Monday, November 18, 2013

From Kings to Clippers: The Grizzlies at the Midpoint of the West Coast Trip

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Grizzlies 97, Kings 86

Zach Randolph was a major factor in the Grizzlies two road wins this weekend.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph was a major factor in the Grizzlies' two road wins this weekend.

First things first: yesterday afternoon in Sacramento, the Grizzlies got themselves back to .500 with a road win over the Sacramento Kings on the second game of their four-game West Coast swing. Just like their win over the Lakers on Friday night, it wasn't always pretty, but pretty doesn't show up in a box score, and the win itself is certainly more significant than style points.

Just as Zach Randolph led the way against the Lakers, he did so again against the Kings with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but yesterday's game wasn't just about Z-Bo. Marc Gasol, despite still not looking like he knows where he is all the time, had 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists, and Mike Conley also had 19 points and 9 assists. The play of these three guys goes a long way to smooth over any issues the Grizzlies may be having system-wise. The offense in general was much improved against Sacramento, though; the Grizzlies' ball movement was impeccable, and the crisp and smart passing got them some easy baskets that they weren't getting two weeks ago. That was an encouraging development.

The bench didn't really do much. Mike Miller played almost 21 minutes and didn't attempt a shot, according to the box score. I watched the game and I feel like I remember him taking at least one, but... Mike Miller serves almost no purpose if he's not going to attempt a single field goal. Quincy Pondexter's play has improved, but he's still not playing at the level he's capable of. Kosta Koufos was a bright spot, scoring six and grabbing six rebounds in only 13 minutes of play.

Joerger continues to tweak the rotation. The nine-man rotation he played in Los Angeles on Friday expanded to ten on Sunday, but only because Ed Davis played 2 minutes and attempted one shot. The Miller/Pondexter/Bayless/Koufos bench seems to get the job done, but one has to wonder whether it would've been better to play one of the young guys if Mike Miller was going to do nothing but grab 3 rebounds and make an assist.

The defense continues to be pretty awful. Kings players had no trouble getting into the lane—which is unsurprising, because everyone else is doing it—and the Grizzlies let a 20-point lead shrink to just 3 in a massive Kings run across the third and fourth quarters before tightening up and putting the game away. I'm not sure why the defense is so bad—that is, I'm not sure why they're playing as poorly on defense as they are—but they're going to have to get that turned around going forward. As it stands, they've won close games against bad teams by scoring just enough to get over the hump. That's not going to cut it...

The Clippers? Tonight? Seriously?

...tonight, when the Grizzlies take on the Clippers in Los Angeles on the second game of a back-to-back (SEGABABA). The NBA schedule is a curious thing, but I think this Clippers game—yet another matchup in what I think is one of the few genuine rivalries (that is, not completely media-created) in the league—kind of snuck up on everyone because of when it's being played.

This apparently happened zero times against the Kings. Miller was 0-0 from the floor.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This apparently happened zero times against the Kings. Miller was 0-0 from the floor.

The Clippers are sitting at 7-3, with the 2nd highest offensive rating in the league (they're averaging 112.7 points per 100 possessions) and the 27th-ranked defense. What does that mean for tonight's game? It means the Grizzlies had better to figure out how to defend—especially the pick and roll—or they're not going to have a chance tonight. Chris Paul is the Duke Ellington of the pick and roll, and he's going to absolutely shred the Grizzlies' lackluster defense tonight if they come out flat.

Overall, the Clippers improved in the offseason, especially with the addition of J.J. Redick, whom Grizzlies fans coveted. They're not going anywhere this season, that's for sure, and if the Grizzlies want to keep their side of the rivalry intact, they're going to have to dig deep and execute in a way that they haven't yet this season.

This one's going to go one of two ways: (1) the Grizzlies come out and play with heart and intensity and pick up the defense just enough to let Z-Bo beat Blake Griffin into submission while Marc Gasol does mean things to DeAndre Jordan, thus carrying the Grizzlies' offense to a third-straight win. Or (2) the Grizzlies' worse-than-usual defense allows the Clippers to put up 140 points, and we get to see a lot of Calathes, Franklin, and Leuer for a change.

Honestly, if the game starts to get away from them early, don't be surprised if the Grizzlies decide to pull the plug and save their energies for the Golden State game on Wednesday—which isn't a bad strategy at all. Golden State is a team the Grizzlies have proven they can beat, and even with a loss tonight to the Clippers, a win at Golden State means the Grizzlies went 3-1 on this road trip and they'd return home at 6-6, which is far better than some thought they would be at this point, including me in my darker moments of "Why are the Grizzlies bad this year?" angst.

They're a work in progress, and on a SEGABABA I'm not sure they have the defense to clamp down on this Clips team yet. Either way, it'll be interesting to watch.

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