Well, the Grizzlies won.
At times, it may have looked like they were trying not to, but they won.
And it's not just that: the Grizzlies won, and the Suns lost, and the Warriors got drilled. The Mavericks won, but that's just going to have to be okay for now. Last night was a very good night for the Grizzlies as they continue their pursuit of the 8th spot and a playoff berth.
All those things happened, leaving the Grizzlies just half a game back of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, moving Dallas up to 6th. With 26 games left to play, the Griz are in perfect position to make a run at the postseason.
The problem with that? They'll never make it if they play the way they did in the second half of last night. Sure, it was related to effort—the Lakers are a bad team, and everyone (including the Lakers) knows this—and on other nights the starters will try harder. But everyone involved from the coach down can't afford to make many more performances like the one last night if this team is serious about making it into the playoffs.
Herewith, some scattered thoughts:
The James Johnson/Tony Allen combo needs a nickname, and they need one fast. I've been calling Tony Allen the Lord of Basketball Chaos for years, so I just made it plural. I soon realized that the L.O.B.C. sounds like a great name for some sort of outlaw motorcycle gang, and Twitter took it from there:
.@FlyerGrizBlog "Somebody on Twitter needs to make a "Lords of Basketball Chaos" motorcycle club logo."/As requested. pic.twitter.com/eUhY1DhMqS
— John Lambert (@jl2117) February 27, 2014
In a move that I speculated about in yesterday's Tuesday 3-Pointer, the Grizzlies have claimed point guard Beno Udrih off waivers after he was bought out by the New York Knicks.
Udrih brings playoff experience (he's played in 36 playoff games, all for the Spurs at the beginning of his career) to the mix, and in all honesty, I'm not sure who else they would've gotten as a 3rd point guard who would've been better. Udrih has been in the league since the 04-05 season, and he's bounced around a fair bit in that time, but he can't be any worse than Gilbert Arenas or Keyon Dooling, right?
• Memphis Grizzlies claim Beno Udrih off waivers - ESPN, Marc Stein, ESPN.com
A look at the playoff race
Well, Saturday night's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats wasn't the most positive outcome of the weekend, but given some of the games we've seen this season out of the Grizzlies, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. What it didn't do, however, was move the Grizzlies any closer to making the playoffs.
As of this morning, here's what those standings look like:
The Grizzlies are still in 9th place, two games back of the Phoenix Suns. Dallas is back in 7th and Golden State, who were down to 8th last week, have moved back up to the 6th seed (even though there are those who, as recently as last week, said they think Golden State is likely to be the team that drops out of the playoffs altogether).
Things are still tight, in other words.
At this point—given the way that the Grizzlies are playing, and the huge pile of mishaps and brainfarts that have led us all to this point as watchers of this team—I wouldn't be shocked if they end up as the six seed, and I wouldn't be shocked if they end up missing the playoffs entirely by half a game. Things are so close in the West this year that the 20-point loss to the Raptors at home in November could be enough to keep the Griz out of the postseason. Or any one of the losses to the Pelicans. Or... the list goes on.
The Grizzlies have had such an up and down season so far that you'd hate to see them miss out on the playoffs because even though they played well, none of the teams ahead of them in the standings fell off enough for the Griz to catch them. But that might be exactly what happens.
...or they might end up being the sixth seed. We'll see.
Zach Randolph Community Assistance Fund
The Zach Randolph Community Assistance Fund donated $20,000 to MLGW's Plus-1 program, which in turn will pay for the utility bills of 100 families in need.
Randolph set up the fund with MIFA. The Griz press release about yesterday's donation explains what the Z.R.C.A.F. (I love a good acronym) is all about:
The partnership between Randolph and MIFA is founded in shared goals: Randolph is committed to making a deep and meaningful impact in the lives of families in need, and MIFA has the infrastructure, the reach and the reputation to help Randolph maximize his community contributions. Amounts distributed out of the Zach Randolph Fund will go to non-profits, schools and community centers chosen by Randolph himself.
To me, this is great—not only is it a good way for Randolph to continue to do really good things for the community, but it's also a great way for him to utilize infrastructure that's already in place to make sure what he's doing is helping as many people as it possibly can.
The "turnaround" of Zach Randolph has been such a huge narrative since he got here and started playing well and, for the most part, staying out of trouble. I'm not going to rhapsodize about the guy, because I think every person has facets, some of which can be blocked from view by others. But it's undeniable that Randolph has used his money and his name to do good things for the city of Memphis, and that he has now set up the Z.R.C.A.F. (which sounds like it should be some sort of rebel army or Zimbabwean professional sports league) in order to be able to give back to the community in the most efficient manner possible—which can only be a good thing.
Free agents on the market: Grainger, Udrih
Now that the trade deadline has passed and teams have started to buy out and/or waive the players they couldn't
unload on some idiot GM trade away on deadline day, some interesting names have come up on the market with possible Griz implications:
• Danny Granger — potentially an immediate wing piece to throw into the rotation, presumably in the place of Tayshaun Prince or maybe to soak up some of Mike Miller's minutes. Granger is a shell of his former self this season, but he's still good enough to be a contributor on a contender. That said, I don't think the Grizzlies will sign him. I think they're too worried about settling into a rotation with the players they've got to be adding any more pieces to the mix. As much as I think Granger could contribute, I don't think acquiring him is worth turning the wing rotation into even more of a logjam than it already is.
• Beno Udrih — Much more interesting from a Griz perspective is Beno Udrih, waived by the Knicks (who immediately then saw Raymond Felton arrested on felony gun charges, so... maybe they want him back). Udrih, for the right price, becomes a great acquisition to be the third point guard on this team. Pressure on Calathes to keep playing well, and also solid insurance in case Conley or Calathes has to miss a game or two down the stretch. Assuming he's available for the vet minumum, I think picking up Udrih off the scrap heap would be a wise move for the Griz that wouldn't cost them much. The counter argument is that they've done pretty well bringing in D-League players and other younger prospects, so maybe Udrih would be taking up a roster spot that could go to a Darius Morris type. I understand that line of reasoning, but still think Udrih would be a good pick up given the circumstances.
• Gilbert Arenas — Is probably on a couch somewhere. And that's okay.
It's been a while since we could refer to FedExForum as "The Grindhouse" and mean it. The Grizzlies have struggled at home this year—especially early in the season when things were falling apart.
Last night, though... last night was a return to form. Last night was church, with Tony Allen and James Johnson giving the sermon.
First things first: it was James Johnson neck tattoo giveaway night at the Forum last night, and don't think for a second that James Johnson didn't know it. In 17 minutes, Johnson had 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and one of the most vicious blocks I've seen in a while—spiking a Willie Green layup straight into the foul line—but the stat line, while impressive, isn't what mattered.
What mattered was this:
In one of the craziest things I've ever seen in person—and the type of play that happens in All Star games but almost never in real NBA competition, that Johnson dunk off the backboard almost brought the roof down around us all. I was sitting next to Chris Herrington at the table last night, and we just looked at each other and laughed. There was no other appropriate reaction. James Johnson, in one move, made himself even more of a Grizzly legend than he already was.
It didn't hurt that Johnson augmented his black-belt level game (including pointing to his neck tattoo as he ran back down the court after one score) by playing some of the best defense on Blake Griffin (yes, JJ was a power forward for a while last night) that any Grizzly has played in recent memory. A lineup of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, James Johnson, and Zach Randolph took the swarming defense and bullying interior offense and cranked it up to Spinal Tap levels, and it was joyous. The Forum was rocking. The crowd was getting into it. The Clippers were clearly getting frustrated by their inability to stem the Grizzly tide.
Meanwhile, the other crucial question was answered: would Tony Allen be worth anything when he finally returned from injury?
The answer, of course, was yes. After coming in with 2.1 seconds left in the first quarter to the loudest ovation I've heard in the building since Zach Randolph skipped into the tunnel after he got tossed in Game 6 last year. He proceeded to destroy everything in his path, terrorizing the Clippers' guards, stealing the ball every opportunity he got (and blocking a last-second three into oblivion), sinking a three-pointer as the shot clock expired...
...in short, Tony Allen came out onto the court for the first time in weeks and immediately started doing Tony Allen things. He did them coming off the bench, but he still played almost 20 minutes—and sometimes, it's not about who starts the game, but who finishes it.
Last night was the kind of night the Grizzlies haven't had in a while, not like that. The Clippers rivalry is a real thing, no doubt. These two teams don't like each other. The Clippers seem to bring out a darkness in the Griz home crowd—a level of vitriol that sometimes feels like it isn't commensurate to what's happening on the court. The Grindhouse only feels like that—like a giant riot about to break out, a brooding, threatening energy rippling through 18,000 people, like everyone's just waiting for the cue to start throwing chairs and lighting things on fire like Berliners at a Bill Haley and the Comets show—when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and The Whole Sick Crew are out there. It's a glorious thing, and it's that edge, that heart of darkness, that sets Memphis apart as an NBA city to me. The crowd only taps into it when they have to, but when it's more like Wrestlemania than a Tigers game, that's when the FedExForum really becomes the Grindhouse.
Last night, James Johnson Neck Tattoo Night was the clearest display of that in a while. It had to be the Clippers. It had to be the neck tattoos. It had to be the return of Tony Allen. The elements were there, and the alchemy was flawless.
At yesterday's trade deadline, the Grizzlies did what most people who watch the team closely thought they might do: nothing at all. Everyone who was on the roster on Thursday is on the roster today as the Griz prepare for tonight's rivalry grudge match against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Going into the deadline—really over the last week or so—it seemed like the Grizzlies were looking for two things: to upgrade at the small forward spot, and/or to move out from under Tayshaun Prince's contract ($7.2 million this year and $7.7 million next year). The fact that the Grizzlies had moves they could make but not moves that they had to make was nice for a change. It was strange to sit back and watch the (mostly pretty inconsequential) trades start flying around noon yesterday knowing that if the Grizzlies did nothing at all, they'd still be fine.
The biggest thing Grizzlies fans were worried about going into the deadline was whether Tony Allen would still be in Beale Street Blue come tonight's game. The answer (despite Minnesota's attempts to pry him away in a deal involving Chase Budinger and JJ Barea) is yes—yes, and he's going to be playing tonight, for what feels like the first time all season. It seems the Griz weren't able to conjure up a deal that made it worth parting with their Lord of Basketball Chaos just yet, no matter how much the chaos generated this season has been of an unwanted kind.
Realistically, that's probably for the best. There were teams interested in Allen—Minnesota, of course, looking to shore up their defense—but none had the right return package to entice the Griz into dealing the Grindfather/spirit animal/head cheerleader. On the court, Courtney Lee's two-way abilities may make him a better fit at the shooting guard spot, but one wonders now whether Allen may work his way back into the starting lineup as a 3. (Which would sound crazy if you did watch him frustrate Kevin Durant for five games in the playoffs last year.)
Speaking of playoffs: the Grizzlies and Clippers have played 13 playoff games against each other in the last two years. The Grizzlies hold a 7-6 edge in playoff wins, but as every one of you already knows, these two teams don't like each other all that much. Which makes it interesting that the first team in town after the trade deadline—the first game after the Grizzlies decided that who they've got is who they've got—are the Clippers.
DeAndre Jordan has said in interviews that last year's Grizzlies series is what inspired him to work on his rebounding this year. Blake Griffin is having a pretty great season, continuing to expand his game and hone his skills. Chris Paul is back from injury and doing his usual Chris Paul thing.
They (the Clippers) still need a backup big man, and they didn't trade for one yesterday. Instead, they traded Byron Mullens to the Sixers for nothing, and Antawn Jamison to the Hawks for nothing, both in an effort to reduce whatever luxury tax bill they were facing. Reports this morning is that the Clips are frontrunners to sign Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who was bought out by the Magic yesterday after they couldn't trade him, and rumors were going around last night that they've also worked out former Hawk Ivan Johnson, who is currently playing in China.
I still feel like the Clippers are a good matchup for the Grizzlies—even with Jordan and Griffin playing the way they are, with Gasol back from injury, they can't spend as much time guarding him with Jordan, meaning it's back to the old Griffin-versus-Randolph WWF (or, I guess, WWE) match under the rim on both ends of the floor, a style of play that Randolph will almost always win.
One question is how well will Tony Allen be able to play in his first game action in a long time. Undoubtedly he'll have quite a bit of rust to shake off. The other question is who's going to guard Chris Paul? The last time the Clippers were in Memphis, I seem to remember Jerryd Bayless did it some, and somehow (miraculously?) wasn't terrible. Coach Dave Joerger's newfound trust in Nick Calathes' defense—he subbed Calathes in for defense at the end of the Knicks game on Tuesday—means we may see Calathes get matched up on Paul some, but I'm not sure I like the sound of that. I'll have to see it to believe it.
Whether or not the Grizzlies get the win over the Clippers tonight, I think the message the front office sent to the locker room yesterday is pretty clear: you're our guys, and (maybe more importantly) we value this group enough that we didn't feel like we had to break up what we've got to save money.
It's going to be an interesting summer—Tayshaun Prince will become an expiring contract, Zach Randolph will either opt in to his $16 million player option or he'll opt out and sign to a longer deal with the team (which, for the record, is the outcome I'm expecting at this point), Ed Davis becomes a restricted free agent, James Johnson will be a free agent, and all kinds of other things, and the Grizzlies will have every opportunity to overhaul the roster in whatever way they see fit.
For now, though, the Grizzlies are going to battle with the guys that they have. After the year they've had, it's probably the right decision.
A stellar first half,
A second half of ugly:
Mike Miller still lives.
Mike Conley's ankle
An All Star break of healing
Tayshaun guards Melo:
Johnson could not stop fouling
Five in twelve minutes.
Five dimes in nineteen minutes
Such a great passer.
Too close for comfort
"A win is a win" is true
On to the Clippers.
In Other News...
• The next game the Grizzlies play—Friday night's home game against the Clippers—will take place after the trade deadline. We've really only seen one rumor pop up so far, but over the next day and a half you can rest assured that lots of phone calls are being made to and from the Grizzlies to kick the tires. More rumors will probably come. Don't panic.
• Supposedly—this is according to reports that circulated before Tuesday night's game—Tony Allen will be back in action on Friday night against the Clippers. While I'm not sure Chris Paul is a great opponent against whom to shake off the rust of not playing for so long, I hope Allen is back in action. Like it or not, he's still very much these Grizzlies' spirit animal.
• Phoenix beat Denver last night, but Dallas lost to Miami. Golden State plays the Kings tonight and the Rockets tomorrow. Plenty of opportunities for the Grizzlies to gain a little bit of ground on some playoff rivals if they can beat the Clippers Friday and the Bobcats in Charlotte on Saturday. As it stands, Golden State is 7th at 31-22 (11 games back of OKC), Dallas is 8th at 32-24 (also 11 games back) and Memphis is 9th at 30-23 (which puts them at 12 games back of OKC). Once you add Phoenix into the mix, the 6-9 seeds are separated by a game and a half. Things are tightening up.
Author's Note: This started as a Tuesday 3-Pointer and got away from me.
When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong Again
Just when you think we (meaning all of us in the Grizzlies Sphere of Influence) have finally moved on, former Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins takes to Fox 13 to give an "exclusive in-depth interview" in what amounts to his first major media appearance locally since his contract was not renewed back in June of last year. You can find the interview (and a written summary of it) here.
Honestly, I'm not sure what Hollins was trying to accomplish.
In the interview, he blames the fact that he was let go on the oft-repeated incident where he went off on John Hollinger for interrupting Austin Daye during a drill. He says Jason Levien didn't want to get to know him. And he also says this:
"I could take them not wanting me but I couldn't take them trying to destroy my reputation and credibility."
Which, I mean... what?
Yet again, Lionel Hollins apparently doesn't understand that if you openly question and/or mock your employer's decision-making, when said employer's management are not the people who hired you, weeks before said employer has to decide whether or not they want to renew your contract, that employer is unlikely to want to renew that contract.
While I was writing for Grizzly Bear Blues I feel like I went over this a million times. Hollins clearly miscalculated, and thought that by being open and honest (read: grumbling) about his disagreements with the front office in the media, he could put some pressure on them to keep him around and do things his way. Instead, he convinced them that he wasn't going to be willing to go along with the way they (meaning Pera/Levien/Lash/Hollinger) wanted to run the Grizzlies, so they hired somebody else instead of renewing Hollins' contract.
That's "destroying my reputation and credibility"? Seriously?
And what team is going to hire Hollins next, given that he is apparently still so mad at the Grizzlies that he has to take to the media to talk about all the ways he was wronged—and all the while refusing to take any responsibility for the "champagne taste on a beer budget" comments around the Rudy trade, the complaining about not having enough bigs (which, I mean, HELLO SIR HAVE YOU MET ED DAVIS), the comments in the press about how Dave Joerger wasn't the defensive coach until Lionel made him the defensive coach...
If anything, it's Hollins who is/was trying to "destroy the reputation and credibility" of the Grizzlies front office. And in the minds of a lot of Griz fans, he probably has. So to take to the airwaves now—now of all times—and continue to bring out the same story about how he was fired when all he wanted to do was get along... I don't get it. I'm not sure what he's trying to do.
Another Gasol Injury?
The Grizzlies were taking care of business and hanging on to a slim lead over the Magic last night when, some time in the middle of the third quarter, Jameer Nelson ran into Marc Gasol's left knee while trying to fight around a screen. Gasol immediately doubled over and waved for the bench, motioning for Dave Joerger to call a timeout.
Grizzlies fans the world over watched as he hobbled off into the locker room, trying not to panic. The rest of the game seemed both less important and more important, and the snakebit season of injuries looked for a minute like it was all going back down the drain.
Gasol came back out after long and sat on the bench. According to reports, he wanted to get back in the game, but every coach and player told him no (which is fortunate). Normally I'd say that's encouraging, but who knows. The official word is that he "re-aggravated" his knee injury and he'll have an MRI at some point over the All Star break. Gasol's a tough guy; tough enough that his wanting to re-enter the game has almost nothing to do with whether or not he made his knee injury worse.
Things were already looking rough in Gasol-ville. His lackluster play over the last two or three games can easily be attributed to the fact that he's simply not healthy. It's possible that he rushed back from the injury too soon in the first place. According to the Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery, Joerger admitted that it'll probably be next season before Gasol is back to 100%. For him to have a setback on the path to healing—even a small one—means the Grizzlies' already tenuous playoff hopes are in that much more jeopardy.
With any luck, Gasol just tweaked the knee and freaked out, and he's fine. But this hasn't been a season of luck, now, has it?
Grizzlies 86, Magic 81
In light of the Gasol situation, the outcome of last night's game seemed unimportant, but it wasn't. Dallas beat Indiana last night, so a Grizzlies loss would have lost valuable ground in the race for the 8th spot. I've been saying all along that I didn't think Dallas was going to be able to hang on to the last seed, but it's starting to look like a possibility. We'll see how things go after the break—whether the Grizzlies can get a run together and/or whether the Mavericks will start to fade—but as of right now, the impetus is on the Grizzlies to win every single game and not for a second assume any team above them in the standings is going to drop.
Orlando has been playing well as of late—coming off wins over the Thunder and the Pacers—and they gave the Grizzlies all they could handle last night. Zach Randolph continued his recent run of struggles (especially against the length of Orlando's frontcourt) but managed to fight through it to the tune of 20 points. Nick Calathes, playing in front of a hometown crowd, put up 18 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Kosta Koufos played more minutes than average once Gasol went down, and did well.
It was a good win, and it took a lot of effort to make it happen, even as the team was pretty clearly distracted by seeing Gasol leave the game again. Now the Grizzlies will have a long time to rest up for the stretch run.
The Grizzlies at the Break
Time for a plug: this week's print Flyer features a piece by yours truly dealing with what to expect over the last 30 games, what the season has been so far, and a little bit of an examination of the "narrative" (a term I generally dislike) surrounding the team. So you should check that out—it's not like it'll cost you anything. (Update: the piece is online here.)
Author's Note: This seemed like the thing to do at the time: Instead of a normal "the Grizzlies did this and then the Wizards did that and then the Grizzlies did this," I figured it'd be more interesting (and ultimately more enlightening) to look at some statistics from Tuesday night's close win over the Wizards that tell the story of how the game was won.
Points scored by Nick Calathes. Last night's opponent being the Wizards, with Mike Conley out, Nick Calathes spent almost all of last night matched up against John Wall, who is just a touch more athletic and quicker than Calathes. It looked like a matchup with the potential to turn into a bloodbath if Wall started to get going.
More than one Grizzlies Twitter-er, this writer included, prepared for the worst headed into the game. Some examples:
It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m worried Wall is going to do bad things to Calathes and they’re going to be televised.
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) February 12, 2014
Griz-Wiz about to jump off. Marc Gasol might want to cross himself already on behalf of Nick Calathes.
— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) February 12, 2014
Neither of those tweets of foreboding (there's a 21st Century phrase for ya) proved to be necessary, as Calathes not only held his own, he played excellent defense on Wall (who scored 5 points on 2-10 shooting) and scored 18 of his own points on 12 shots while also grabbing 6 rebounds and making assists (at least two of which were no-look bounce assists to Marc Gasol, which is something Calathes is getting better at as of late).
It was another great game from the Grizzlies' backup point guard, and a sure step in the right direction for his direction and his career. If he can continue to play at something approximating this level, I think "Ole Glacier Veins Calathes" (another tweet reference) is going to be just fine. He's already at least as good as Keyon Dooling. (That was a joke, right?)
Points scored by Bradley Beal. With Courtney Lee playing but not quite 100% on a bum ankle, what the Grizzlies really needed was a wing who could go out and absolutely lock down the opponent's one hot-scoring shooting guard. If only they had a guy like that on the roster...
Herewith, some reasons the Grizzlies lost to the Cavaliers in overtime, 91-83:
The lack of Mike Conley has been killing the Grizzlies, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Lost in the shuffle of Conley's insanely high level of play this season is the fact that he's kept the Grizzlies' heads above water on that end of the floor by getting to the rim at will and knowing when to distribute.
In five games without Conley, the Grizzlies have scored 99, 77, 96, 79, and now 83 (but the 83 came after an overtime wherein the Grizzlies scored 5 points). The defense has played pretty well, but not that well, especially against Dallas and Milwaukee, and so the offensive shortcomings have proven to be fatal. I haven't watched the game back closely enough to know how many trips down the floor came up empty for the Griz last night, but I know it was more than it should have been.
And that's not to slight Nick Calathes; Calathes was solid last night, with 17 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. But, as we've seen from time to time this year, Conley can put up 28 or 30 seemingly at will, and last night he probably would've done that in the process of refusing to let his team lose to the Cavs. Without him, no such luck.
We need to stop pretending Marc Gasol is healthy. I'm not sure what happened, but the last three or four games, he's not trusting the knee anymore, and it's severely limiting what he can do out on the court. He has stretches of play where he looks fine, making spin moves in the post, playing great defense, and then he has other stretches where he looks tentative, scared to push off of his braced leg.
Maybe Gasol came back at just the right time to help the Grizzlies, or maybe he rushed back too soon and now he's paying the price for it. Either way, the approaching All Star break should be a good opportunity for him to rest up the knee and get the treatment he so obviously needs. Until then, 70-75% of Marc Gasol and 0% of Mike Conley—meaning 35% of your two best players—is going to continue to be a struggle for this Grizzlies squad.
The small forward position for the Grizzlies this season is a dumpster fire on top of a toxic waste pit somewhere near the engine room of the Titanic. Last night was a microcosm of the bigger picture: Tayshaun Prince wasn't terrible but he wasn't good, scoring 7 points on 6 shots, but (and this is especially true with Conley out and the offense starved for scoring) "not terrible" isn't really enough to keep the Grizzlies afloat for long stretches.
Meanwhile Mike Miller played 20 minutes, took 4 shots, and made none of them. Miller's struggles have been somewhat under-reported this season, I think, but he's been quietly having an abominable stretch of play lately, being used in weird lineups and/or just not playing very well, not taking outside jumpers and instead driving into the lane trying to make plays—something which worked for Miller the last time he was in a Griz uniform, but that was what, seven years ago?
On top of that, James Johnson lifted the Grizzlies back into the game in the fourth quarter by scoring 13 straight points—as in, he was the only Grizzly scoring for so long that he single-handedly willed himself to 13 straight points — and then he seemingly ran out of whatever good mojo had propelled him to the 13 straight and played crappy defense and tried to do too much on offense. That continues to be my main gripe with Johnson: he's brilliant for stretches and those stretches inspire him to keep trying to take over the game.
My favorite example of this was the time (I think it was the OKC game in which Gasol returned) that Johnson tried to wave off a Z-Bo who had position on his man (might've been Perkins, might've been Collison, I don't remember) so that he, James Johnson, could iso on that side of the floor. Z-Bo just raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and called for the ball again, and Johnson made the entry pass, but we've seen what happens when somebody isn't out there to say "Hey JJ, maybe not this time." It's something that Johnson just has to figure out: how to play all-out for 15 minutes while still recognizing when to play within himself and not try to make every single possible play on the court. It's the only reason I don't think he's ready to be a starter yet: he's too much of a liability once he gets going for a while. His decision-making is inversely proportional to his performance over time.
All of that is to say, if the Grizzlies do anything at the trade deadline, it'd better be for a good, young small forward. I don't know who that would be. The rumor going around last week was that talks of an Ed Davis/Harrison Barnes swap had happened. I guess I'd be fine with that, although I'm not sure how the Warriors would make that work. It's got to be a major off-season goal, though. Do whatever it takes to acquire a small forward, a high level 3s-and-D guy, probably.
Still not sure what's up with the lineups. How long into the third quarter did the starters play last night? 9 minutes? It felt like it. And so of course, down the stretch while Johnson was going off for his 13 straight, Gasol, Randolph, and Lee were all gassed, walking up and down the court begging for a breather. Joerger has to get better at managing who is in the game when, and realizing when he has to rest guys even though he may not be comfortable taking them out of the game quite yet.
It seems like poor form to criticize the rotations of a coach who has almost never had the same players available to him from night to night. The Grizzlies' roster has been something of a Mad Lib all year long, with random guys going down for a few games at a time all over the place. But he's got to be better than this with managing minutes and managing rest. It's no wonder the Cavs got back into the game last night and forced overtime, and it's no wonder once they got there, the Grizzlies were too tired to do anything: they were on the second night of a back to back, and they'd all played 15 minutes in in a row. It's the one thing I think Joerger has been bad at all year long.
I think last night's loss was bad, but given Conley's absence, and given the fact that they beat Atlanta — a much better team than Cleveland—the night before, I'm willing to let this one slide to an extent. Last night's loss showed weaknesses this team has had for a while now, of course, but I'm not willing to ascribe to it any bigger trend than no Conley, hurt Gasol, and a road SEGABABA. It'll get better, especially if Conley returns Tuesday against the Wizards as is hoped. His return will be the biggest improvement the Griz can make to correct the problems shown on Sunday night, which is why I'm not in panic mode.
Eventually you run out of ways to talk about games like this.
The players don't help, because no matter how far off the rails the game gets, no matter how bad things go for them, this group of Grizzlies doesn't go "off message" enough to give you any insight into what it's like to be out there on the court while everything you do fails, everything falls apart, and Rick Carlisle barbecues your defensive schemes and then serves them to you with a side of Monta Ellis, and then suddenly a game that
is was really important to the playoff race is in the rearview mirror and you lost by fourteen points.
They don't really give any insight into what happened, because that's not what the media gets to hear. Instead, and from a management standpoint it's a good quality of this group of players and not a bad one I guess, though it makes for less interesting recaps, they all say the "right" thing. Marc Gasol says "You win, you move on, and when you lose, you move on." Zach Randolph talks about how every game is important, every game is a battle, etc. Nick Calathes talks about how he turned the ball over too many times. In the postgame press conference, Dave Joerger says the loss was his fault because he didn't have the team prepared to face Dallas' intricate pick and roll schemes, and so Dallas carved up the Grizzlies' defense (which, yes, that happened).
It doesn't feel like the whole story, though. Dallas may have been doing things offensively that the Griz weren't ready to defend, but when Brandan Wright catches a pass at the free throw line and runs completely unchecked down the middle of the lane for a lay-in, while two Grizzlies are at the elbows and two Grizzlies are on either block (like they were running a box-and-one that was glued to the ground), and then after the dunk Jon Leuer and Marc Gasol just stare at each other...
The Grizzlies did not win at Oklahoma City on Monday night, but the Grizzlies and the Thunder sure made a mess of it: the Grizzlies scored 77 points, their lowest total of the season, but they also held Oklahoma City to 86 in the process. The offense wasn't working, and surprisingly enough it didn't seem like the absence of Mike Conley was the only reason. The Thunder in general have been playing good defense as of late, and Serge Ibaka caused all kinds of problems for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, as he is wont to do.
That was an important game, but the one tonight is even more so: the Grizzlies face the Mavericks at home for the first time all season. Both previous engagements between the two teams happened in Dallas—the first in the "lost weekend" of the first two weeks of the season when the Grizzlies didn't stumble out of the gate so much as fall face-first into a mud puddle, and the second featured a starting lineup of Jerryd Bayless, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Mike Miller, and Kosta Koufos due to injuries to Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince, and Marc Gasol.
What makes tonight so important is the Western Conference playoff race. Currently in the standings, the Grizzlies are back in 9th place, a game behind Dallas, after jumping up to 8th place for a brief moment over the weekend based on overall win percentage. A Grizzlies win tonight is critical for grabbing and holding the 8th spot. A Grizzlies loss puts that much more space between the Mavs and the Griz.
It's not going to be easy: the Grizzlies go into their third game without Mike Conley at the point, which was easy enough to overcome against the Bucks, but was clearly a factor Monday night against the Thunder. Nick Calathes has played very well while holding the Grizzlies' reins, but Nick Calathes isn't an All Star caliber player, and that sort of absence isn't so easy to gloss over.
What does work in the Grizzlies' favor, however, is Dallas' defense: the Mavericks are currently 24th in the league in (unadjusted) defensive rating, allowing an average of 108.6 points per 100 possessions, putting them in such elite company as the Nets, Knicks, Lakers, Pelicans, Kings, Bucks, and Jazz. The Grizzlies have played some other teams in that category recently, and with the Anthony Davis-sized exception of the Pelicans, they've fared well. Exploiting the weaknesses in Dallas' D is going to be the key to success tonight. We know this is a Grizzlies team that can play defense, even with Conley and Tony Allen on the bench in suits. Scoring and getting into a rhythm will go a long way toward securing the all-important victory tonight.
Other subplot to keep an eye on: Jamaal Franklin got backup point guard minutes again vs. the Thunder on Monday night. Originally, when it happened (unsuccessfully) against the Bucks on Saturday, I laughed it off as a Patented Weird Joerger Lineup Experiment™ and figured it wouldn't happen again. But. He wasn't good against the Thunder, but I've had a change of heart about the whole thing.
Franklin is a rookie who needs minutes however he can get them. There's a good chance that, if/when he evolves into a rotation player, he's going to have to bring the ball up the court. Where's the harm? If the team (and this is assuming Joerger plays Franklin over new 10-day man Darius Morris) can stay afloat while Franklin is driving, and not make too many costly bad decisions, I'm all in favor of letting the rookie learn on the job while getting some PT. If he crashes and burns, throw Morris out there after two or three minutes. If he stays afloat, let him have a little bit of burn.
No matter whether it's Franklin or Morris or the Prince/Lee/Miller troika doing the backup duties, the Grizzlies need to make sure the offense is clicking tonight to exploit the Mavericks' biggest weakness. The playoff seeding implications make this one as important as a regular season game gets.
Grizzlies 99, Bucks 90: The Nick Calathes Game
Saturday night's game started uneasy. No one had heard much concrete information about the ankle injury Mike Conley suffered on Friday night at Minnesota, and no one wanted to speculate how long he was going to be out. All anyone knew was that the injury looked bad, and it would be a while before Conley returned to the court.
Then the game started, and true to form this season, the Grizzlies struggled. Against teams with a below average pace of play this year, the Grizzlies have typically not done well—as evidenced by both wins over Milwaukee, which have been much closer than they needed to be. Saturday night, it was more of the same, with defensive lapse after defensive lapse, lots of physical play under the basket with the Grizzlies' bigs banging with Zaza Pachulia and Larry Sanders (hey now!) and Miroslav Raduljica.
For most of the first three quarters, the mood in the stadium was one of frustration: the problems the Grizzlies were having with the Bucks didn't seem to be a direct result of Conley's absence. Nick Calathes started at point guard and through the first part of the game was completely adequate, hitting a couple of shots and distributing the ball well. The Grizzlies' problems seemed to be on the defensive end.
And then something clicked.
In the last 15 minutes of play—from the 3-minute mark of the third quarter through the end of the game—the Grizzlies scored 46 points. Calathes started it with a layup and and-1 free throw to cut the Bucks' lead to 64-56, and by the end of the third, the Grizzlies only trailed 69-67.
The Grizzlies won their third in a row last night at Minnesota, the third game in four nights, and they're now only one win away from sweeping their entire four-game-in-five-night gauntlet of a week.
In the fourth quarter last night, after surrendering a lead that had swelled to 16 points midway through the third, the Grizzlies stared down the barrel of their worst-case scenario when Mike Conley went down to the floor grimacing in pain and didn't get up.
The replays showed that it was a badly rolled ankle—Conley landed on the side of his foot instead of the bottom of it, essentially—and news coming out after the game confirmed that it was a bad sprain:
Update- Mike Conley has a right ankle sprain and will be reevaluated in the morning. @memgrizz vs. Bucks tomorrow
— Rob Fischer (@thefishnation) February 1, 2014
Mike Conley left 94-90 win over Minnesota with a right ankle sprain and 6:37 left in 4Q. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow before Bucks game
— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) February 1, 2014
Further reports were that Conley left the arena in a walking boot and said he couldn't really put any weight on the ankle, which means he'll probably be in a suit tonight as the Grizzlies take on Mikwaukee. With any luck, his evaluation today will confirm that it is, in fact, just a bum ankle, and Conley won't miss too much time.
Missing any time at all, though, puts the Grizzlies in a little bit of a jam. The Nick Calathes experiment seems to be progressing nicely as Calathes has gotten more run and gotten more comfortable on the court. He had another nice night in Minnesota last night, but he certainly doesn't look ready to take over the team for a long stretch. And, because of the trade that sent Jerryd Bayless out and brought back Courtney Lee, there aren't any other point guards on the roster.
That was risky even with a healthy Conley, but now, with Nick Calathes as the only point guard available, things are going to get dicey. Last night after Conley went down, with the game on the line, Dave Joerger decided not to play a point guard at all, splitting the ball handling duties between Courtney Lee and Tayshaun Prince. And that worked, primarly because the Grizzlies' advantage over the Timberwolves was on the inside, and helped by the occasional three-pointer from Prince, everything went according to plan and the Grizzlies closed out a close game that Kevin Love shot Minnesota back into.
Tonight, the Grizzlies take on the Bucks in Memphis in the last game of this FOGAFINI. The Bucks are, well, I'll let Jeremy Schmidt of the TrueHoop blog Bucksketball give his take:
I'm starting to wonder if this is the worst team in the history of professional sports in Wisconsin.
— Jeremy Schmidt (@Bucksketball) February 1, 2014
So, at least the Grizzlies have that going for them: the Bucks are currently 8-38 on the season, and they've lost 5 in a row and 17 out of their last 19 games. They're a shambles of a basketball team right now, with only rookie standout Giannis "Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo to entertain their fans while they get pummeled, night in and night out. If there's such thing as a "good" game to have to be without Mike Conley, this is it—a matchup against what may be the worst team in the league this year.
But that doesn't mean much. The Bucks are, after all, still a professional basketball team, and tonight's game may be one of the few games on the schedule that O.J. Mayo actually cares about for Milwaukee, so I hesitate to ever call anything a "sure win." There's no such thing at this level of competition. At any rate, it's a fortunate matchup for the Grizzlies as they try to figure out how long they're going to be without their rock, their starting point guard.