We're giving away two lower-bowl tickets to tonight's game between the Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at FedExForum.
You can enter to win here. The drawing will be at 3 p.m.
Last night Marc Gasol became the third Grizzlies player — following his brother, Pau, and current(ly injured) teammate Zach Randolph — to be selected for the NBA All-Star game.
Gasol made the team despite having the lowest scoring average among Western Conference selections. (At 15 points per game, Gasol is 57th overall; there are two players on the Eastern squad — Roy Hibbert and Iguodala — with lower scoring averages.) And this makes his selection a recognition of the total impact he has on a game — anchoring a Top 10 defense, facilitating team offense beyond his own scoring, one of only three players (along with fellow All-Star centers Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum) to average more than 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Good job, Western Conference coaches.
The Lead: The Grizzlies ended a three-game losing streak and controlled the game from buzzer to buzzer against a Minnesota Timberwolves team on the second night of a back-to-back and without its best player in suspended forward Kevin Love. Better yet, they did so while using early and more frequent substitutions to get key players needed rest.
After playing the entire first half Monday night against the Spurs, Rudy Gay subbed out at the 4:30 mark of the first quarter tonight, while Hamed Haddadi was set to check in for Marc Gasol even before Gasol picked up a third foul at the 3:20 mark of the quarter. Even point guard Mike Conley got subbed for before the first quarter expired, with on-again, off-again reserve Jeremy Pargo getting an early shot.
“My thought process was not to play them in as extended stretches,” Lionel Hollins said after the game. “It worked pretty well because the guys who came in played well. It's not about the minutes. It's about the long stretches without rest. If you play 15 minutes without a rest, you'll get tired.”
As a result, Gay (38 minutes), Conley (34), and Gasol (his season-low 29 minutes abetted by the foul trouble) played far fewer minutes than has been their recent norm. Perhaps the Grizzlies could have won more commandingly if they'd all played their more usual 40-plus, but the outcome of the game never felt in doubt despite the Wolves whittling a 17-point second-half Grizzlies lead down to 5 with a meaningless final shot from Michael Beasley.
But, as Hollins said, secondary players — particularly Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights (on the boards at least), and Pargo (in spots) — played well enough to allow the Grizzlies to control the game without relying too heavily on their core guys.
Man of the Match: Dante Cunningham has really emerged over the past couple of weeks, giving the team roughly 25 efficient, energetic minutes most nights. And tonight might have been his best performance yet. It started defensively. Marreese Speights was having a terrible time keeping up with the quicker Derrick Williams in the first quarter, with Williams registering 7 points on 3-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, and a steal in the first seven-and-a-half minutes before the quicker, more alert Cunningham came in for Speights. In the 12 minutes that Williams was matched with Cunningham, he scored only 2 points on 1-4 shooting, with 4 rebounds.
With my typical Tuesday morning print deadlines, I wasn't able to do a postgame notebook for Monday night's 89-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. So I'm pulling together a gaggle of quickish thoughts today looking back at that game, ahead to tonight's game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, at some more general issues with the team.
Fatigue and Bench Exposure: The loss to San Antonio underscored problems the Grizzlies have with their rotation in terms of starter workload and a lack of reliable bench production. Spurs stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker played 32 and 37 minutes, respectively. By contrast, the Grizzlies' primary starters — Gay (45), Marc Gasol (42), and Mike Conley (41) — were all over 40 minutes. Was fatigue a factor in a fourth quarter in which the Spurs outscored the 22-11, erasing a lead the Grizzlies had built with a spirited third quarter? Impossible to say for sure, but the Parker and Duncan sure looked fresher than Gasol and Gay in particular at the end of the game. And, for the first time, Lionel Hollins acknowledged that he needs to put more emphasis on managing minutes.
The reason Gasol, Gay, and Conley play such heavy minutes, of course, is that injuries have sapped this team's depth and Hollins hasn't trusted his bench with significant playing time. The causal question: Does Hollins not trust the bench because they haven't played well or have they not played well because of too short a leash? My instinct is that it's a big of both. Look at the Spurs, getting big contributions from such obscure-to-most role players as Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, and Gary Neal. The Spurs not only find players at the team-building margins. They clearly do a great job of developing those players and finding roles for them.
Just Tuesday morning the Grizzlies were at their lowest point since Zach Randolph's knee injury in a 40-point blowout loss at Chicago. They had lost a season-high four games in a row with the most recent being a deplorably listless home loss to the San Antonio Spurs the night before.
As a testament to how this compressed, lockout-shortened season is even more volatile than most, just 72 hours later the Grizzlies find themselves back at the top of the Ferris wheel, coming off their two best wins of the season — a rousing home comeback against the West's current second-place team, the Denver Nuggets, on Tuesday night. And then a blowout road win last night over an Atlanta Hawks team that was 16-6 overall and 8-1 on the road. It was the Grizzlies' first road win this season against a team with a winning record. (And those two wins are bundled with promising news Tuesday that Zach Randolph is still on track for a return to the court this season.)
Tony Allen demonstrates the best way to not miss a lay-up:
The common denominator of both wins is the thing that provides the Grizzlies their identity even in the absence of Randolph: At their best, they will get into you defensively and convert turnovers into points.
The Lead: The Grizzlies fought back from a double-digit deficit midway through the fourth quarter for a rousing, badly needed overtime win over one of the league's best and deepest teams, ending a four-game losing streak and easing the memory of the previous night's debacle against San Antonio.
On paper, the first half of this game probably resembled the first half against the Spurs: The Grizzlies struggled to score (37 points on 28% shooting) and went into the half down double digits. But down on the floor it felt very different. Unlike in the Spurs game, the effort never wavered. The Grizzlies fought hard throughout the first half but the execution wasn't there — missed shots, bad turnovers, stuttering offensive sets.
The big question heading into the second half was how this energy/execution divide would resolve itself. Would the team be able to maintain their energy long enough to find better execution. Or would the poor execution eventually sap their energy.
Thankfully, for a team desperate for a win, it was the former, with the Grizzlies finally finding their groove in a 31-point fourth quarter in which they shot 69% with twice as many assists as turnovers.
This was a huge win for a team that was reeling and looking ahead to a tough three-game road trip in which all games are against probable playoff teams.