The Lead: What we learned tonight: The Grizzlies don't need Zach Randolph … when they play a home game against a bad Sacramento Kings team in a bit of disarray. But coming off a 1-3 start, a terrible loss in Chicago, and a bevy of injury-related issues, the Grizzlies needed a good performance to tamp down the growing anxiety and a win any way they could get it.
So this game, in which Mike Conley returned to action, Rudy Gay got in a groove, Tony Allen made things happen (mostly for good), and the team scored 72 paint points even without Randolph was a huge relief.
After squandering a 17 point lead early in the 2nd quarter to let the Kings tie the game at 50-50, the Grizzlies carried a 52-50 lead into the half on a buzzer-beating tip-in from Gay. But they reasserted their control with a dominant third quarter, outscoring the Kings 35-18 and feeding off a swarming defense reminiscent of last year's Grizzlies at their best, turning Kings turnovers (19 overall) into transition scores (21 on the game).
Man of the Match: So many Grizzlies played well tonight that there are plenty of candidates here. But, though Rudy Gay (23 points and 8 rebounds on 10-16 shooting) had his best game of the season, Marc Gasol (14 points on 7-10 shooting, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) continued his terrific early play, and Sam Young (20 points on 8-13 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) made a strong case for a regular rotation spot, Mike Conley was the most meaningful player on the floor for the Grizzlies tonight.
Tonight the Grizzlies return home from an embarrassing 104-64 loss in Chicago and I make my regular-season debut at FedExForum, having missed the season's first two games due to holiday travels. Given both of those realities, I'm going to treat this one a little different than a typical game preview.
Five notes on the State of the Griz and tonight's game:
Another Bad Beginning: Grizzlies fans are accustomed to bad starts even in good years. Even in the five seasons in which the team hasn't been terrible, the Grizzlies have never been better than .500 a couple of weeks into the season. The Grizzlies starts during the “good” years:
2010-2011: 4-9 start (46 wins)
2009-2010: 1-8 start (40 wins)
2005-2006: 3-3 start (49 wins)
2004-2005: 0-4, then 5-11 start (45 wins)
2003-2004: 2-4 start (50)
A Fragile Place: Ordinarily, this season's 1-3 start wouldn't be that much of a concern. Two of the losses came against the teams with the two best records last season (Spurs and Bulls). Two of them against two of the consensus three best teams this season (Thunder and Bulls). Two of them on the road (Spurs and Bulls). Two with the team's starting point guard sidelined with a minor injury (Thunder and Bulls). So there are a lot of reasons to shrug off that 1-3.
But there are a couple of over-riding reasons not to: For starters, the shorter schedule makes each game more important, allotting the Grizzlies less time to make up for another bad start. But much more troubling are the team's issues related to injuries and depth.