-91 win at Boston, the Grizzlies have extended their current road winning streak to 7 games and have won 4 of their past 5. As of today, the Grizzlies are 3.5 games behind the Portland Trailblazers for the 8th seed and 4.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the 7th seed. With 17 games to go for the Grizzlies, the odds of making the post-season are slim, but there is still a legitimate chance, and I suspect the race will tighten in the coming weeks. Let's look at the schedules for these three teams the rest of the way:
Memphis: 17 games, 8/9 home/road split. 10 against teams with winning records, 6 against teams with > .600 winning %, 5 against teams with > .650 winning %.
Portland: 16 games, 7/9 home/road split. 8 against teams with winning records, 7 against teams with > .600 winning %, 4 against teams with > .650 winning %.
San Antonio: 20 games, 8/12 home/road split. 14 against teams with winning records, 11 against teams with > .600 winning %, 7 against teams with > .650 winning %.
Experimenting with a new game-blog style though, like Hasheem Thabeet, it's still developing:
The Lead: Despite a big assist from Tony Parker's Fourth Right Metacarpal, Bizarro World continued for the Grizzlies Saturday night at FedExForum, where a 102-92 loss to the Spurs was the team's eighth straight home loss, the longest home losing streak since the team moved to Memphis in 2001. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have won six straight on the road, making the Grizzlies the only team in NBA history to simultaneously have six-plus home losses and six-plus road wins. Has a team ever set a franchise record for consecutive road wins while falling out of a playoff race? And the loss tonight was despite the Spurs playing without starting point guard Tony Parker in the second half, who was diagnosed with a fractured ring finger at halftime and did not return. In the first half, in which the Spurs built a 58-48 lead, Parker's penetration was the engine for the Spurs offense, scoring 8 points on 4-7 shooting and collapsing the defense to set up Spurs shooters, registering four assists.
I don't have much of an explanation for this strange home loss/road win streak, especially with the Grizzlies suddenly winning the second night of back-to-backs regularly. But the quality of opposition certainly has something to do with it. All of the teams the Grizzlies have lost to in this home streak are either playoff locks or contenders. The teams the Grizzlies have beat in the road streak have been half lottery teams and half team around .500.
Game Ball: I'll give Marc Gasol the edge over O.J. Mayo (a game-high 23 points) here. Gasol, with 17 points (7-10 shooting), 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals had a more well-rounded game while dealing with tougher match-ups at both ends of the floor. Gasol generally defended Tim Duncan (17 points on 6-14 shooting) well. In the third quarter, when the Grizzlies were making a run, Gasol forced Duncan into consecutive turnovers, one a lost ball, the other a bad pass. Down the stretch, in what turned out to be a back-breaking possession for the Grizzlies, Gasol defended Duncan well for a full 24 seconds, forcing Duncan into a miss at the buzzer, only to have Duncan get an offensive rebound, putback, and foul. And in a disappointing loss, Gasol gets bonus points for the most entertaining Grizzlies play of the night, a first-quarter steal that lead to an unlikely, rumbling coast-to-coast (not-so-) fastbreak dunk.