Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Road Recap: Grizzlies 91, Wolves 84 — Where Gasol Toughs it Out, Randolph Gets Right, and Rudy Takes Over

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 9:21 AM

Rudy Gay continued his strong recent play with a dynamic closing stretch against the Timberwolves.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Rudy Gay continued his strong recent play with a dynamic closing stretch against the Timberwolves.
It wasn't pretty — a nip-and-tuck road win over a Minnesota Timberwolves team that had lost 10 in a row and was playing without its best player — but the Grizzlies got a calming win driven by encouraging contributions from the three frontcourt players that will determine their true contender status.

Marc Gasol: One day after suffering a knee injury that had Griz fans quaking, Marc Gasol was in typical warrior mode, slapping a brace over his bone-bruised left knee and taking to the court in a game most expected him to miss. Whether Gasol should have been out there last night, however, is a matter of debate. Gasol didn't look hobbled, but clearly lacked lift and was not his usual self, finishing with 4 points on 2-8 shooting and only 3 rebounds in 34 minutes. Gasol's injury is one that apparently won't get worse by playing and also won't totally go away by playoff time, so he's going to have to get used to playing with it. But I thought he was wearing down/banged up even before Sunday's knee injury. Gasol may not want to sit — ever — but it seems like he needs some rest. In the likely scenario that the Grizzlies are locked into the fifth seed before the regular season ends, I would hope Gasol would be made to take a breather.

Zach Randolph: With Gasol making an unexpected start, Zach Randolph did not move into the starting lineup as many had anticipated. But he did have a strong game off the bench reversing a troubling downward trend. Randolph played 32 minutes off the bench and was aggressive and effective in his time: Scoring 16 points on 8-15 shooting, with a team-high 11 rebounds and most of his attempts coming in or around the paint. Randolph capped off this bounce-back game with a crucial hustle play, diving on the floor in the final minute to keep a loose ball alive that the Grizzlies were able to secure. As for Randolph's role going forward, I've been a proponent of late of returning him to the starting lineup, but if he can get 30+ minutes, 10+ field-goal attempts, and seemed fully dialed-in coming off the bench, then the current set up would be fine. I remain skeptical, however, that the team can really get the best from Randolph in this current bench role when the playoffs come around.

Rudy Gay: Rudy Gay continued his recent hot streak. Gay scored seven straight points in the final four minutes to bring the Grizzlies from an 80-81deficit to an 87-82 lead and then responded with two free-throws in the final minute to seal the game. Gay broke an 82-82 tie by finishing a give-and-go with Zach Randolph in the post and then scored on the next possession on a spot-up three-pointer set up by going to Randolph in the post. Seeing the team's two best scorers — who many, foolishly, say can't play together — working off each other for winning baskets in the closing minutes was encouraging. For the game, Gay finished with 28 points on 12-25 shooting, with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Over his past five games, Gay is averaging 26 points and 7.5 rebounds on 49% shooting. He's peaking at the right time. Let's hope it carries over into the post-season.

The Grizzlies are back in town tonight for a “revenge game” against the New Orleans Hornets, who the Grizzlies lost to 88-75 in a dreadful road contest Sunday. The Hornets have a terrible record on the season, but have won five of their past six — the only loss 93-91 to the Lakers — and have held opponents to 85 points or less in three straight games.

The Grizzlies' hopes of moving up into the West's top four seeds — and thus having homecourt advantage in the first round — are flickering but not yet extinguished. The Grizzlies are two games back in the loss column against both the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and third-seeded Los Angeles Lakers with four or five games to play for each team. But given that the both Los Angeles teams have a tie-breaker over the Grizzlies, there would have to be a three-game swing for the Grizzlies to pass either of them.

To have any kind of reasonable shot of moving up, the Grizzlies probably need to win out, which is very possible against a schedule in which the Grizzlies will presumably be favored in each game:

Hornets
@Bobcats
Blazers
Cavaliers
Magic

If the Grizzlies can sweep their remaining five games, is there any chance the Lakers or Clippers could still lose three? With the Lakers, who have only four games to go, it seems like a longshot:

@Warriors
@Spurs
Thunder
@Kings

You could definitely see the Lakers losing at San Antonio (they lost at home to the Spurs last night) and to the Thunder, but that scenario would also require them to lose one of their two road games against West bottom-feeders.

The Clippers, despite a current 12-2 run that includes two wins against the Thunder in their past four games, are a somewhat more likely bet given their rough remaining five-game schedule:

@Nuggets
@Suns
Hornets
@Hawks
@Knicks

Those Nuggets and Suns games are a back-to-back that starts tonight, we'll have a much better sense of things by the weekend.

In other news, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reports on a near-deal at the trade deadline involving the league's most almost-traded player, O.J. Mayo. According to Wojnarowski, there was a deal in place that would have involved sending Mayo to Boston for Ray Allen — both dynamic three-point shooters heading into free agency. It's not clear what other pieces were involved or what may have scuttled the trade. Given that Allen's salary this season is more than $4 million more than Mayo's and that the Grizzlies have been very nervous about the luxury tax line, I would suspect that financial issues would play a role in the Grizzlies not doing that kind of deal.

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