The Grizzlies went into tonight gaining Zach Randolph back from missing two games with an ingrown toenail, but they lost Tony Allen, who missed tonight's game with a contusion to his hip suffered during Tuesday night's rout of the Phoenix Suns. Without Allen and without Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies were already starting at a disadvantage to the Clippers.
The lack of Gasol, in particular, immediately creates a match-up problem for the Grizzlies, because DeAndre Jordan can then be used to guard Zach Randolph full time. Jordan's length and his athleticism make him the basketball equivalent of Kryptonite for Z-Bo, because (especially this year with his improvements on the defensive end of the floor) Jordan is able to put a lid over the top of Z-Bo's already floor-bound game and keep him from doing much other than shooting midrange jumpers all night. When Gasol is in the game, Jordan has to guard Gasol, leaving Blake Griffin as Randolph's primary defender, and we all know how that usually goes.
The antidote to that tonight—in the first half, anyway—was Ed Davis. Davis is the Grizzlies' most purely athletic player, and his speed and his smart play in the pick and roll made him able to counteract the "in the mud" nature of Randolph, who was playing with a little more rust and a little less crispness than normal. In seven minutes spread across the first quarter, Davis played well on both ends of the floor...
...and then he went down with a left ankle sprain and didn't come back, leaving Kosta Koufos, 80% of Zach Randolph, and Jon Leuer as the Grizzlies' only big men for about thirty minutes of basketball. Without the element of athleticism and speed to the rim (especially as a roll man) the Grizzlies settled into isolation, midrange basketball for the rest of the game, and it worked about as well as you would expect it to for a team shooting 35%: about as well as a drunk guy can walk up a down escalator.
In the end it was fatigue and this general In-The-Mud-nosity (I should trademark that) that did the Grizzlies in, in part because of the injuries and in part because they just weren't playing alertly once the Clippers were able to start stringing baskets together. The whole thing just kind of collapsed, and then it was 101-81 and the game was over.
— Ed Davis left the game in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn't come back. He's day-to-day with it, and Griz folks told me he'd be coming in for treatment Friday but that's assuming he knows how to drive on the sheet of ice that's supposedly going to be covering everything today. (Side note: two Grizzlies I talked to who wasn't worried about ice? Jon Leuer, who went to Wisconsin, and Kosta Koufos, who came to Memphis from Denver.) The Grizzlies, who looked like they had a loaded frontcourt at the beginning of the season, are now down to two healthy bigs (Koufos and Leuer) and a Zach Randolph who looked to me like he was still struggling with his toe injury a little. One wonders whether picking up a free agent big for the minimum wouldn't be a bad idea just as insurance.
— Nick Calathes struggled against the Clippers, for what I see as two reasons: First, the Clippers' backup point guard is Darren Collison, who is a fairly good defender, but second, the personnel groups he was on the floor with. Calathes struggles when he's not surrounded by fast-moving roll men and shooters, so when he's on the floor with bigs who are waiting for an entry pass instead of setting a pick, he's not quite sure what to do, and dribbles a lot. It's something I assume he'll get better at with practice; the Grizzlies have been moving away from iso-heavy sets as of late (enabled by Davis, who has excelled in the pick and roll in Marc Gasol's absence) and if Calathes wants to succeed at the NBA level he's going to have to figure out how to play with personnel groups that don't necessarily fit his style.
— In hindsight, the Grizzlies are pretty fortunate to have staved off the injury bug having an effect on how well they perform. In 2011, Rudy Gay went down for the rest of the season, but the team still had Randolph, Gasol, Allen, and Conley to rally around, and turning Hasheem Thabeet into a Shane Battier rental meant the Grizzlies essentially replaced Gay with a 3's-and-D small forward perfect for their style of play. In 2012, Zach Randolph went down, and the Grizzlies were able to insert Marreese Speights into the starting lineup, who played surprisingly well in Randolph's absence. Last year was mostly injury-free (except for Randolph's nagging ankle injury from March onward). This year, this is clearly not the case. Jerryd Bayless, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph have all missed games with injuries, and now Ed Davis is banged up. It feels like half the Grizzlies' team is hurt. And, as discussed in my column earlier this week, that doesn't bode well for the Grizzlies' playoff hopes. We'll see. With any luck, Gasol will return sooner than hoped for, but when has luck been on the Grizzlies' side this year?