Both of those losses have their mitigating circumstances: Saturday's night's road implosion at Dallas felt like a classic “scheduling loss,” the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, after a draining overtime win the night before. Monday night against the Clippers, the absence of both Rudy Gay and Quincy Pondexter threw the rotation into disarray against the league's deepest team. True, the Clippers were playing without Chris Paul, but they notched a commanding win without Paul again last night in Houston — also on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back.
So, all that makes tonight's game particularly important — not in terms of outcome as much as performances. A good performance, win or lose, and you can call those last two losses a blip or sorts. Another bad performance — with no good excuse to offer this time— and we're looking at a troubling trend.
2. Rudy In, Manu Out: Working in the Grizzlies favor tonight is the return of Rudy Gay, who's averaged 19 and 8 in two games against the Spurs this season, and the absence of Manu Ginobili, who's out with a strained hamstring. Ginobili hasn't been at top level this season and hasn't been at his best against the Grizzlies, particularly, but is still the Spurs' third best player and a deadly perimeter creator.
3. Problems Big and Small: All the trade and coaching conjecture of late has obscured the central, ongoing truth of this Grizzlies season: As Mike Conley goes, so go the Grizzlies. And the correlation between Conley's individual play and team success has grown more stark by the day. In those two losses to the Clippers and Mavs, Conley averaged 6 points on 25% shooting. In the three previous wins, Conley averaged 17 points on 42% shooting. And so it goes. On the season now, 15 points on 45% shooting in wins and 10 points on 33% shooting in losses.
Things aren't going well when Conley out of the game either. Jerryd Bayless — just the latest back-up point guard to struggle with the Grizzlies — has been in a big slump, shooting 28% over his past 5 games. Bayless hasn't scored in double figures since November. And the early insertion of Josh Selby we saw against the Clippers isn't likely to be repeated. As bad as that game was for the Grizzlies, they were only -4 in the 30 minutes in which neither Bayless or Selby were on the floor. The Grizzlies were -22 in the 18 minutes when either Bayless or Selby were in the game.
Could the door have cracked open for Tony Wroten? Wroten was a late recall from the D League Reno Big Horns when Gay wasn't available and ended up getting his longest run of the season at the end of the game. Wroten notched 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and zero turnovers in 14 minutes. In the nine minutes he played without Selby on the floor, the score was even. And Wroten looked even better than his stat line, his 2-7 shooting mitigated by two attempts being missed tip-in attempts off his own shots and by several good passes — fancy and basic — going unconverted.
I would love to see Wroten get a chance outside of garbage time, but I doubt tonight is the night.
For all the problems at point guard, it hasn't been much better lately in the middle, where Marc Gasol has shot a troubling 38% over his past five games and where Marreese Speights seems to be fading, averaging only 4 points in only 9 minutes a game over the past four games. I'm not surprised to see Speights' role diminishing some as Darrell Arthur — the superior all-around player — gets back into full game shape. But the current decline is too severe.