In a day that saw the Grizzlies announcing that Quincy Pondexter is "out indefinitely" with a stress fracture and a game in which Tony Allen and Ed Davis both missed yet another game due to lingering issues, the Grizzlies' bench came up big and powered the team to a win over a (pretty terrible) Magic team that refused to go away.
As has been the story in Griz wins since Marc Gasol went down with an MCL sprain two weeks ago, the Grizzlies' bench bigs (in the form of Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos, who technically isn't a "bench big" anymore since he's starting in place of the injured Gasol) came up big tonight. Leuer played 27 minutes and grabbed another double-double, with 16 and 12. Koufos only shot 3-10 for the game, but ended with 7 points and 11 rebounds—and both of them played great defense on Orlando's Glen "Big Baby" Davis down the stretch.
Zach Randolph got his tonight, too, ending the game with 19 and 12, but early foul trouble meant Randolph was a non-factor for long stretches of the middle of the game.
The other factor tonight for the Grizzlies was three-point shooting. Read that sentence again, because it has rarely been typed in the last three years. The Grizzlies were 10 of 17 from behind the arc, with Jerryd Bayless going 3-5, Mike Conley 2-5, Jon Leuer 1-2, Mike Miller 2-3, and—maybe most surprising and encouraging—rookie Jamaal Franklin went 2-2, one was a catch-and-shoot and one a fallaway that ended with Franklin in the lap of someone on the Magic bench. For Franklin (who played decent defense on Arron Afflalo tonight in stretches) the ability to knock down an outside shot consistently will go a long way towards earning him even more minutes on this wing-starved Grizzlies team, especially if he can continue playing good defense as he did tonight. Franklin scored 8 points tonight, having scored 8 points all year previously.
Of course, the rotation issues continued to show up tonight, as Bayless started in the place of Allen and Koufos started in the place of Gasol. That group (Conley/Bayless/Prince/Randolph/Koufos) just hasn't gelled yet in the minutes they've played together, with an overall net rating (that is, the difference between points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions) of -22.7 this year so far. That means for every 100 possessions that lineup is on the floor together this year, they're getting outscored by 22.7 points. Which isn't good. One hopes that as that lineup has to play together more, and they will if the Grizzlies continue to struggle with injuries, that number will improve. I have my doubts.
The problem is, there just aren't that many other people to play. It's not as if the Grizzlies can afford to sit Bayless, or not play him at the same time as Prince and/or Randolph—there just aren't enough guys able to play right now. Nick Calathes, Jon Leuer, and Jamaal Franklin all had really good nights tonight against a bad team, but that doesn't mean they're ready to take over those "primary bench guy" roles just yet (this is especially true for Franklin, although he's acquitted himself well so far) when the whole team is healthy.
What lineups end up getting the majority of the minutes has everything to do with intentions, though. The real question being asked here, though, is this: are the Grizzlies still carrying themselves like a team that is fighting for playoff positioning, or are they starting to shift into a different mode, a mode of taking stock? Is it still wise to play every game like it's a must-win, or, given the long-term injuries to Gasol and Pondexter and the shorter-term (we hope) injuries to Allen and Davis, is it smarter to start playing a longer game, and thinking about making roster moves aimed at future sustainability and contention?
I'm not suggesting I have an answer for that question, but I have to assume it's being asked in the halls of the Grizzlies front office these days. With the entire Eastern Conference seemingly racing to the bottom of the standings to get a high draft pick this year, and teams that were below the Grizzlies in the standings last year making significant strides towards the top this year, it's not crazy to think that the smart thing to do this year is exactly that: stop caring about this year, make moves that need to be made to rebuild the roster (at the wing positions, especially) and try to get a good enough draft pick this year to justify the trouble. Come back next year the way the Spurs bounced back after picking up Tim Duncan the year David Robinson got hurt, and jump right back up the standings where they left off.
I don't think it's time to make that decision yet. I think the Grizzlies are still in the mindset of hanging tough until Gasol gets back and then they'll take stock of the situation. But... with every injury report, every home game slipping away by double digits against the Spurs or the Warriors... it gets closer to time to make that call.
And that's still what I took away from tonight's game: the Grizzlies legitimately needed to play hard down the stretch to beat an abysmal Magic team because they only had nine guys able to play. And that's nowhere near where anyone expected this team to be back in September or October. Things ain't like they used to be.