The Grizzlies are in Sacramento to play the Kings this afternoon (the game starts at 5pm Memphis time), hot on the heels of their gutty-but-ugly win over the Lakers in L.A. on Friday night, led by Zach Randolph's commanding 28 point, 11 rebound performance. The Grizzlies need to use that game as a springboard for the rest of this 4-game West Coast swing; 3-1 on the trip means the Grizzlies come back home on Friday to play the Spurs at .500. Standing in their way at the moment is a Sacramento team that, while not very good, poses some interesting challenges.
1. Demarcus Cousins is playing well this year, presumably reinvigorated by the fact that his team now has a real owner and a real commitment from the front office to, you know, actually try to have a good basketball team instead of just try not to lose any money. Normally I wouldn't be worried about Cousins, because although he's an excellent player, Marc Gasol typically plays very good defense against him. This afternoon, the way that Marc Gasol has been playing—against the Lakers, he turned in one of the most listless 18-8-3-3 stat lines I've ever seen, if there can be such a thing—I worry that Cousins is going to be hard to contain. The Grizzlies' interior defense has been pretty terrible thus far, and DMC is not the kind of player against whom you want to have a bad interior defense.
2. Speaking of which, the Grizzlies perimeter defense has to be better, too. Mike Conley and Tony Allen have to do a better job of communicating about which one of them is switching onto which guy, and they both need to do a better job of making sure they're staying home on spot-up shooters as much as they can. The Lakers' shooting guards torched the Grizzlies, both because they were open more than they should have been and because point guards were able to drive into the lane at will and kick it out however they wished. The Grizzlies, let's be honest, barely beat the Lakers. If they're going to build momentum out of this West Coast swing, they need to tighten up and take care of business against the Kings, too.
3. Joerger's rotations still need some time to settle. Against the Lakers, 9 guys played: the starting five, Mike Miller, Jerryd Bayless, Kosta Koufos, and an anonymous masked man (Quincy Pondexter sporting a pretty cool black facemask to go with the broken nose he suffered against Indiana). No Ed Davis, no Nick Calathes, no Jamaal Franklin, and no Jon Leuer. Clearly the Grizzlies' depth is nice, but while he can't play 12 guys major minutes, I do think Joerger is going to have to play Davis (but only with Koufos and Gasol and not with Randolph) and Calathes (as a backup point guard while Bayless plays off the ball) for the Grizzlies to be at their best. Those guys have to develop, and they're not going to do it from the bench. I don't think Bayless is a better point guard than Calathes, even considering turnovers. The rotations are going to have to settle, but something tells me we're going to see another couple of "12 guys playing more than ten minutes" performances this week. I'm not sure that's tenable for the whole year.
Today's game is an important one for the Grizzlies. It's a chance to use the momentum from Friday's win to build more momentum, and a chance to get back to .500 and create a little more of an atmosphere of calmness around this team. With any luck, the defense will tighten up through playing together, and the Grizzlies will deal with the Kings without too much difficulty.