Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday 3-Pointer: the Mavericks, the Knicks, and staring into the void

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 8:11 AM

Bayless as scorer? Sure. Bayless as point guard? Not so much..

About That Mavericks Game

I wasn't able to watch the Grizzlies/Mavericks game on Wednesday night as it happened; I had to watch the whole thing on DVR in three sessions yesterday. A big part of the reason it took so long for me to get through my viewing of the game was the depressing nature of what I was watching—especially on the heels of being at the Lakers game on Tuesday night and the Timberwolves game on Sunday.

I think it has to do with my expectations for the season. Before everything got going this year, I wrote that the Grizzlies would face tougher competition this year and that they had to (1) stay healthy and (2) solve some of their issues on the perimeter to contend for a championship this year. I'm not a dummy; I knew last year's Western Conference Finals team had overachieved to an extent and at the same time caught a fortunate break with the injury to Russell Westbrook.

That team was good—very good—but the memories of the deep playoff run seem to have made everyone forget how much of a roller coaster the regular season was: a 12-2 start, and then .500 ball for months while Rudy Gay turned into a taller Nick Young with a lower eFG% and the trade rumors started to swirl. A salary-dump trade that got rid of Speights and Ellington and brought back Leuer, in whose basketball ability nobody believed at the time. Losing three straight games by 20 points. The Rudy Trade, a stretch of magnificent basketball through addition-by-subtraction, the injury to Zach Randolph against the Heat, and then The Playoffs.

All that is to say: last year was rough while it was happening, but it felt nothing like this.

This is brutal. Watching new guys get injured every other game and then watching the guys who are left standing (some of them playing through injuries of their own) get beaten by teams they were supposed to be vastly better than this year is a whole 'nother level rough.

The fact of the matter is that Jerryd Bayless is not a good point guard. When he was signed here, that wasn't what he was supposed to be—at least that's not the impression I got. He was supposed to be an O.J. Mayo replacement: first guy off the bench, scorer, OK defender. Playing as the starting point guard, he just looks mad all the time while keeping the ball from moving freely. And that's what we've seen in the last two games: even less semblance of an offense than normal, because Mike Conley is hurt and Nick Calathes—though he has elevated his play recently—just isn't ready to shoulder that workload yet.

Add the "clogged toilet" approach to offense to the already-prominent struggles of Zach Randolph now that there's no Marc Gasol to spread out interior defenders, to a wing rotation that (before the James Johnson signing) was Tony Allen and guys who are either old, injured, or both (or a rookie with potential and with butterfingers), and to a team that is suddenly terrible at defense, and there's just... no good news. Even Tony Allen's Herculean effort in Dallas, leading the team in scoring and rebounding, didn't help and, in fact, may have contributed to the problem.

There is no good news. The Dallas game was a loss, just like everyone expected it to be before it happened. The Lakers game was a loss, and it may not have been expected but it wasn't particularly surprising. Same for the Timberwolves game. The Grizzlies can't beat anyone right now—I don't expect them to, anyway.

A Lost Season

I tweeted this yesterday during one of my moments of despair, probably after watching Tony Allen get his 8th offensive rebound:


I was hit with the realization while watching Zach Randolph struggle to score, Tony Allen trying to jump every single pass that happened within seven feet of him, and hearing Pete Pranica talking about how the Grizzlies were "gritting and grinding but still not able to close the gap." The realization was this: all of these things—these basketball players, this "Grit and Grind" identity, this set of playoff expectations, this "Whoop That Trick" era of Grizzlies basketball—are important to me because they are familiar, and I don't want them to end because I am scared of the unknown. Scared of what the team will look like without them. Scared the Grizzlies will leave town if they're not good and people stop going to games. Scared that this might be the only group of Grizzlies that ever makes it to the Conference Finals.

Right there with you, coach.

I still don't think it's time to give up on this season. I really don't. The Grizzlies are 10-15, yes, and so they're halfway to what I would call "the tipping point" (ten games below .500) but they're not completely out of contact with the playoff race yet.

But they're awful right now. Is it really more valuable to hang on to all of these signs and signifiers of a team that has meant so much to a city than it is to just... burn the whole thing to the ground and say "that was fun, now let's do something else"? Are the Grizzlies, as an organization, willing to do that no matter what the consequences?

Maybe everything will work out fine. "Fine" in this instance is getting Marc Gasol back, going on a crazy run of wins down the stretch, getting the 8 seed, and then getting clobbered by the Spurs like a train hitting a Pinto. (Seriously, though, even the 4-0 West Coast Trip Grizzlies have/had very little chance of beating the Spurs, especially in the first round.)

Right now, watching this team with these players and trying to recall the glories of 2011 and 2013 is like watching Molly Hatchet or Golden Earring on the state fair tour: going through the motions well past the "sell by" date because they're afraid to do something else. At some point, the Grizzlies will reach a point where the unknown can't be worse than what's happening, and it feels like they're approaching that point much more rapidly than any Grizzlies fan would like to admit.

New York, New York

Tomorrow, at noon Eastern time, which is 11:00AM Memphis time, the Grizzlies take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, this game is at noon immediately following a Friday night in New York City.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, the Knicks are one of the only teams in the league that is worse than they are—and I'm not sure if this is because of the "big market" media bias or because it's genuinely true, but the Knicks seem to be terrible in more frustrating and interesting ways than the Griz.

The Knicks have been just as decimated by injuries—they just got Tyson Chandler back, a loss that gutted what little defense they had (sound familiar?)—and Mike Woodson is either coaching to try to get fired or he's coaching in a fugue state, completely unaware of who he is or what's going on around him, mysteriously obsessed with playing "big" lineups even though his team excels with Carmelo Anthony at the 4 spot and two point guards on the floor (and J.R. Smith sober, which might happen occasionally).

The Knicks are one of the only teams in the whole wide NBA who Grizzlies fans can look at and say "at least we don't pull for that team." But is that who the Grizzlies should be proud of beating this year? And that didn't seem to help them much against the Brooklyn Nets (another home loss, in case you've blocked it from your mind), did it?

At any rate, the Grizzlies should be able to win, because the Knicks are terrible at home and their coach has no idea what to do or when to do it, not through any merit of their own. At this point in this miserable basketball season, I'm sure they'll take whatever they can get.

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