This one will be brief, not least because the Jazz are so bad I got a migraine during the halftime break of the game last night. For those of you who don't know, I get the fun migraines "with auras" that basically render me unable to see for thirty minutes or so, so... I'd say my defective brain did me a favor since I didn't have to watch Richard Jefferson play any more after that point.
The Grizzlies looked like they were pretty locked-in last night. Even though the Jazz are bad, they have some good young players, some of whom posed matchup problems for the Grizzlies. If the Grizzlies want to stay in the hunt for the 7th or 8th playoff spot in the West, the Jazz are one of the teams they can't afford to lose to—one of the teams they do not want to be grouped together with. And so they did come out and take care of business, leading for most of the game. The Jazz were able to make it close a few times, but the Grizzlies always pulled back away.
Home wins of that type have been few and far between this season, so even if it was just against the lowly Utah Jazz, I think Griz fans everywhere can consider last night's game an early Christmas gift. Herewith, some thoughts:
• Mike Conley is still feeling the after-effects of his thigh contusion. Conley was 2-11 from the floor in his 36 minutes, and he was struggling to get his game together, limping a little bit, and just generally not moving with the jerky warp-speed quickness Griz watchers are accustomed to. The two days of rest between last night and the upcoming Thursday night TNT game at Houston are going to be good for Conley. Here's hoping he gets a thigh massage for Christmas from the team.
• James Johnson can block shots. I didn't hear much mention of his shot-blocking abilities in the scouting reports that surfaced when the Grizzlies were talking about signing him, but last night he ended up with 4 blocks (in addition to his 9 points and 5 rebounds). Johnson's athleticism and his flat-out hustle give him an edge at the small forward spot that the Grizzlies haven't had since the Rudy Gay trade, except Johnson didn't take 22 field goal attempts last night. His shooting percentages could be better—especially from three, where he was 1-5 on the night—but with Jerryd Bayless 4-5 from long range and Mike Miller 3-3, it's not as big of an issue as it could have been. My gut tells me Johnson will stick with the Grizzlies past the point in January when his contract becomes guaranteed, and that he may be on his way to earning himself a permanent starting spot for this season.
• Kosta Koufos was back in the starting lineup after coach Dave Joerger started Ed Davis on Saturday against the Knicks. Koufos played well for the most part (especially on a couple of nifty high/lows with Zach Randolph early in the evening) but he struggled when guarding Jeremy Evans. Evans was able to use his quickness to get around Koufos multiple time for backdoors and putbacks and even one alley-oop from Gordon Hayward. Evans is the kind of player that Koufos (and also Marc Gasol, who isn't exactly Carl Lewis on a basketball court) have trouble with, so it was good that the lineup changes were made as necessary to contain the athleticism of the Jazz inside.
• Enes Kanter was supposed to be a good basketball player, and he is not.
• After struggling mightily for a few games, including an outing against the Lakers where he shot 7-22 from the floor, Zach Randolph has been much more efficient in the Grizzlies' last two games, scoring 22 on 14 shots last night, and 25 on 18 shots Saturday in New York. That kind of play is what's going to keep Z-Bo indispensible to the team. More shots than points is never a good place to be, especially on a team like the Grizzlies that has to fight and claw for every point they get. As long as Z-Bo can keep pulling down double-digit rebounds and scoring more points than he takes shots, I think the Grizzlies have no choice but to hold on to him.
• Thursday night's game is in Houston, and it's on TNT in front of a national audience. The Grizzlies have not fared well against the Rockets this season (or preseason) so it'll be interesting to see how they do on the road, which seems to be their home this year. It'll also be interesting to see what Charles Barkley has to say about the Grizzlies, whom he championed as dark horse contenders last year. At least that game won't be blacked out on every possible media outlet.
(Also, as a little end-of-the-year self-spam, if you're not already aware, you can follow the blog on Twitter where I live-tweet from home games and generally prognosticate about basketball the rest of the time. Thanks for making my first season with the Flyer great so far, and happy holidays to all of you.)