The Lead: If the Grizzlies were doing an experiment in how listlessly they could play and still win, they probably cut it pretty close against an Orlando Magic team reduced — by the trade, injury, and suspension — to a seven-man, near-Summer-League assemblage.
Six of the Magic's seven active players were rookies or sophomores and with a little under five minutes to go in the game two of them — starters Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson — had fouled out, leaving the Magic with every active player on the floor.
Was it hard to tell your team this Magic squad could beat them?, Lionel Hollins was asked to begin his post-game press conference. Hollins took the question literally and delivered a dry response: “It wasn't hard to tell them that,” Hollins said, “But it is hard for them to believe this team has a chance to beat them.”
Hollins credited Orlando with playing hard from beginning to end and judged that his own team “did enough to win, and it wasn't pretty.”
The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter up 14 with a full bench unit in the game, but the reserves couldn't hold it and the Magic had cut the lead to only three points by the 5:20 mark, soon after Gasol and Tayshaun Prince re-entered to complete the return of the full Grizzlies starting five. On the first three halfcourt possessions with this lineup back in, the Grizzlies went to Gasol on the left block. Mike Conley passed it away with a wayward post feed the first time, but Gasol drew fouls on his next two touches. They went to Gasol in the high-post in the fourth possession and he found Prince for an open mid-range jumper. Seconds later, Gasol stole the ball from Magic forward Moe Harkless along the baseline and sent a hockey assist ahead to Conley, who fed Zach Randolph for a lay-up and the Grizzlies were back up seven with 3:38 to play. A minute later, Gasol corralled a defensive rebound and sailed in a 20-footer to extend the lead to nine and essentially put it away. He finished with 19 points (8-11 shooting), 13 boards, and four assists without a turnover, while his defensive assignment for most of the game, Nikola Vucevic, fouled out in 25 minutes and scored only four points on 2-8 shooting.
Nightly Number: On the season, before tonight, the Grizzlies were fifth in the league in free-throw shooting, at 79%. But an usually poor performance from the foul line — 17-29; they at least got there plenty — helped the Magic hang around. It was a group effort, with seven different Grizzlies missing free-throws.
The Match-Up: With Tony Allen on their side, the Grizzlies tend to defend scoring guards very well, but the Magic's Arron Afflalo was effective tonight, with 20 points (8-16 shooting), six rebounds, and seven assists. He did some of this work posting up Jerryd Bayless and, to a lesser degree, Tony Wroten, in those match-ups, but was also effective against Allen. As for Allen, he took seven (!) shots in the first quarter alone, as if the dire Magic lineup signaled GREEN LIGHT, but settled down afterward. Eight boards, two steals, two blocks. He was working.
Elements of Style: Oddest gait I've seen so far this season: Magic rookie Andrew Nicholson, whose awkward, hunched-over trot seems a little disconcerting until you see how polished his footwork and post moves are. Still not sure I see “quality starter” upside there, though. As fundamentally sound as he is, he's not that big, not that athletic, and doesn't seem to have deep shooting range.
Burly, bearded rookie Kyle O'Quinn got 23 minutes for the Magic and after an up-close look, he's now streaking up my personal “NBA players that could have been 1980s' wrestlers” list. Look out, Nikola Pekovic!
Tony Allen has reigned in his classic repertoire of antics a bit this season, but broke out a golden oldie in the first half after he dunked off a Zach Randolph feed and headed back down the floor showing himself appreciation by slapping his own behind.
Arena Action: Local rockers Twin Soul gave an unusually convincing performance as the pre-game “house band.” Alas, I don't smoke, but your rockin' version of “Sweet Child O' Mine” was definitely aloft-lighter worthy, guys.
Afterward, somebody with the title “Miss Tennessee International” sang the anthem. Is that what they're calling it now or is that some kind of bootleg pageant thing? Are there warring factions now? If only I could be bothered to google.
Potential highlight of a fairly blah game: A first-quarter in-game “Harlem Shake” attempt. Most of the fans didn't quite understand that they were supposed to play it cool during the first half, but the shirtless dude in section 118 — maybe a Grizzlies employee — was strong.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies extended their winning streak to six games and moved to 36-18, moving three games ahead of losing Denver for fourth in the Western Conference. And, if you dare, only 1.5 games behind the dread Los Angeles Clippers in the race for third.
Looking Ahead: The schedule starts to get more difficult with a Sunday afternoon roadie against the Brooklyn Nets.
Announced Attendance: 17,669, the lackluster opponent mitigated by “Gospel Night.”
Lionel Hollins said post-game that he feels like he's settling into a rotation. That seems to mean Ed Davis in and Austin Daye in spot-minute territory along with rookie Tony Wroten. After a rough start with the team, Davis is on the upswing, hitting on all four of his attempts tonight and blocking two shots in 14 minutes. “I'd like for him to rebound and block shots and in the pick-and-roll just roll to the basket and make somebody guard you and get an offensive rebound,” Hollins said of his current expectations for Davis.
For Conley Correlation watchers: 14 points, 7 assists, 2 steals.