Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Grizzlies 96, Sixers 91: The Other Things

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 7:51 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies have won four games in a row now, all of them without Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter, and James Ennis. Until last night, they’d also been without Zach Randolph, who was away from the team following the sudden loss of his mother. Last night, after a week and a half away, Randolph returned, and the Grizzlies played an emotional game, in which nothing was working offensively but they scrambled and bullied their way to victory anyway; they won a game the Z-Bo way since they had him back.

I understand why the ideas of resting on a back-to-back went out the window last night. As I said in yesterday’s recap of the Pelicans game, the Griz need to bank all of the wins they can right now before the schedule ramps up and the going gets considerably rougher. What that meant in practice last night was that the Griz were tired, not always focused, and that they couldn’t shoot (the team was 38.4% from the field and only 11.8% from 3-point range). What that meant in practice was that with the game on the line, Zach Randolph hit a layup to tie it at 91, and then after Marc Gasol and Tony Allen hit some free throws to make it a 94-91 lead, the game was won when Z-Bo grabbed a defensive rebound and forced the Sixers to foul him.

It was a normal Z-Bo play, something we’ve seen him do hundreds of times (Randolph played his 1000th career regular season game last night), but Randolph was visibly emotional as he did it, and the response from his teammates was, well, you watch it:

The basketball that was played last night really doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things. One game against Philadelphia doesn’t really matter much in the context of the overall narrative of the Grizzlies, not this particular chapter thereof stretching all the way back to the Iavaroni days. This is a group of men who have been together for a long time, who legitimately like and are friends with each other, and who genuinely care about each other.

There are times when the Grizzlies feel ancient, like some foreign thing that used to make sense but doesn’t anymore, like The Grizzlies Epic is in cuneiform on tablets no one knows how to read anymore. Then, it feels like the right thing to do is to burn it to the ground and start over, to break the continuity with the past that sometimes feels like being tied to a millstone. But then, on a Tuesday night at a poorly-attended game against one of the weakest teams in the league without three of their best players, missing five guys to injury, something like that happens, and it clicks. This is why they won’t do that.

So much has changed in the league since Zach Randolph got here. So much has changed in Memphis since Zach Randolph got here. Eight seasons is a long time. 494 games with the Grizzlies so far. There’s comfort in routine, sure, but in his postgame comments he still looks a little shellshocked (Read the comments on that from fans, by the way. This guy matters to Memphians). I can’t imagine having to focus hard enough to play NBA basketball so soon after that kind of a loss, but there he is, and there the Grizzlies are around him, and here we are. The Grizzlies won last night. But, as is usually the case with the Grizzlies, the basketball itself was ugly, jumbled, a mess. The things worth noting were the other things.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Grizzlies 110, Pelicans 108: The Long Game

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 9:28 AM

Troy Daniels is on fire the last few games. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Troy Daniels is on fire the last few games.

When Mike Conley went down, I did the math, and I did not expect the Grizzlies to win this game, but that’s exactly what they did, beating the Pelicans in New Orleans 110-108 in double overtime. It wasn’t pretty—though it certainly wasn’t as ugly as the last Griz/Pels game, which went into overtime tied at 75. But what they lacked in execution the Grizzlies made up for with sheer effort, led by some scoring outbursts from guys that you may not expect. As I said in my last recap, the way the schedule looks over the next couple of weeks, the Griz need every win they can get right now, so last night was certainly a game they needed to win.

In Which Troy Daniels’ Green Light Is On The End Of Jay Gatsby’s Dock

Troy Daniels was not good in preseason, and up to this point in the regular season, he’d been something worse than bad for an NBA player: he’d been invisible. But since the team was reduced to nine players (now ten, with the injury hardship addition of Toney Douglas becoming official yesterday) Daniels has found both his shooting stroke and the confidence necessary to fire at will from beyond the arc.

Daniels had 29 points last night. Efficiency is important, but frankly, I couldn’t care less that he had to take 20 shots to get there. In the absence of Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, somebody has to score with the Grizzlies’ second unit, and Daniels has finally found his groove just in time to be that guy. Who knows what happens to the rotation when all of these guys return; it’s going to be long enough that the Grizzlies were granted a hardship, so that seems premature to even discuss at this point. But Daniels has found his rhythm at the right time, and it’s glorious to see a guy in a Grizzlies uniform who can go out there absolutely chucking everything he thinks he can get off in time and hitting fully 50% of them.

In Which Marc Gasol Is The Absolute Best

I don’t even know that I have language for what Marc Gasol has been for the Grizzlies—all season, really, but especially since Mike Conley went down injured. It took two overtimes, sure, but last night Gasol got yet another triple double, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in just under 46 minutes. He did all of that against Anthony Davis, who is still on track to be the best player in the league here soon, and the Pelicans’ other various bigs. Davis, in particular, has always given the Grizzlies trouble (just as he does everyone else) because of his otherworldly length, but last night Gasol didn’t seem bothered by it at all. In overtime, Gasol took it straight to Davis more than once, hitting turnaround jumpers in his face. It was great.

The three point game that Gasol has shown in just the first games of this season makes you wonder what it was that kept previous coaches from letting him shoot it. Clearly this is not something he just started shooting this summer, and every time he makes a big three at a crucial moment—he was 3 for 6 last night—a little bit of me dies, knowing he could have been drilling these in 2015 in the playoffs against the Warriors. “What if”s are never fun, especially where the Grizzlies’ long, tortured history as a franchise is concerned (being one lottery spot away from LeBron and instead giving up the pick that became Darko to Detroit, anyone?) but in hindsight it’s hard not to call Hollins and Joerger short-sighted for not being willing to develop this facet of Gasol’s game. We’ve been hearing for years now that Gasol was winning 3-point contests in practice; it’s not like they didn’t know.

David Fizdale is enjoying the win streak. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale is enjoying the win streak.

In Which These Wins Are Important Because We Can Enjoy It While It Lasts

The Grizzlies have home games against the Sixers (without Joel Embiid) tonight and the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. Both of those are winnable, though Portland is definitely not an easy out given the Grizzlies’ current condition; a win Thursday would be a pleasant surprise. After that, it starts to get ugly for the banged-up Griz. Saturday brings the Durant-ed Golden State Warriors to town, and then Tuesday and Wednesday feature a home-and-home with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. There are tough games against tough teams sprinkled with winnable home games for the rest of the month, almost all on 1 or 0 days of rest. There’s just no way the Griz will be able to win all of these in OT or 2OT.

So, not to play Prophet of Doom here, but these three wins in a row are extremely important to the Grizzlies— they needed to win at least two of these to stay in contact with the West playoffs through this injury-riddled stretch. There’s just no way they’re going to win all of them, but now the task is lighter, and as the losses inevitably start to add up over the rest of the calendar year, the Griz have put themselves in a better position to come out the other side and keep trying to climb. These are important wins, these Nasty Nine games. They are putting themselves in a better position.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Grizzlies 95, Magic 94: The Comeback Win and The Coming Storm

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 9:20 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies, with nine players, won last night, only 24 hours after playing Toronto tougher than anybody expected. Head coach David Fizdale has taken to calling them the Nasty Nine (which brings back shades of last year’s pre-Chalmers-injury Hateful Eight who rolled into Cleveland and beat the Cavaliers), but there’s more to it than that–through defensive effort, a Troy Daniels who is rapidly shooting his way back to his career averages, and great individual performances from guys who needed to step up, the Grizzlies were able to grab a desperately-needed win on the second night of a back-to-back against a team with a good defense. Looking at the Grizzlies’ schedule over the next six weeks–the amount of time the team said they expect Mike Conley to be out–it was a win they needed very badly if they’re going to stay in the West playoff hunt.

The Comeback Win

First off, some thoughts about the game itself. There were a few individual performances worth mentioning, but the overall point is that the nine Grizzlies who were playing played as hard as they could for a full 48 minutes, and even when the Magic started to gain some real separation by going up 14 in the fourth quarter, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen came back in and the deficit immediately vanished. It was a game between two teams with good defenses and bad offenses, and ultimately, the Grizzlies’ defense is what pulled it off.

Number Nine when you need him. Tony Allen was a force of nature in the whole game, not shooting well but doing everything else to make Orlando miserable. The most important stretch was probably in the middle of the fourth quarter, when Jeff Green (remember him?) was on a bit of a run for Orlando, extending their lead and racking up 14 points. Allen had been guarding Evan Fournier all night, but when he came back into the game this time, he was on Green, who then didn’t get the ball at all for the next couple of minutes and was taken completely out of the flow of the game. That’s not to bag on Jeff Green—though I will readily admit that I enjoy doing that—but to say: Tony Allen can still come in and totally turn off the water on someone, and when he does, it’s glorious, and it can win games.

Andrew Harrison is not afraid Last night, Andrew Harrison continued his growth from “petrified rookie” to “I like this kid.” He made plays when it mattered, was extremely valuable on defense, where his size advantage means he has all the makings of a terror, and he didn’t screw up. Sometimes that’s the most impressive thing a rookie can do, is not screw up. By contrast, Wade Baldwin IV, Harrison’s fellow rookie, showed some flashes but still looked very raw. Harrison— no doubt thanks to his year in Iowa, at least in part—showed no such unsteadiness last night, and if the Grizzlies are going to keep their heads above water during this Conley-less stretch, that’s of the utmost importance.

Troy Daniels actually looks like an NBA player now. Percentage-wise, Daniels has always been an excellent shooter, so it was always a question of when and not if Daniels’ shot would return, and whether it would happen before he fell completely out of the Grizzlies’ rotation. The dramatically shortened bench means Daniels is going to get the minutes whether he’s ready for them or not, so it’s good that being thrown into the fire a little seems to have brought back Daniels’ ability to knock down shots. After last night’s game, Fizdale also pointed out that Daniels’ defense has improved as his shooting has improved, and I’m not so convinced, but when Daniels can shoot he can really shoot, so having him find his stroke when the Griz most need the contribution is comforting.

Also, this happened.

This would be a good one for a caption contest. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This would be a good one for a caption contest.

The Next Six Weeks

This is the part that is less pleasant. The Grizzlies’ announced timetable for the Conley injury was six weeks, and this is what the Grizzlies schedule looks like during that stretch:

grizzlies_-_next_six_weeks_-_google_sheets.png

With Zach Randolph still away from the team for personal reasons, with Vince Carter out with a hip thing, with Chandler Parsons and James Ennis out without any sort of update about the condition of any of them, with Brandan Wright basically never even having been on the team, and with Mike Conley out for the entire stretch… it’s not going to be pretty. Even if you assume the best case scenario, which is that Randolph is back next week, and Ennis and Parsons are back the week after that, it’s still not pretty. 22 games, a majority of which are against good teams, with very little rest, without the guy who has clearly been the most impressive player on the team all season long.

They won last night. I think an optimistic projection has them winning six or seven on this stretch, which would put them somewhere better than .400 but worse than .500 when Conley returns. If it goes worse than that–and it could, but if there’s one thing we know about this team it’s that they aren’t going to quit playing hard–they could be even farther out of reach with the playoff standings by the time Conley returns. January and February bring a kinder schedule, to be sure, and I certainly don’t think the Griz are out of the hunt for a playoff spot, but let’s be real: it’s now the hunt for the 7th or 8th spot, and it’s going to be a struggle for them to get there. There’s never a good time to have that many of your best players all missing time simultaneously, but… this situation seems particularly heinous.

Last night’s win was a sign that the Grizzlies are going to catch some teams off guard during this stretch and be a tougher out than they seem on paper. But don’t mistake that for “everything is going to be fine,” at least in terms of the standings. The young guys will get to explore who they want to be on the court, maybe they’ll get that injury exception and bring in Toney Douglas for a couple of weeks (though with Harrison playing this well I’m not convinced they have to), but there’s just no way to look at the schedule and at which players are available to play and think this is going to be a fun stretch on the court for the Grizzlies. In a five-day stretch they play the Warriors and a home-and-home with the Cavaliers, and they might have ten players while they’re trying to do it. Hold on to your butts, folks.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Exclusive: Mike Conley's new St. Jude online spot

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 2:56 PM

It may not be all good news for Mike Conley today, but he's always been very involved in giving back to the community in Memphis, and this holiday season is no different.

Here's a Flyer exclusive look at a new spot featuring Conley, who is supporting St. Jude’s Thanks and Giving Campaign. St. Jude does amazing work around the clock. Grizzlies players have often volunteered their time and money there throughout the years, and though Conley may be laid up with a sore back at the moment, it's good to see him willing to put his support behind such a worthy cause.

Mike Conley Suffers Back Fracture, Expected to Miss 6 Weeks

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 12:58 PM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Remember when we were all talking about the Grizzlies' season, and about how they'd probably be fine as long as they didn't suffer any major injuries?

...Now they've suffered a major injury. In the midst of an undeniably great start to the season, putting up the best numbers of his career in an offense designed to maximize his abilities on the court, winning more games than anyone thought they would, Mike Conley went down after a play last night and didn't get up for a while. And now:

And from Grind City Media's Mike Wallace:

The Grizzlies were already shorthanded, missing Brandan Wright (who has yet to play a regular season minute this year), Chandler Parsons, and James Ennis to injuries, and with Zach Randolph still away from the team after the passing of his mother. Conley's injury was a freak thing, not related to playing too much or to overuse or anything—just one of those things. That doesn't make the Grizzlies' prospects over the next six weeks feel any better.

I don't know that to say. At least there are young guys to play instead of Ryan Hollins and Jordan Farmar? That seems like pretty weak consolation. I got nothing. Maybe Conley should play in full pads from now on.

Hornets 104, Grizzlies 85: Everybody('s) Hurts

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 8:06 AM

The Grizzlies had their hands full last night because of all the injuries they've suffered. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Grizzlies had their hands full last night because of all the injuries they've suffered.

Things did not go well for the hometown team last night. Without James Ennis and Chandler Parsons due to injury and without Zach Randolph, who wasn’t with the team due to a personal matter (Randolph’s mother passed away over the Thanksgiving holiday), the Grizzlies came into Monday night’s game shorthanded, played one good quarter, and then everything fell apart, eventually losing 104-85.

The loss wasn’t the only bad news of the night though, as Mike Conley was injured early in the third quarter and didn’t return. The early report for Conley was a “lower back injury,” but the Grizzlies said last night that they’ll have an update today when Conley is evaluated again. The game was already getting away from the Griz when Conley went down—these things happen when you lose the second quarter 31-14—but the Conley injury overshadowed whatever happened on the court from then on out, and frankly made it hard to care much one way or the other about what happened on the floor. Unfortunately, most of the crowd seemed to agree, and by the 2-minute mark, there was hardly anybody left in the building, a yawn of an end to a poor outing.

It’s not hard to understand why the game went the way it did: without Ennis and Parsons, the wing rotation is a shambles, depending on young and unproven guys like Troy Williams (who got the start last night) and Troy Daniels (who has yet to really have a game that convinces me he belongs on the roster) and old vets like Vince Carter, who is in a slump of his own after a blistering start to the season and who also left last night’s game with an injury. Not having Zach Randolph around means that there’s nowhere near enough offensive production from anyone else bud Conley and Marc Gasol to take the burden off the wings, which means that everything relies on Gasol and Conley. Against a well-coached, good team like the Hornets, that’s simply not good enough to hang on for 48 minutes. Last night it only really worked for 16 or 17.

The game wasn’t fun, so let’s have some fun with it:

19 Things That Were More Fun Than Last Night’s 19-Point Loss

Jarell Martin had his first career double double last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jarell Martin had his first career double double last night.
  1. Watching the (many) Garth Brooks-related promo items on the big screen. If you didn’t know Garth Brooks is coming to the Forum, you will soon enough. As a young man I had Ropin' the Wind and No Fences on cassette.

  2. There was a youth basketball game during halftime, and the biggest kid on the court—I’m not calling him fat, I’m saying he was a full head taller than all the other boys out there and built like Big Baby Davis when Big Baby Davis was still actually good at basketball—and, as is customary in Memphis now, he was wearing #50.

  3. Troy Williams had a nice dunk, one of the several he’s already got in his NBA portfolio.

  4. Tony Allen made some nice plays, including a spin move into a layup very similar to the one he pulled off when these two teams played in Charlotte just last week.

  5. Jarell Martin got his first career double-double, but it was extremely inefficent (he shot 5/13)... but, for a guy who has never really been much of a rebounder, 12 (10 of which were defensive boards) is a nice night.

  6. It wasn't very crowded.

Did I say nineteen? Because that seems like it's only six things. I guess last night was even less fun than I thought it was. Here is a clip of that Troy Williams dunk.

I'm not really sure what else to say about this one. "Grizzlies lose to good team while missing three of their best six or seven players" seems like a pretty straightforward explanation.

Game Haiku #18

When starters are hurt
The boulder rolls downhill fast;
The offense is crushed.



Monday, November 28, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #61: The Fizdale Effect

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 3:46 PM

bta_002.jpeg

This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • A fairly uneventful home-and-home with Miami
  • The Grizzlies will miss Zach Randolph while he's out
  • How the Grizzlies' defense got them back on track
  • Everyone ignores Phil when he's right, including Kevin
  • Was the 2OT Sixers win a quality win?
  • How badly do the Grizzlies miss James Ennis? What about Chandler Parsons?
  • Does Fizdale really know what he's doing? Why are the grizzlies so much more motivated?
  • What are the Griz doing with rest on B2B's? Do they know?
  • This week: Charlotte, Toronto, Orlando, Lakers

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Grizzlies 105, Hornets 90: Five in a Row

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 9:12 AM

They're fighting for post position, not preparing to hug. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • They're fighting for post position, not preparing to hug.

Last night the Grizzlies played their most impressive half of basketball all season, followed by a tough defensive half when that offense started to wane, and came away with their fifth straight win, this time on the road over the tough-to-beat Charlotte Hornets. The Grizzlies scored 69 points in the first half—more than the Mavericks were able to score against them in an entire game on Friday night—and never let up as Charlotte, one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference this year, tried to mount a comeback. It was a culmination of a trend that started in the Grizzlies' game at the Utah Jazz last week: clamping down on defense, moving the ball well on offense, getting good looks at the basket from long range and shooting well enough to capitalize on them.

The Grizzlies have now defeated the Jazz, Clippers, Mavericks, Timberwolves, and Hornets in consecutive games. Four of the five happened on the road. Chandler Parsons played in three of those games. Gasol and Conley, apparently operating without a minutes limit, carried the team in all of them. Here are some scattered thoughts about the game last night, about the win streak in general, and about where the Grizzlies are right now.

Five Notes for Five Wins

Tony Allen (shown here against Minnesota Saturday) finally looks healthy, and has made a difference. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen (shown here against Minnesota Saturday) finally looks healthy, and has made a difference.

With Tony Allen back and healthy, the Grizzlies' defense is much better. This seems obvious now, but the Grizzlies' defense was the source of much consternation up until about a week ago. The new defensive scheme clearly gave the Grizzlies some difficulty, and still does at times, but with Allen back—and he certainly looks back, when he pretty clearly wasn't right yet when he first took the floor this season—the issues that may still linger are much less apparent. Allen's return has also coincided with a defensive renaissance from Marc Gasol, who is playing much better defense right now than he did at any point last year, and maybe the year before. It's easy to forget that this is a guy who won Defensive Player of the Year. It's also easy to forget how hard it is for opposing wings to even get the ball with Tony Allen is playing at or close to his peak. Welcome back, Grizzlies defense. We missed you.

Andrew Harrison has won the backup PG battle for now. At the beginning of the season, that seemed like and impossible thing for me to say by late November, and yet: Harrison's defense has steadily ramped up, he's starting to figure out (1) what to do with the ball on offense and (2) how to get to the foul line if all else fails, and Wade Baldwin went from DNP-CD to garbage time to being dispatched to the Iowa Energy to get some minutes there. Harrison is a shining example of the Grizzlies' new-found focus on player development, even with all of the rough edges he still clearly has. Playing for the Energy last year, putting in the work with Fizdale all summer, being trusted to carry the workload when he clearly wasn't quite up to it yet at the beginning of the season... by January, Harrison may be even better and we'll put all of the "Grizzlies need a vet backup" talk to bed. At the very least, he's already earned the benefit of the doubt.

Mike Conley has stepped up his game to match his paycheck. In the last five games, Conley has scored 30 points twice (against the Clippers and Hornets), has defended tenaciously, moved the ball well even when his shot wasn't falling (let us never speak of that Mavericks game again), and done all of the things that Grizzlies fans hoped he would still be able to do when the team signed him to a max contract this summer. I'd still like to see Fizdale rest him a little more; his minutes have crept up as the winning streak has continued, as have Gasol's. But Conley's been great, and after the perpetually banged-up last couple of seasons he's had, it's good to see him in top form again.

Chandler Parsons can take his time getting right. The Grizzlies have shown they're capable of beating good teams whether Parsons is on the floor or not. Now, I say this with a big caveat: James Ennis left the floor with a calf injury last night and didn't come back, and if Ennis is down for any significant amount of time, Parsons becomes a lot more necessary. But with Parsons clearly not functioning at 100%, the Grizzlies have still been able to use him when he's playing and survive without him when he's not, and that's encouraging. I didn't even expect to have seen this much of Parsons yet, so I'm still treating any minutes he plays as a pleasant surprise, and the Grizzlies seem to be treating his situation the same way. Assuming he can play his way into form by Christmas or so, I don't really see any reason to worry about Parsons yet.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

David Fizdale knows what he's doing. That's not to say he hasn't made any mistakes, but for the most part, the Fizdale Era has brought a new focus, a new energy, and a new sense of unity and motivation to a Grizzlies team that was clearly (in hindsight) not firing on all cylinders for the last 18 months or so. That's not to say that all of the blame lies at the feet of Dave Joerger, or that Fizdale is the only reason things are turning around; health of key players, organizational philosophies, and changes to the roster itself have all played a major role in the transformation. But Fizdale certainly brought with him a new sense of togetherness, of relaxed intensity, and of authenticity in communication that has resonated with the Grizzlies' players in important ways. Moving Zach Randolph to the bench without starting a mutiny, moving Gasol behind the three point line, running an offense that generates great looks for guys who can shoot, trusting the young players to carry the team (whether that's Harrison for big minutes or Deyonta Davis for small minutes, or even starting James Ennis instead of Vince Carter)—all of these are coaching matters, and Fizdale has excelled at them. I was excited about the hire when it happened, and even more excited when I got to sit down and talk to the guy earlier in the preseason. But now... is it to early to call him a coach of the year candidate?

Up Next

The Grizzlies are busy over the Thanksgiving holiday, with a game in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, followed by a home-and-home back to back with Miami that sees them play in Memphis Friday night and Miami (for Fizdale's big homecoming against his mentors Spoelstra and Riley) Saturday night. Miami is really struggling this year, and despite their trust in Joel "The Process" Embiid, the Sixers are still very much a young team with little consistency from night to night, so this is a stretch of the schedule where the Grizzlies should do well and also maybe get some rest for Conley and Gasol. After all, there's still a great deal of basketball to be played.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #60: Clipper Psychology, Vince and Zach, and Previews

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 6:29 AM

bta_001.jpeg

This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • Is Kevin still being negative this season?
  • Are the Clippers really the best team in the NBA?
  • What's going on with the Grizzlies' defense?
  • Bench superstars: Vince Carter and Zach Randolph
  • Is Andrew Harrison actually... good?
  • Listener question: what's the difference between covering games live or at home?
  • Are we worried about Chandler Parsons yet? (Not really)
  • Previews: Mavericks, Wolves, Hornets, Sixers
  • There's Brandan Wright news and it ain't good

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grizzlies 111, Clippers 107: Road Retribution

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 7:53 AM

Grizzlies/Clippers made a comeback last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Grizzlies/Clippers made a comeback last night.

It was one for the ages, another chapter in a long rivalry between two teams who have a genuine distaste for each other that stretches back at least four years and two playoff series. Last night the Grizzlies and Clippers played in LA (after an uneventful and disappointing first matchup that the Clippers won handily) and played one of the most exciting regular season games I’ve seen in a while—and the Grizzlies came away with a win against what has so far been the best team in the NBA on their home turf.

Here are five unordered thoughts from my sleep-starved mind about last night’s 111-107 instant classic.

Five Thoughts

Andrew Harrison is starting to win me over. He’s gotten a lot better as the season has gotten underway, especially on the defensive end. He guarded Chris Paul with serious attitude last night, including this spectacular chasedown block:

(Not to mention his accidental wrestling takedown ot Luc Mbah a Moute.)

If he keeps this up and develops his offensive game to match is defense, Harrison is going (1) make me admit that I was wrong about him and (2) make Wade Baldwin look more like a project whose time might come next year instead of this year. Harrison’s slow start had me convinced that Fizdale saw something in him that wasn’t there, but he’s becoming more steady by the game.

Mike Conley shot extremely well. At one point Conley was 7/7 from the field and 5/5 from three-point range. He finished the game with 30 points… on 12 shots. It was an extremely efficient scoring outburst from Conley, and it happened against some extremely difficult defense from Chris Paul, who hounded Conley without mercy most of the night. The Clippers’ defense overall last night was good, but Conley was able to roast them pretty handily. At times he makes you believe what he said on Media Day: that this is the way he and Marc Gasol have always wanted to play.

Speaking of Marc Gasol, he hit his 4th three pointer of the night—he finished 4/5 from long range— and did this:

I don’t know what else to say about Marc Gasol other than what I said last night when it happened:

Chandler Parsons is still not ready for prime time, and I don’t care. Parsons clearly doesn’t trust his leg yet, and I don’t blame him. He’s not playing at the level anywhere approximating his peak ability yet… and I’m not really worried about it. It’s going to take time for him to get back in the swing of things physically, and even then let’s not forget he’s only actually played with these guys the last month or so. I’ll start paying attention to whether Parsons is looking like himself sometime in December.

I missed this. Game 6 of the 2013 playoff series against the Clippers was the most fun, profoundly “Memphis” sporting event I will ever experience. Someday, Chris Herrington and I should break down our top 5 or 10 favorite moments from that one game. When it’s played at the sort of violent frenzy that marked most of last night’s game, Grizzlies/Clippers is the best rivalry in professional basketball, and certainly the most fun to watch (though sometimes perhaps nauseating in its intensity). When the Clippers rolled into Memphis a couple of weeks ago and the Grizzlies didn’t even seem interested in the game, I thought maybe it was over. Everything ends at some point, right?

Wrong.

The Grizzlies still hate losing to the Clippers, and when it happens, they are set on a mission of retribution. Last night was the most physical game the Grizzlies have played all year, but it wasn’t the slow, methodical, plodding brutality of old, the kind that used to fluster the Clippers by never relenting even once. This new intensity came in waves, great spasms of defense as some of the young guys looked at the old guys like, “Wait, they’re gonna let me do that?”

They are going to let you do that, kid.

Throw that elbow into somebody’s gut while you’re trying to get position on the block. Slap Chris Paul’s hands away two feet in front of a ref while he pretends not to see you do it. This is the essence of Grizzlies/Clippers, and I missed it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Brandan Wright undergoes ankle surgery, no timetable for return

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 10:50 AM

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The Grizzlies have issued a medical update on Grizzlies.com about backup big man Brandan Wright, who has missed the entire regular season so far with an ankle injury. From the post on the Grizzlies.com site:

Wright underwent a successful arthroscopic debridement of his left ankle Tuesday afternoon after non-surgical interventions failed to eliminate his posterior tibialis tendinopathy.

There is not yet a timetable for Wright's return.

Wright's tenure in Memphis has been snakebit from the beginning. He missed a great deal of tome last season before having a knee surgery, and it was never clear why that surgery was so delayed. From there, he got back on the court only to have Ronnie Price run into his knee and sprain his MCL.

Wright played a very heavy minute load in preseason because of other injuries on the roster, and then hurt his ankle pretty immediately. One hopes he can get back to basketball in a matter of weeks rather than months, but the track record so far is not one that inspires a lot of optimism.


Report: Grizzlies among teams no longer staying in Trump hotels

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 10:22 AM

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Marc Stein and Zach Lowe of ESPN reported late last night that the Grizzlies are among three NBA teams—along with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Dallas Mavericks—who will no longer be staying in Trump hotels in New York City and Chicago.

From the report:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks have moved away from Trump hotels in New York City and Chicago, which bear Donald Trump's name through a licensing agreement.

The Grizzlies and Mavericks, sources say, have stayed at the Trump SoHo in the past but opted during the offseason to book new New York hotels for this season.

It's not hard to see why this change was made; in the run-up to the election several players were very outspoken in a Commercial Appeal tidbit about the election, and it's not hard to imagine that given the divisiveness of this campaign season, team officials recognized well in advance that players would be less than enthusiastic about staying in Trump-branded properties.

I reached out to several folks with the team for comment but did not get confirmation.

The original ESPN report is here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grizzlies 102, Jazz 96: Finally, a Road Win

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 8:05 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night the Grizzlies got an important road win over a solid (if depleted) Utah Jazz team in Salt Lake City, 102-96. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game they have played, when has that ever been the measure of Grizzly success? Several players made key contributions, both young and old. The defense was never quite right, but they were able to get stops when it mattered, and the long road towards our glorious shared Fizdale Future got a little bit shorter.

The win was much-needed, especially in light of the disappointing end to the game in Milwaukee Saturday night. Without winning last night, the Grizzlies ran a real risk of going 0-4 on their current road swing, with the LA Clippers resting up for Wednesday night and the always tougher-than-expected Mavericks slated for Friday. The victory over Utah keeps them right at .500, which is still about where I expect them to be for the next little while. The second tier of the West seems a bit more wide open than previously thought, and I don’t think any team with something resembling a winning record is going to be out of the playoff picture until very late in the season.

Now on with the recap.

In which Deyonta Davis is worth all that guaranteed money

It wasn’t clear when the Grizzlies traded the Clippers’ first round pick to Boston that they would do smart things with the two second-rounders they received in return, but given (1) Rade Zagorac’s nice play in the Adriatic League (which is a real league that exists, I discovered this year) and (2) the extreme promise that Deyonta Davis has shown in limited minutes, it’s clear that the fruits of the Second Jeff Green Trade (the good one) are going to pay off.

Davis is very raw, but it’s easy to see why he was projected to go in the lottery. On defense, it seems like he affects every single possession in some small way, without even trying that hard. He’s got a natural feel for the game, a basketball mind that lets him see what’s developing and be in the right place. He’s 19. He’s only going to get better. He might be a partial solution to Zach Randolph’s pitiful defense (which saw him sitting out in crunch time again last night in Utah), because his ability to protect the rim is unlike anything the Grizzlies have had in years.

There are going to be setbacks and bad nights, for sure, and he’s really only played heavy minutes two or three times, but Davis is surprisingly good, and certainly good enough that it makes sense for him to be paid like a first-round guy. Between Davis and Jarell Martin, you could be looking at the (bright) future of the Grizzlies’ frontcourt.

David Fizdale's new defense doesn't quite work yet. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale's new defense doesn't quite work yet.

In which the earth continues to rotate but the Grizzlies’ defense doesn't

Yeah. Well, I don’t know what else to say about this. Learning a totally new defensive scheme from the one that you’ve been playing to great success for several years in a row is not easy—in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things for a team to change on the fly. Fizdale’s scheme is very different from the old Hollins/Joerger masterpieces dependent on overloading the strong side and never switching. Because there’s so much new, and because there are so many new and/or young players trying to play a defense that the veterans don’t even know that well yet, there are lots of problems once the defense is forced to rotate. No one is sure where to be when, or who is supposed to rotate to the ball, and the Grizzlies’ interior defense is suffering for it.

This is the underrated part of the coaching change, to me. The Grizzlies have depended on that defensive identity for years, and now they’re just firmly in the middle of the pack (they’ve got a defensive rating of 106.7 according to Basketball Reference, good for 13th in the league). Learning this stuff on the fly against good teams is challenging, especially from a motivational standpoint. It’s going to be hard to keep guys engaged with learning a new scheme when they’re getting beaten badly by solid offensive teams on a regular basis (this assumes the Wednesday night Clippers rematch goes as poorly as the first one did, which seems likely given how well LA is playing right now). That buy-in is essential. File “defense” under the “work in progress” category.

Vince Carter has had a remarkable season so far. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Vince Carter has had a remarkable season so far.

In which Vince Carter is Chandler Parsons while Chandler Parsons can't be

Vince Carter is playing the best basketball he’s playing in years, now that he’s officially the oldest player in the NBA. Right now, his FG%, 3P%, and offensive rating are literally higher than any other season in his career. Those numbers will inevitably return to something approximating his career averages, but still—he’s Vince Carter, so his career averages are still pretty dang good.

Carter’s finally fulfilling the promise of his signing, when he was brought in to replace a washed declining Mike Miller. Dallas was smart to let him go after the surgery, because it took two full years of recovery for him to be right again, but now he’s playing his best season since 2012-13. He might be ¾ Man, ¼ Amazing these days, but his defense, his shooting, his ability to move the ball around, and his steadying influence on the other guys on the floor have made him invaluable, especially since he’s doing all the things Chandler Parsons was brought in to do.

(Except the part where Vince Carter is a way better defender than Chandler Parsons even though he’s almost 40. There is that part.)

I’m not sure whether Carter’s early start is sustainable, but I don’t really care much. For one thing, it’s been amazing to get to watch Vince Carter do Vince Carter things after a couple of seasons of wondering how soon he was going to announce his retirement because he didn’t look like he could play anymore. For another thing, in theory, by the time the law of averages catches up with Carter, Parsons should be in better game shape and able to carry a more appropriate workload. (This is certainly wishful thinking, and I will probably be made to regret saying it.) At any rate, age is nothing but a number, and at almost-40, Carter’s got about eight years before his age catches up to his 3-point shooting percentage so far this year. Not bad, old man.

Game Haiku #10

I quit doing these for a while (OK, really just for the Nuggets game and the Bucks game) because, well, I put all of my hopes into a campaign to elect Juan Carlos Navarro President and I really think we could’ve won some electoral votes if it hadn’t been for those attack ads pointing out that he was neither an American citizen nor very effective for the one year he spent in the NBA. (That one glorious year when Memphians got to see La Bomba in the flesh! Ah, Juan Carlos! Ah, humanity!) When it all fell apart I was crushed, and fell into a deep depression, from which I was only rescued by YouTube clips like this one:

Anyway, it’s been a long week. Let’s get back on the haiku train.

Jazz in Utah? No,
The music is in Vince Carter,
Aged like a folk song.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #59: November Surprises and Optimism

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 2:54 PM

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This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • What's the most surprising thing about the Grizzlies' season so far?
    • Z-Bo's usage rate and bad defense
    • Chandler Parsons' earlier-than-expected return
  • Has James Ennis been the Grizzlies' most surprising player so far?
  • What has JaMychal Green done to become a starter-quality player?
  • The potential of the Conley - Ennis - Parsons - Green - Gasol lineup to space the floor
  • The rookies and young guys and their various rates of development
  • The non-young guy doing the best: the very impressive Vince Carter
  • Where will the Grizzlies finish in the West standings? Which teams are playing above their heads right now?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


Monday, November 7, 2016

Trail Blazers 100, Grizzlies 94: Rust Never Sleeps

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 7:54 AM

Marc Gasol had a much better game against Portland after struggling against the Clippers. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol had a much better game against Portland after struggling against the Clippers.

Capping off a disappointing weekend of Grizzlies basketball, the home team fell to the Portland Trail Blazers yesterday afternoon, 100-94. It was the first time Ninety-Four Million Dollar Man Chandler Parsons took the floor in Beale Street Blue, and he mostly played like a guy who hasn’t been on the court in months.

The good news out of this weekend’s games, other than the fact that Parsons’ legs work and he is actually able to use them to do basketball things (albeit stiffly), is that even with all of the teething troubles the Grizzlies are having, they’ve still been in competitive games with some of the best teams in the Western Conference. It’s easy to find small things that would’ve made big differences in the last two games. If Marc Gasol doesn’t go 1-10 in the first half against LA, the first half deficit is likely more manageable. In last night’s game, Chandler Parsons looked so rusty that at times I couldn't tell if it was Parsons on the court or the hulking underwater remnants of the Titanic. But if he goes 3-8 from the floor rather than 0-8, we’re more than likely breaking down a win and not a loss. Individual performances matter a great deal, and if those guys don’t have bad nights, the Griz are likely 5-2.

Which is not to say that’s an excuse, or that the Grizzlies don’t have real problems. Here, I made a list of those problems:

The Grizzlies’ Problems, In A Bulleted List

Zach Randolph (shown here against Washington) has regressed on defense this season. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph (shown here against Washington) has regressed on defense this season.

Continue reading »

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