Friday night, the Grizzlies headed down to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans (sans Anthony Davis) and Sunday evening they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves at FedExForum. Neither game turned out the way the boys in Beale Street Blue wanted it to.
In New Orleans, the Grizzlies added Tony Allen and Ed Davis back to the rotation for the first time in a week—Allen was injured during the December 3rd game against the Suns, and Davis was injured on December 5th against the Clippers—and it seemed to help them out greatly in the first quarter, as they jumped out to a 34-26 lead after one. That same first quarter lead didn't do much to stop the bleeding when the Grizzlies turned in an 11-point effort in the third quarter, though, allowing a massive run by the Pelicans.
I watched the game on DVR (the Flyer Christmas party was Friday night) and my wife passed through the living room when the Grizzlies were only trailing by one (63-62). A little while later she came back and it was 84-65 shortly after the start of the fourth. I may not be a great purveyor of basketball analytics, but I'm pretty sure scoring three points while one's opponent scores 21 points is an indicator that both the offense and the defense are non-existent.
The Grizzlies made a run to make it a close game on the backs of the "bench" guys (Leuer, Calathes, Davis, and Jerryd Bayless, who had 7) but couldn't ever get closer than 5 or 6, and the Pelicans won.
Sunday night against Minnesota was the same sort of story, only the Grizzlies had their now-customary terrible quarter first. The Grizzlies only scored 17 in the first frame, while Minnesota came out and started hitting everything they took from beyond the arc—by the end of the game, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Robbie Hummel, and Alexey Shved all hit triples for Minnesota—and it never really came back to them from there.
The Grizzlies, in the third and fourth quarter, showed a great deal of heart, fighting to keep the game close, and hanging around threatening to grab a lead, but every time they got close, something would happen (or, as Dave Joerger would say in the postgame, "Something wouldn't happen; we would make a mistake") and the Timberwolves would end up extending the lead. It felt like every Grizzlies missed three led to a Minnesota transition basket. We won't even speak of the Alexey Shved layup that turned into a goaltend on Kosta Koufos and a Flagrant 1 foul on Ed Davis and possession for Minnesota, which turned into another foul on Davis. (I guess I just spoke of it. It was bad.)
Every Griz fan on Earth had a heart-stopping moment near the end of the game, too, when Mike Conley appeared to bang knees with Dante Cunningham and limped straight off the court and into the locker room. The worst fears of Grizz Nation wouldn't be realized, though, as Conley's official prognosis is a "thigh contusion" and day-to-day. A serious injury to Conley along the lines of Marc Gasol's injury would surely torpedo whatever chances the Grizzlies have left of hanging on to this season.
I think—now that Allen and Davis have returned to the rotation, especially—the light of all these defeats is starting to turn toward Dave Joerger, who has certainly not managed lineups as well as he could have in the last two games. My sense is that a more experienced coach maybe would have the team performing better than it is currently, and that what is happening with Joerger are normal "first year NBA coach" teething difficulties. The problem for Joerger is that he's having these difficulties while also missing the best player on his team, so everything is magnified: small mistakes turn in to 5- or 7-point deficits that the team can't dig out of.
It certainly isn't helping Joerger that Tayshaun Prince continues to add nothing on offense (although last night against Minnesota he did an excellent job defending Kevin Love—yes you read that correctly—when Zach Randolph was clearly struggling to guard him) and that Mike Miller has mostly played like a guy who got amnestied even though he just helped the Heat win two championships. The small forward spot—a spot at which Quincy Pondexter was in the conversation to start during the offseason before his dismal start to the season and subsequent injury—has been a trainwreck for the Griz all season. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying: Joerger's lineup difficulties can't be blamed solely on personnel. But only having effective players at four of the five positions on the court certainly exacerbates whatever issues he's having getting groups of guys to play well together.
I'm not sure what the answer is for the Grizzlies from here. The thing that everyone said when Marc Gasol went down was that the Grizzlies needed to hang out around .500 until he gets back and then make a run. Dave Joerger even alluded to that during his postgame press conference last night. But instead, due to injuries and poor play (but more the latter than the former), the Grizzlies are now 3-7 without Marc Gasol and 3-8 if you count the Spurs game in which he got injured. In the closely-packed West of this season, 3-7 over any ten game stretch is trouble. 3-7 over a ten game stretch against a few opponents (New Orleans, Minnesota, possibly Phoenix) who are in the same conversation for the last few playoff spots? Could spell trouble for the postseason hopes of this squad already.
It doesn't help matters that the Zach Randolph trade rumor mill has already started up in earnest. I'm hearing rumblings that the Grizzlies are looking to sign a wing of some sort to bolster the rotation, and it's already been reported that they've worked out free agent guards. Maybe fixing the dumpster fire that is the Grizzlies' wing play will help. Maybe it won't. Whatever the solution is, the Grizzlies need to find it, and find it quickly, or we're all going to be watching basketball from the couch in April this year.