Saturday, April 5, 2014

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 100, Nuggets 92

Posted By on Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Tayshaun Prince had an excellent night before he went down with an ankle sprain.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tayshaun Prince had an excellent night before he went down with an ankle sprain.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what happened during last night's game—one of the ugliest, weirdest, most entertaining (probably for the wrong reasons) games I've seen in a while. The summary reads like a lot of Grizzlies recaps this season: the first half was terrible, the starters were mostly ineffective, and then in the second half the right bench guys came into the game and the Grizzlies started getting stops and winning.

It has to be said right off the bat that Tayshaun Prince was the reason the Grizzlies weren't down by 15 points at halftime. Prince scored 10 in the first quarter, and by the time he left the game with an ankle sprain with a couple minutes left in the second, he had 12 points on 6-8 shooting, almost all of them on postups and driving layups. Tayshaun was really good, and it was a genuine bummer to see him leave the game after a particularly nasty ankle sprain on the first night in a long time that he was putting up those kinds of numbers.

(The flipside of that is that Tayshaun's outburst, rare as it is, was a not-so-subtle reminder of what the Grizzlies would look like if someone who could actually score consistently were playing at the small forward spot.)

In the second half, the Grizzlies—led mostly by Tony Allen and Marc Gasol—started getting stops and turned the tide, while Zach Randolph recovered from his horrendous first three quarters to put up 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks in the final frame. It was enough to get the job done against a Nuggets team that refused to go away, taking advantage of a Kenneth Faried/Darrell Arthur frontcourt to maximize their athletic advantage against the Grizzlies' lumbering bigs while also trying to match the physical intensity of the Griz. Plus Timofey Mozgov made a three—I saw it with my own eyes.

But while the team was able to gut out the home win and put Denver away, the overall picture wasn't that encouraging. Transition defense was still nonexistent, with Denver getting as many open layups as they wanted simply by being willing to run. The lineups were an issue, as ever, because heaven forbid James Johnson see the floor other than when Tayshaun goes down. In the second half, Nick Calathes saw a lot of minutes at the 2 with Conley/Calathes matched up against Ty Lawson and Aaron Brooks, meaning Tony Allen got a good deal of run at the small forward spot (but really, it was pretty positionless—it was three guards against three guards).

But last night, I resigned myself that my main complaint during the Lionel Hollins era—"coaching by feel" and not (1) knowing what your best lineups are and (2) being too stubborn to play them if it makes you look like you changed your mind—is going to be my main complaint during the Joerger era, too. He's just not going to play Johnson. He doesn't think he can play Allen at the 3 in the starting lineup. He's playing the starters too many minutes, and down the stretch of a brutal season, they're running out of gas. For me, the whole upside to bringing in a new coach was that the Grizzlies would have an opportunity to operate at full strength because they'd be playing their best players in the best situations. Yes, I think Joerger's done a good job with the crappy injury hand he was dealt this season... but after years of complaining about Lionel's lineups, I'd hoped this year would be different. It's possible that the Prince injury will prompt a change to the starting lineup that Griz watchers have been begging for all season, but I know better than to count on it at this point.

The Grizzlies have six games left: three home, and three away. Sunday they take on the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, and if this Grizzlies team shows up—the one that can't/won't run, and has to be cajoled into defending in the second half, and basically only has Tony Allen and James Johnson as small forwards, neither of whom the coach actually wants to play at small forward—it's entirely possible that it'll be a bloodbath.

Then on Wednesday it's Miami at the FedExForum, which is a very winnable game—especially given how close the two teams played in Miami two weeks ago. Split the pair against the Spurs and Heat, and then there are two games against the Sixers and Lakers, and then the last two are the ones that matter the most: at Phoenix, and vs. Dallas. It's entirely possible that the last two games of the season will determine whether the Grizzlies make the playoffs, and that they'll have to win them both to get in.

Given the unsteadiness they're showing on a nightly basis right now, all bets are off.

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