Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #68: Requiem for a Troy

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 1:55 PM


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

  • The hilarious Chandler Parsons/CJ McCollum Twitter beef
  • Why did the Grizzlies lose to the Blazers?
  • Zach Randolph's stellar play on the first half of this road trip
  • Conley's new career high Monday against the Suns
  • Arguing about the All Star reserves (not much arguing, though)
  • Comparing and contrasting Marc Gasol and Boogie Cousins
  • A preview of the games coming up this week
  • Beyond the Arc remembers our brief fling with Troy Williams

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:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trail Blazers 112, Grizzlies 109: Sonnet Recap

Posted By on Sat, Jan 28, 2017 at 8:52 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies mounted a comeback in Portland last night but fell apart down the stretch. In honor of the three-point loss, a sonnet in the Petrarchan form.

On The Grizzlies’ Disjointed But Hard-Fought Loss To The Trail Blazers of Portland on the Twenty-Seventh of January, AD 2017.

Last night the Grizzlies could not quite come back;
From op’ning tip they dug themselves a hole.
With Tony Brothers’ calls out of control,
In crunch time our Bears mounted no attack.
The Grindfather’s decisions showed a lack
Of care for things like stopping pick and roll,
And though he is the Grizzlies’ heart and soul,
He’s got to score when going to the rack.

With Conley clearly not in his top form,
And defense failing to communicate,
The wonder is they made a game at all.
The danger if this game becomes the norm
Is that by only playing second-rate,
From seventh place the Griz will surely fall.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Grizzlies 101, Raptors 99: Three Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Marc Gasol scored a career-high 42 points. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol scored a career-high 42 points.

The Grizzlies won a two-point game without scoring a single field goal in the final six and a half minutes against the Toronto Raptors last night, and this morning that feels like the miracle of miracles. A winnable game turned into another trademark Grizzlies nail-biter as Toronto made it a close game and the Griz offense collapsed in a heap of ashes, but the home team prevailed on a night which saw James Ennis and Zach Randolph (!) in the starting lineup against a Toronto team that’s currently sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

In Which Marc Gasol Transcends The Boundaries Of Space, Time, And Bad Offense

Marc Gasol set a new career high last night with 42 points scored. Gasol was 14 of 25 from the floor, including 5 of 10 from long range (that’s 50%, for those of you who slept through math class), and 16 of those points came in the first three minutes of the game, during which Gasol cus through the Raptors’ interior defense (a loose application of that term) like a Sawzall when he wasn’t busy bombing threes over a bewildered Jonas Valanciunas. Gasol attacked the Raptors with a ferocity rarely seen from him in a game Mike Conley actually played in, and when he finally forced Toronto to call a timeout it seemed like all things were possible.

The lead didn’t hold, of course, because these are the 2016-17 Grizzlies, who are allergic to leads, but it was interesting that in a starting lineup featuring James Ennis and Zach Randolph in place of Chandler Parsons and JaMychal Green, Gasol sensed that he needed to activate his ability to take over a game right from the opening tip, and set a tone for what was to follow.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #67: Is it time to worry yet?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 9:42 AM


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

  • ESPN's Zach Lowe loves JaMychal Green and so do we
  • With the Grizzlies' bad loss to the Rockets, is it time to start worrying?
  • The Wizards game, and how real is a "schedule loss," anyway?
  • Bigger All-Star starting snub: Marc Gasol or Russell Westbrook?
  • The week coming up: Toronto is banged up, the Blazers aren't as good as we thought, and Utah plays tough and slow just like the Grizzlies.

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, January 23, 2017

Grizzlies to bring expansion D-League franchise to Southaven

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 2:42 PM


The Grizzlies (via Grind City Media) have announced that they'll be bringing an expansion franchise of the NBA Development League to Southaven's Landers Center next season. From the report:

The yet-to-be-named affiliate is scheduled to launch for the 2017-18 season and will play its 24-game home schedule at the Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, located about 20 miles south of the Grizzlies’ franchise base at FedExForum in downtown Memphis. The team is expected to make a formal announcement on Tuesday.

The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves were taking over current Griz affiliate the Iowa Energy broke first, which led to some confusion. Iowa will be operated solely by the Wolves next season.

This move makes a lot of sense on many levels. First, it brings the D-League operations to the same metro area as the Grizzlies, which makes it easier to send down and recall players, makes it easier for the coaching and development staffs to collaborate, and fits much better with the Grizzlies' efforts to market themselves to the whole region. It's not a "regional" play the way putting a team in Nashville or Jackson or Little Rock would be, but putting the team in one of those cities would take away the benefit of having everybody under one roof.

Griz minority owner and Energy Managing Partner Jed Kaplan will stay in both roles in Iowa, with Energy GM Chris Makris joining the new Memphis team along with current Energy interim coach Glynn Cyprien.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Grizzlies 107, Kings 91: Game Notes

Posted By on Sat, Jan 21, 2017 at 10:12 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
The first time the Grizzlies welcomed former head coach Dave Joerger back to Beale Street manning the sidelines for a different franchise, they were greeted with a swift kick in the butt by an amorphous Kings squad. The second time around, things went much better for the men in blue.

As is the Grizzlies pattern this season, they began the game at a snail’s pace, falling behind 9-0 before getting on the board. The Grizzlies followed the Kings hot start with a run of their own to put them briefly on top before eventually petering out near the end of an offensively unremarkable first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Grizzlies first tried to energize the offense by inserting Troy Daniels into the mix in the hope that his flame-throwing shooting arm would at the very least help spread the Kings out. His presence did lead to some solid play in the two-man game between Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
Fizdale understands that Daniels’ presence on the weakside prevents teams from bringing more help into the paint to prevent Conley and Gasol from ganging up on their own defenders. However, Joerger had a nice plan in place for Daniels. Every time he touched the ball, the Kings blitzed him and forced a turnover or the ball out of his hands at the least.

More shots went down for the Grizzlies in the second quarter, particularly a notable one-legged fadeaway in the middle of the paint by Vince Carter (what’s up with old men mastering one-legged shots?). When the initial shots weren’t falling, the Grizzlies were able to crash the offensive glass and create easy offense that way that allowed the offense to slowly work its way into rhythm.

Things began to feel more like good theater than a basketball game on the offensive in the third quarter on the back of a frisky Gasol. Big Spain had fifteen points in the quarter, and he nailed three triples including two on back to back possessions. The second one was akin to one you’d take in NBA 2K in MyPlayer mode because nobody has time to pass in a video game. Gasol’s perimeter ability isn’t new at this juncture, but it’s still a breath of fresh air every time he splashes a long bomb through the net.

Defensively, the Grizzlies were locked in all night. They rebounded the ball exceptionally well, limiting the Kings to five offensive rebounds all night. The rotations continue to be sharp on the defensive end, with guys talking on screens, shifting quickly to help on drives, and closing out aggressively. The Kings didn’t get too many easy looks, and that was ultimately something they couldn’t overcome once the Grizzlies’ offense found the hot hand of Gasol.

Not a single Grizzly who played significant minutes had a poor game, and that team effort allowed the Grizzlies to sink the Kings with ease 107-91. Now 2-1 against the ex this season, the Grizzlies have one more meeting with Joerger’s squad in March.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How David Fizdale's Successes Cast A Different Light on Dave Joerger

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 10:50 AM

Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale
Editor's Note: I am at a conference this week out of town, so I asked my old friend and brilliant basketball mind Andrew Ford to chip in with a couple of guest posts. You can find Andrew on Twitter, and you can read his work at places like Upside & Motor and probably all kinds of other places I'm not remembering.

What does an NBA franchise typically do when searching to replace its head coach? It often finds a candidate who turns out to be the polar opposite of the previous coach. While this swing of the pendulum is not always entirely rational, a drastic change such as this was just what the Memphis Grizzlies needed when handing over Dave Joerger’s reins to David Fizdale.

While Joerger was in Memphis, he was generally seen as a good coach. He faced a lot of adversity, particularly in terms of roster instability due to injuries, which he managed well. Joerger also took some strides to bring the Grizzlies into the modern era of offensive basketball by implementing more horns sets, high pick-and-rolls, flex action, and off-ball screening. It would be impossible and unfair to look back on Joerger’s tenure in Memphis and say he didn’t accomplish anything positive that could have a lasting impact on the franchise.

However, now that enough games have been played during Fizdale’s first season in charge to decently assess the job he’s doing on Beale Street, the things Joerger did not – or rather chose not to – do stick out even more.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #65: MLK Day, All Stars, Playoff matchups, and more

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 3:50 PM

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

  • My piece about how the NBA has turned Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday into an excuse to make money, and how you can't just stop at the "I Have a Dream" speech.
  • The Grizzlies' National Civil Rights Museum alternate jerseys were extremely cool
  • Tony Allen named his All-Stars, so we named our starters.
  • Who's going to make the Finals? A look at potential playoff battles at the halfway point of the season.
  • Relationships between players and media, and being in the locker room.
  • More talk about the playoffs and what "if healthy" means.

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, January 16, 2017

Bulls 108, Grizzlies 104: A Game of Ghosts

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Clayborn Temple
  • Clayborn Temple

There are ghosts everywhere. The game happened, and the ghosts were literally across the street at Clayborn Temple, the church from which the sanitation strikes were organized, the church from which Dr. King led the March 28, 1968 march. You have to walk past it to get from the media parking lot to the arena. How many people on the way to the game drive right past the old stone church, until recently abandoned, and don’t know what it is?

Memphis will never be free of these ghosts until we don’t allow our neighbors to be crushed by poverty, by systems stacked against them to keep them unequal, by our own indifference to people who are just as much Memphians as we are. But we unite around basketball everywhere in this town, and the Grizzlies are the most visible expression of that, the one that gives us the opportunity to show the rest of the world what we are.

The Grizzlies were the originators of the NBA’s decision to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. on the holiday dedicated to his birthday. It’s not about the marquee matchup, or not supposed to be. The league has taken it into the realm of the comfortable, where everybody talks about having a dream and leaves it at that. By involving the National Civil Rights Museum and having the symposium, that’s exactly what the Grizzlies tried to avoid. But the teams wore warmups that said something or other about dreaming. They didn’t say this:

The first thing I would like to mention is that there must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country. Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is.

Or this, from the “I Have a Dream” speech:

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

Memphis, just as much as anywhere else, and probably more, needs to hear this stuff just as much today as it did 50 years ago. And the point of putting on an MLK Day symposium was for the Grizzlies to remind us of this (from that same Grosse Pointe speech):

We got to come to see that however much we dislike it, the destinies of white and black America are tied together. Now the races don’t understand this apparently. But our destinies are tied together. And somehow, we must all learn to live together as brothers in this country or we’re all going to perish together as fools. Our destinies are tied together.

Dr. King was a powerful and inspirational speaker. His words still have the power to instill a profound hope, even today. But he wasn’t assassinated at the Lorraine Motel because he was an inspirational speaker; he was killed because he spoke the truth about America as it really is, and then did something about it. And by turning his holiday into a great opportunity to feature marquee matchups and drive ratings, the NBA reveals itself to be tone-deaf to that fact. We can’t celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King like it’s not an ongoing struggle, like it’s something that happened back in the Sixties and thank goodness all that unpleasantness is behind us. In Memphis, the ghosts won’t let us. The Grizzlies’ original idea with basketball on the MLK holiday was to remind us that there is much to be done. The NBA doesn’t seem so comfortable with that message. Dreams are easier to sell than ghosts.

The 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike
  • The 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike

Game Notes

David Fizdale still hasn't figured out his healthy rotation. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale still hasn't figured out his healthy rotation.

The game itself was typical late-model Grizzlies: an inconsistent start, a lack of focus on defense, a mad attempt at a comeback, a close fight through the fourth quarter, and a loss because a good player on the other team made a play.

Late-game execution was pretty poor, with Conley making a questionable decision on the last play of the game to take the shot himself instead of finding the open Gasol, but more than that, it seems like Fizdale is struggling to figure out which five-man units can be on the floor at the same time. The “Tony Allen as backup point guard” experiment doesn’t seem to be working out, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s because of Allen’s limitations as a ball-handler, or because of the lack of floor spacing and the slow defense in those units (which so far have featured Vince Carter and Zach Randolph pretty prominently). The youth and athleticism (and the Troy Daniels shooting) that carried the Grizzlies to their better-than-expected start seems to have fallen by the wayside, as Andrew Harrison can’t get on the court with Allen playing PG, Jarell Martin hasn’t shown any signs of being a reliable rotation player yet, and Troy Williams is stranded in Iowa with Wade Baldwin. With Parsons back in the lineup, and Deyonta Davis set to return soon, the problem Fizdale faces—”too many decent players”–is a good one to have, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem.

This stuff will work itself out. The trade deadline looms as a possible opportunity to clarify the rotations a bit, but the Griz don’t have many real trade pieces (beyond their impressive stockpile of second-round picks, including one from Miami that’s starting to look valuable indeed). But in the meantime, the Griz can’t keep dropping games to teams that aren’t as good as they are. The Western Conference wins and division wins are important, but the overall record counts first, and that’s where the Griz are shooting themselves in the foot by turning in these disjointed performances against .500-or-worse East teams.

Up Next

The Grizzlies are in DC to play the Wizards on Wednesday night, and then they return home for the rare home back-to-back against Dave Joerger and the Kings and the Rockets, over whom they now hold a 2-0 lead in the season series. It’s an important week in terms of momentum, and as Parsons works his way back into a “normal” allotment of minutes, I hope that Fizdale can find a more consistent way to get minutes for both Parsons and Daniels. To me, that’s the real test of this week: to get the team to play as well as they did without Conley, Parsons, and Ennis (as crazy as that sounds).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #64: Not Memphis Enough

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 1:29 PM


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

  • The Warriors game! In which the Grizzlies pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
  • Are the Warriors in trouble, or did the Grizzlies just catch them on a bad night? How much better is the Grizzlies' bench?
  • The controversy over bringing Z-Bo off the bench.
  • Why is Chandler Parsons not "Memphis" enough?
  • How much of a healthy Parsons will the Grizzlies see this year? 75%? 85%?
  • Which Grizzlies should be All Stars?
  • Mark Jackson called out the way ESPN promotes the Warriors. Was he right? (Yes.)

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:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Grizzlies 128, Warriors 119: Instant Core Four Classic

Posted By on Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 9:36 AM

This happened a lot in the fourth quarter. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This happened a lot in the fourth quarter.

I almost went to bed after the third quarter, when the Grizzlies were down 20. Disappointed by their performance in the last two games, assuming that both teams would pull the plug and coast through the last 12 minutes, I’d had enough and I was going to go read a book and get to bed early (which is a precious commodity in these weeks with three West Coast road games). If I had, I’d have missed the latest in a long string of Grizzlies comebacks and nail-biters, and arguably the greatest of them all.

I first thought it could happen at 6:28 remaining, when Troy Daniels (who else?) hit a three to cut the Grizzlies’ deficit to single digits. The Core Four + Troy lineup looked like they were getting into a good rhythm, and the Warriors were starting to get frustrated by the Grizzlies’ defense, which was slowly but surely choking the life out of them, like a python they didn’t notice until it was too late.

From there, it was history. Zach Randolph had one of his best games of the season, because Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia were defending him and Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia can’t stop Zach Randolph any more than I can stop a garbage truck from running me over. In a season where he’s hardly gotten to play with Marc Gasol on the court, Randolph and Gasol picked up right where they left off with their on-court chemistry, and 27 Z-Bo points, 11 rebounds, and six assists later, the Grizzlies’ old lineup, the one that wasn’t supposed to work in The Modern NBA, had beaten the Warriors (the second time this year the Grizzlies have done so) and left them frustrated about how to play together with Durant. Yet again, the Grizzlies made the Warriors have to stop and say “Wait, that didn’t work against those guys.”

Continue reading »

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Clippers 115, Grizzlies 106: Extremely Lame and Not That Close

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 9:51 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night, the Grizzlies lost another game in Los Angeles to a team they should’ve beaten because of a failure to execute on offense and an inability to get stops on defense. It was a different mode of failure from Tuesday night’s disappointment against the Lakers, but the overall vibe was the same: one of muted, disorganized, unfocused futility.

Chandler Parsons was out, in keeping with the Grizzlies’ pattern of resting him on the second night of back-to-backs. JaMychal Green was out with a facial fracture suffered in a collision with Timofey Mozgov’s elbow in Tuesday night’s game. That meant Jarell Martin was thrust into a starting role at power forward, and it didn’t go well for him. He struggled to defend without fouling, and eventually only managed to play 12 minutes in a game he started—not a great night.

But nothing about either of the Grizzlies’ recent nights in L.A. has been great. From coming out flat after three days off and getting smoked by an enthusiastic-but-inferior Lakers team, to a Twitter uproar about Parsons’ TMZ-reported exploits on a night between back-to-back games (which I had to break out into its own sidebar below), to having a great 34-point second quarter against the Clippers and then checking out for the rest of the game, it's all been an unpleasant mélange of boredom, one that required the home fans to stay up late to be let down.

Am I worried about where that leaves the Grizzlies, headed to a Friday night rematch with the Golden State Warriors and a tough little stretch of schedule ahead? Not really. They're going to muddle through and come out the other side. But the signs are there that until the same guys are consistently on the floor together, the chemistry is going to be weird. Which makes sense. Parsons isn't playing every game. Green is injured. Conley was back and then out again and now he's back again. Ennis starts sometimes, and sometimes doesn't. It's hard to maintain consistent effort and execution when your roles are still unsettled, and we know from years of experience with this team that when the effort isn't there, they lose to teams they should beat. It might be a bumpy week or two, which Grizzlies fans should maybe just consider fair payback for the insane streak they went on when Conley was out. I still think they'll be fine.


Scattered, Incomplete Reflections on Chandler Parsons

  1. First off, it's not really anybody's business if a grown adult goes out on his night off.
  2. Grizzlies fans didn't technically know it was his night off, so maybe the appearance that he was out partying made it look like he was doing it before a game. But it was his night off.
  3. He's clearly not all the way healthy, and even more clearly not in game shape, and hasn't really ever been since signing with the Grizzlies. I didn't think he'd play a game until Christmas, but when he did I figured he'd look better than he has.
  4. That said, he hasn't been terrible. He just hasn't been an explosive secondary playmaker, the potent offensive force that people were told he would be. Because he's clearly not in shape.
  5. If he were totally healthy Twitter, that cesspool of fake moral outrage, self-aggrandizing Personal Brand-building ironic distance, robots trying to get you to click things, and actual literal Nazis, would just be cracking jokes about it instead of being indignant.
  6. The Grizzlies have never really had a player like this before, a high profile guy who likes to be out on the town. The Core Four guys fans so revere are all married with kids. That makes Parsons an odd fit culturally, both on the team and with the fanbase itself.
  7. So, is it a bad look for Mr. Extremely Visible Party Animal (who—in public, because the Internet is public—told an Instagram model to "show me your tits," which is way dumber than having a fun night out when he's not playing the next day) to also be out of shape? Yeah. It is, a little. But nobody works out every hour of every day. Everybody's off work at some point.
  8. This will probably all go away once he's healthy.
  9. Assuming he gets healthy.
  10. He'll probably be healthy eventually.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Grizzlies 114, Thunder 80: Ejections Don’t Count As Assists

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 8:47 AM

Without Conley, Gasol functioned as chief scorer, facilitator, and interior defender. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Without Conley, Gasol functioned as chief scorer, facilitator, and interior defender.

Last night the Grizzlies, yet again without Mike Conley, defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-80. The final score is a little bit closer than the game felt in the building; the Grizzlies’ largest lead was 37 points, and Russell Westbrook was ejected after being assessed his second technical foul halfway through the third quarter, which cut off whatever comeback chances the Thunder still had.

It was the kind of performance we’re used to seeing from the Grizzlies lately without their highest-paid player: an impressive defensive performance (especially in the second quarter, where the Grizzlies opened up the game for themselves by holding the Thunder to 18 points and 21% shooting), anchored by scoring outbursts from Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and a fourth-quarter volcanic eruption from Troy Daniels (to the tune of 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 6/8 from long range… in one quarter). As has been the case without Conley since he originally went down weeks ago, the ball moved freely, and without much in the way of a backup point guard, when starter Andrew Harrison wasn’t on the floor, the offense ran through Tony Allen bringing up the ball to Marc Gasol, who was operating from the elbow. It worked well—or, well enough, anyway—and the Griz were able to function pretty well without having to rely on a still-shaky Wade Baldwin IV (whose recent stint with the Iowa Energy was less than stellar) to carry the offense when he’s pretty clearly not up to it.

The moral of the story of last night’s game is twofold: (1) This team is at its best when Marc Gasol isn’t worried about making Conley better and (2) The Griz have got to figure out a way to be more consistent with their energy and focus level.

To the first point, David Fizdale said in his postgame presser that even Conley is starting to say this stuff to Gasol—that Gasol should look for his own shot first and then worry about whether Conley gets going. “Mike’s going to get his,” is what Fizdale said. One hopes that with a steady stream of encouragement coming from Fizdale—a coach Gasol seems to respect immensely—and Conley, the guy whom Gasol is so worried about facilitating in the first place, Gasol can start to learn how not to disappear in games, how to assert himself even when it doesn’t feel like the most natural thing for him, and how to attack when he’s got the opportunity even when in theory the “right” play would be to pass. He’s such a great passer that I totally understand why it’s his first instinct, but I also think the Grizzlies’ chances are inversely proportional to how much he tries to be a point center instead of an MVP-level all-around threat.

We’ve been saying this stuff about Gasol for years, and it’s never seemed to change much (except in the first half of his last contract year, before the Jeff Green trade apparently triggered some kind of nervous breakdown), so maybe with the Grizzlies’ new situation, new leadership, and new pecking order (in which Gasol is the sole captain of the team), the message will start to sink in.

Andrew Harrison contributed on defense and hit some big shots. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Andrew Harrison contributed on defense and hit some big shots.

Now, to the second point: it’s a simple fact that if the Grizzlies played with 25% of last night’s defensive intensity against Orlando on Monday, they would have at least had a chance of winning, instead of getting run out of the building by a team that isn’t as good. And if they’d been as sharp during their game at Boston, they’d have hung around in that game, too. Last night was the third game the Grizzlies have played this week, but it was the first one in which they looked like themselves, rather than sleepwalking through a game with their minds still back at Christmas dinner. Maybe Santa didn’t bring them what they wanted. Maybe they had too much Old Grand-Dad in the egg nog and every last one of them was still hung over in Orlando. Maybe they just weren’t feeling it.

The Grizzlies’ successes only come when they’re playing with a high level of energy, and an extreme level of focus on defense. It’s not about what schemes they’re running or what they can do execution-wise. This has been the case for years. But it’s not possible for one to be at the top of his or her game every time he or she shows up for work (other than myself, obviously, the lone exception to this rule). When the system matters less than the focus, the focus has to be there every night or the system can’t make up for it. That’s what happened in the Orlando and Boston games, and that’s a big part of what powered the Grizzlies to hold Russell Westbrook without an assist for the first time since 2013 last night. They were locked in, and as a result they ran away with the game and Westbrook got himself kicked out so he could hit the showers. They may not always be that good, but last night everything worked.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Grizzlies 115, Rockets 109: Six Victory Haiku

Posted By on Sat, Dec 24, 2016 at 7:56 AM

Vince Carter (pictured against Boston) had 15 points off the bench against Houston. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Vince Carter (pictured against Boston) had 15 points off the bench against Houston.

The Grizzlies have now beaten every team ahead of them in the standings (except for the San Antonio Spurs, but they don’t play for the first time until February). Last night, lifted to victory by defensive execution and a 55-point scoring outburst from their reserves, they beat the James Harden-led Rockets, in a showdown of the league’s 4th-best offense and the league’s best defense.

As ever, defense won; Harden’s whole game is predicated on getting to the foul line, and against the Grizzlies last night he only attempted three free throws. His talents have really been maximized by Houston’s new head coach Mike D’Antoni, but last night his 17 assists were paired with 9 turnovers. It was a huge effort from the whole team, and a great win for the Grizzlies, who now get to sit at home over Christmas weekend savoring it. In honor of the win, and since I can’t stop myself from doing this, here are six haiku, one for each point in the Grizzlies’ margin of victory.

Game Notes Haiku

James Harden’s hygiene
That beard has to store up sweat
Like a camel’s hump

Fifty-five bench points
They were all starters last week
Maybe they should be?

Vince, the ageless one
Half man, half amazing, yes:
Now half monument.

Shot fifty-two threes
Raining down in round orange drops
Thirty-two were bricks.

Harden to the line?
Hard to rip-through against this,
A phalanx of bears

The league’s best defense
And the twenty-eighth offense
Time’s a flat circle

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Celtics 112, Grizzlies 109: Why Are the Grizzlies Losing?

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Marc Gasol was good, but the Grizzlies need him to be great. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol was good, but the Grizzlies need him to be great.

The Grizzlies got back a Mike Conley who was playing the best basketball of his career when he went down two weeks ago, and even though they went 7-2 while Conley was out and beat the Golden State Warriors by 20, now the offense is extremely limited and nobody looks comfortable playing with each other. What’s going on with the Grizzlies, and what can they do about it?

The offense has to be more than Gasol and Conley. It’s a Herculean feat for Conley to be back on the floor right now, but he still doesn’t look like himself. His timing is off, he’s not as aggressive (a broken back will do that to you, I suppose), he hasn’t been as smart with his shot selection…. bottom line is, Conley hasn’t been right.

The Grizzlies found a way to score without Conley. The ball moved around, Gasol went back to being the primary distributor, and guys knew they had to move if they were going to get a good shot. With Conley back, the offense has returned to its unsure pre-injury status, which is mostly a two-man game where everyone else stands around and waits to be passed the ball. Gasol was so transcendent with Conley out that it’s been depressing to see him shrink with Conley back, just as people were starting to talk about how well he’s playing.

Everything for the Grizzlies may still start on the defensive end, but in all three games since Conley has returned, the offense hasn’t even been good enough to stay afloat. Last night was certainly better than the Kings and Jazz games, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement in terms of finding a balance between Conley and Gasol on offense, and enabling other guys rather than relying on the Gasol/Conley pick and roll to create every opportunity. With Conley off the floor last night, the ball moved better. That's a problem.

"Focus, you know, the German band that did 'Hocus Pocus'" - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • "Focus, you know, the German band that did 'Hocus Pocus'"

The defense has to remain focused. In his postgame presser, David Fizdale gave a specific example of what was going on with the Grizzlies’ defensive mindset during the second half. At one point, the Celtics ran the same play three times in a row and scored each time because the Grizzlies were supposed to switch and didn’t. Fizdale said he called a timeout after the second time, talked about what to do on that specific play, and then Boston ran it again immediately and the Griz still didn’t switch.

That, to me, is not a sign of a team that is paying attention to details on the defensive end. After the first half, in which the Celtics shot 29.3% and only scored 31 points, it was easy to assume that the correction was coming, and that Boston wouldn’t be held to 62 points for the whole game. The problem is that it seemed like the Grizzlies also made that assumption and didn’t sweat the small stuff; in the process, the Celtics scored as many points in the third quarter as they did in the entire first half, and scored even more in the fourth quarter (35 points) as the Grizzlies tried to hang on and force overtime instead of losing in regulation.

That’s not to say Isaiah Thomas didn’t have anything to do with it. Thomas ended up scoring 44 points on only 16 field goal attempts, including 7/10 from beyond the arc, and 36 of those points came in the second half and overtime, when it seemed like he just couldn’t miss. His speed and shooting ability make him a nightmare to defend, and he was certainly more than the Grizzlies could handle. Even with that being the case, the Grizzlies still didn’t do their best work on the defensive end, and given the stagnation of the offense, the Griz can’t really afford to be less than perfect right now.

It’s time for Gasol to keep being Gasol. We’ve been saying for years that if Marc Gasol could be more aggressive on a consistent basis that he’d be an All-Star starter every year. This stretch of three games is further proof that that probably won’t ever happen. With Mike Conley out, Gasol knew he had to carry the team to victory, and did whatever it took to make it happen, whether that was a triple double, scoring 30 points, playing lockdown defense, anything. He was everywhere, crushing the will of the opponent almost single-handedly.

Since Conley came back, we’ve seen the Marc Gasol of the first two weeks of the season: not quite engaged with every play, not distributing from the elbow, deferring to Conley at every opportunity. That’s not going to win the Grizzlies any basketball games right now. Gasol has to realize that Conley isn’t right, and yet he’s continuing to play like Conley is the one playing MVP-caliber basketball. Fizdale called him out a little bit after last night’s game, saying that he was disappointed in the Grizzlies’ leadership and that “our huddles are like tombs right now.” Fizdale made Gasol the only captain, and has clearly been making an effort to cultivate the kind of leadership he’s shown in spurts through his whole career. But Gasol can be a moody guy. He’s the best player on the team, and he’s just as obsessed with process as Fizdale is, but who knows how he’ll respond to being told that he needs to get better. I’d like to think he’ll do what he needs to do to make the team win right now, but we’ve also seen his mental state descend into chaos as it did in 2015 after the Jeff Green trade, ripping his jersey, fouling out and sitting down on the court, etc. I appreciate what Fizdale is doing, and he has a massive amount of pull in the locker room because he says exactly what he thinks and tells his players exactly what he expects from them. We’ll just have to wait and see if he can shake Gasol out of this mini-slump or if the chemistry of the team is becoming a longer-term project as they regain most of the guys they lost to injury.

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