I expected the Grizzlies to win Saturday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats. I wasn't expecting a 21-point demolition, but that's what happened: after a close second quarter that saw the Griz take an eight-point lead into the break—a half that was one of the most exciting, well-executed first halves we've seen out of the Grizzlies in a while, featuring an actual lead after the first quarter—
the Grizzlies came out for the third quarter, gave up a couple of quick buckets to Charlotte, and then flipped some sort of kill switch and mashed the Bobcats to a fine pulp.
As always, there was a lot going on in this one:
• Al Jefferson has been on a hot streak as of late, scoring fewer than twenty points only twice in his last ten games, both of which were against the Grizzlies. A lot of that has to do with Marc Gasol, who looked like he was moving with more fluidity than we've seen from him since he went down with his knee injury in November. Gasol is steadily returning to form after a stiff start, no longer passing up dunks and drives that he passed out of a month ago. As his confidence in his knee returns, so are his post moves and a little bit of his offensive aggressiveness. This is A Very Good Thing for the Grizzlies if they want to assert themselves down the stretch.
• After becoming so important to the team that he had a neck tattoo giveaway night in his honor, James Johnson didn't play last night until garbage time. Johnson's minutes had steadily shifted over time from backup blood-crazed small forward to backup ninja maniac smallball power forward, and it was a good look for him, allowing him to use his athleticism and strength to do a number on Blake Griffin (!) defensively. Last night against the Bobcats, he played 5:13, all of which came in garbage time, with Jon Leuer getting 17 minutes as the fourth big off the bench.
Now, a lot of that was matchup related; Leuer spent a lot of time guarding his long-lost evil twin Josh McRoberts, but Leuer was pretty clearly the right guy for the job last night, playing good defense and getting himself to the rim whenever possible, bringing on more than one "JONNY BASKETBALL"-like tweet from me. Those surprised that Leuer would get minutes over Johnson and Ed Davis on a given night haven't been paying attention; Leuer has established himself as a guy who belongs right in that same category. All three of them are very good players, and depending on matchups, any could be the right guy on any given night.
• After going 0-8 in the Brooklyn game on Wednesday, and then going 0-6 against the Bulls Friday night before finally hitting one, Mike Conley finally had a good game last night, and it came against a team with a much better defense than they've had in the past. Conley finished with 20 points, was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, had 4 assists and 2 steals—a Mike Conley stat line if I've ever seen one. Like Gasol, Conley's health and stamina are vital to whatever this team hopes to do regarding the postseason, and it was good to see him have the kind of game Griz watchers know he's capable of.
• With Johnson sitting the bench because of matchups and an ankle injury, a very large Greek candidate for membership in the Lords of Basketball Chaos Motorcycle Club has emerged: Kosta Koufos. Especially when his Greek national teammate Nick Calathes is the one feeding him the ball. Koufos has seemingly found his rhythm in the rotation as of late, coming in to spell Gasol and/or play right alongside him, and racked up a double double in 19 minutes last night. He struggled in the first half, taking bad shots, collecting fouls, etc., but in the second half he came out in another gear, becoming a factor on both ends, and just generally blowing up whatever the Bobcats were doing. Maybe we should have a L.O.B.C. discussion about Koufos.
• Last night was the last time the Charlotte Bobcats and Memphis Grizzlies will ever play each other (unless they meet in the NBA Finals). After this season, the Bobcats will become the Charlotte Hornets, and roll back to the purple and teal team colors that graced every Starter jacket you could see in the mid 90's. It's been a weird ride for the Bobcats since they came into the league, and I'm sure becoming the Hornets will make them feel a little more permanent. The adoption of the Hornets name makes the Pelicans feel like the recent expansion franchise, though.
It brings me back to the four-way name swap the Grizzlies, Bobcats, Jazz, and New Orleans Hornets should have done: Utah Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Jazz, and Memphis Bobcats, who would then immediately drop the "Bobcats" name and become the Memphis Sounds, wearing these jerseys.
Look, I've been arguing for Memphis Sounds throwbacks as long as I've been writing about the Grizzlies. If anyone over at the front office is paying attention, I don't even want a royalty check—I just want to be able to buy a Zach Randolph Sounds jersey. They've already done the Tams, arguably the worst jersey/shorts combo in basketball history. The Sounds throwbacks would be magnificent. Just do it, Grizzlies.