Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Deflections: Game Seven, Griz Cover Story, Z-Bo "Behind the Music," Predix Redux

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2011 at 12:59 PM

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This is the first post here since I previewed Game 7 of the Thunder series Sunday morning. I didn't go into seclusion in the face of that defeat. Instead, I started writing what ended up being a very long cover story on the playoff run. I knew I was going to be doing a long piece for print before hand, but didn't know what it would be — a look back at the surprising playoff run or a look ahead to the Western Conference finals — until late Sunday afternoon. So I've been busy with that.

The paper hit the streets this morning, so if you're an in-town reader you can pick it up all over the place. The story will be online tomorrow morning.

As for Game 7: No real mystery to it. The entire series had been about the Grizzlies trying to overcome the Thunder's shot-making advantage and that element went haywire for the Grizzlies in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Looking back: If you set that Game 1 anomaly aside, the subsequent three games in Oklahoma City were convincing Thunder wins. All three games in Memphis were wars. Amazingly, the Grizzlies were a triple-overtime home loss away from potentially winning that series in six games. But, in the end, it's hard to deny that the best team ended up taking it.

Zach Randolph: "Behind the Music": GQ.com's NBA blog, "Balls Out!" published a "through the years" style piece on Zach Randolph this morning, featuring contributions from multiple writers on different phases of Randolph's career. I weighed in with a few thoughts on Randolph's tenure, so far, in Memphis. Thanks to David Roth and Bethlehem Shoals for inviting me to take part.

Grading Myself on Preseason Predictions:

With the season now over, it's time for that annual ritual wherein I unearth my preseason predictions and see how they panned out. These are all from a sidebar in my season preview piece back in October:

Prediction:

1. Rudy Gay goes where only Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph have gone before among Grizzlies players: to the All-Star Game.

Verdict: Nope. Gay was indeed having his best season. At the All-Star break, Gay was averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.8 "stocks" while shooting 47/40/81. Every category save points-per-game was a career high, and Gay's defense was at a new level as well. Though Gay's pre-break shoulder injury would have kept him out of the game regardless, the combination of a sluggish team start and an outrageously deep bunch of all-star-worthy forwards in the Western Conference restricted Gay to the outskirts of the conversation this season.

Prediction:

2. Mike Conley overcomes the slow starts that have plagued his past two seasons en route to career-highs across the board and a few down-ballot Most Improved Player votes.

Verdict: Bullseye. After getting off the terrible starts the previous two seasons, Conley was consistent all season, setting career highs in points, assists, and steals per game. He finished 10th in the Most Improved race, with three second-place and five third-place votes.

Prediction:

3. O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet show up in trade rumors but are not dealt. The Griz stand pat, aside from adding a minor frontcourt free agent as a 15th player later in the season.

Verdict: Not quite. I was correct in identifying the two players who would factor in trade rumors but mostly wrong about them not ultimately being dealt. Thabeet was shipped to Houston and only some kind of still-mysterious yet serendipitous snafu kept Mayo from going to Indiana. A minor frontcourt free agent signed late in the season to fill out the roster? Leon Powe.

Prediction:

4. New back-up point guards Acie Law and Greivis Vasquez take a back seat to free agent Tony Allen and even Mayo, who eventually soak up the majority of the minutes behind Conley.

Verdict: Not quite. I was right in doubting Acie Law's ability to hold a job he'd been given to start the season, but wrong — maybe hopeful — about the team using Allen or Mayo on the ball in non-traditional lineups. Happily, Vasquez seized more of the job as a rookie than I thought he would, though both Jason Williams and Ish Smith got some late-season run behind Mike Conley at the point.

Prediction:

5. Despite losing more starter games to injury, the Grizzlies' modestly improved bench and defense leads to a small step forward that proves just enough: The team finishes 46-36, secures the final playoff seed, and breaks the franchise's postseason drought by taking one game from the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in a five-game opening-round playoff series.

Verdict: Pretty good. I nailed both the win total and the seeding and correctly forecast that the team would end their 0-12 playoff win drought. But I sure didn't see six more playoff wins coming after that. Back in October, no one did.

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