Sunday, February 27, 2011

Game 60 Notebook: Grizzlies 120, Kings 92

Posted By on Sun, Feb 27, 2011 at 12:51 AM

The Lead: The Grizzlies struggled early tonight, trailing the Sacramento Kings for much of the first quarter before ending the period down 28-23. But over the next three quarters, the Grizzlies put on perhaps their most dominating display since an early home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — outscoring the Kings 97-64 over the final three quarters.

Along the way, there were so many interesting in-game storylines and subplots that putting them in list form is about the only way to keep up:

*Shane Battier made his first appearance since Thursday's trade back to the place where his NBA career began.
*Former University of Memphis star Rodney Carney made his debut in a Grizzlies uniform.
*Marc Gasol got in a little tiff with coach Lionel Hollins and took it out on the Kings in his most swaggering performance maybe ever.
*Hamed Haddadi took the departed Hasheem Thabeet's back-up center role and responded with his first career double-double off the bench.
*Jason Williams got comfortable and loose, showing the first flashbacks of the "old" J-Will we've seen since he rejoined the team.
*O.J. Mayo, in his first game since his awkward near-trade to the Indiana Pacers, fought hard through his shooting slump and busted out with a big fourth quarter.

That all of this occurred with Rudy Gay on the bench in street clothes, Zach Randolph delivering a ho-hum 23-12, Sam Young and Darrell Arthur continuing their breakout seasons, Tony Allen howling in approval at teammates' plays, Greivis Vasquez providing good spot minutes, and Mike Conley having a quietly effective night underscores how a team that, a year ago, was perhaps the most shallow in the NBA, has suddenly become impressively deep. The necessary caveat is that this blowout game came against a bad team playing without its best player (former UofM Tiger Tyreke Evans), and playing its fourth game in five nights — all on the road — on the second night of a back-to-back. The Kings were primed to get knocked around tonight, but the Grizzlies sure looked good obliging them.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Grizzlies-Kings Ticket Contest

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Shane Battier's first return game for the Grizzlies, Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings, is not being televised. But we can give you a chance to welcome Battier back to town up close. We've got two lower-level tickets for Saturday night's game to give away. Go to this link to enter the contest. The drawing is at 4 p.m. today.

The Post-Deadline Playoff Race

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 11:51 AM

In the wake of a chaotic trade deadline day in the NBA, let's look at the crowded race for the bottom four seeds in the Western Conference playoffs. With the top four seeds — San Antonio, Dallas, L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, in some order — seemingly locked up and with three teams — L.A. Clippers, Sacramento, Minnesota — too far back, there seem to be eight teams competing for four spots. How it might shake out:

5. New Orleans Hornets 34-25 14 games back
What They Did: Traded Marcus Thornton to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry.
What it Means: They essentially exchanged a high-level reserve guard for a high-level reserve forward. Given the injury concerns with starting center Emeka Okafor and the lack of quality frontcourt depth, this was probably a good deal for the Hornets. New Orleans has had a very erratic season so far and are hard to predict, but as long as Chris Paul stays healthy the rest of the way, they might be hard to catch. I like New Orleans for the 6th seed. Home/Road splits remaining: 12/11.

6. Denver Nuggets 34-25 14 games back
What They Did: They traded Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks for half the Knicks roster. You probably heard about it.
What it Means: The Nuggets have looked great in two games since the Melo trade, notching double-digit wins against both the Grizzlies and Boston Celtics. But do we need to put an asterisk next to those games? For starters, both were in Denver, where the Nuggets have been unusually good, with the league's fourth best home record (24-7). The Grizzlies game felt like a "Home Alone" game, with the Nuggets relieved to finally be past the on-going Melodrama and eager to prove they could win without him. The Boston game came against a Celtics team emotionally reeling from the unexpected trade of center Kendrick Perkins just hours earlier. The Nuggets might look a little different once things settle down, and a slightly road-heavy schedule won't help. But this is still a deep, talented, well-coached team. I'm guessing the race between Denver and Memphis could come down to tiebreaker the Nuggets won by taking the season-series. So, I like Denver for 7th. Home/Road splits remaining: 10/13

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Breaking Down the Battier/Thabeet Trade

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 1:22 AM

The Grizzlies made only one trade yesterday, but it was a doozy. And even the deal they did make was obscured by the one they tried and failed to make.

Call it a Comeback: Shane Battier back in Beale Street Blue.
  • Call it a Comeback: Shane Battier back in Beale Street Blue.
There's way too much to sort through for one post, so I'm breaking up trade-deadline-related material into probably four posts. This one will look exclusively at the reasons for and ramifications of the Shane Battier/Hasheem Thabeet trade. Over the next few days I hope to come back with stuff on: 1. The magnitude of the Thabeet mistake, what was or wasn't learned from it, and the chances of him coming back to haunt the team. 2. The failed Mayo-to-Indiana deal, what happened and what it means now. 3. How the Western Conference playoff race looks in the wake of a massive day of NBA dealing.

None of those posts — I hope — will be nearly as long as this one.

But I will offer a quick take on the Mayo non-deal first: Don't believe stuff suggesting that the Grizzlies decided to back out of that trade. Michael Heisley himself has made clear that the team tried to make the deal but that it just didn't come together in time for the deadline.

In addition to a desire by some in the organization to trade Mayo for immediate on-court purposes, I think much of the deal was also financially motivated. In the short term, it would have mitigated the extra money the team took on in the Battier deal. And heading into the summer, the team hopes to resign Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Battier and has decent cheap players (Tony Allen, Sam Young, and Xavier Henry) in place at the two guard. I think they wanted to move off Mayo's money in order to free up more room for Randolph/Gasol/Battier.

The Pacers deal, while nowhere close to good value for Mayo, would have done three things: Freed up cash now and this summer, given them a better back-up center (Josh McRoberts) to replace Thabeet the rest of this season, and given them a first-round pick as the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I wouldn't have liked the deal at all, but I understand it.

And, with that, on to the main event:

The Deal: The Grizzlies trade Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll, and a lottery-protected future first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Shane Battier and Ish Smith.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trade Deadline: Thabeet and (maybe) Mayo Out, Battier In

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 2:49 PM

A flurry of activity at the NBA trade deadline will bring Shane Battier back to Memphis — at least briefly. The Grizzlies acquired Battier, an impending free agent, from the Houston Rockets for Hasheem Thabeet and a future first round pick.

A second, more controversial, deal is on the table but not official as of right now. It would send O.J. Mayo to the Indiana Pacers for reserve big man Josh McRoberts and a future first-round pick. The Pacers hold a trade exception that would make the deal possible despite a disparity in salaries between the two players. At the moment, however, it is uncertain if the Grizzlies and Pacers submitted trade in time.

I'll be discussing all this on the Chris Vernon Show (730 AM) at 5 p.m. and will have a full — and sure to be lengthy — post trade deadline report up later tonight.

A Good Night for the Grizzlies; Trade Deadline Looming

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Could the Hasheem Thabeet era be coming to a (merciful) end?
After getting blitzed Tuesday night by a short-handed but frisky Denver Nuggets team in what felt a little like a giddy "Home Alone" game for the home team, the Grizzlies got back on track last night, picking up a 104-95 road win against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game they controlled from the opening tip. After subpar performances against the Nuggets, Zach Randolph (24-10-5) and Mike Conley (22-5-9) bounced back with strong games, and the wing rotation without Rudy Gay looks decent two games in: Tony Allen has averaged 21 points, 5.5 boards, and 1.5 steals over the two games. Sam Young has averaged 13 rebounds and 2 steals but, more significantly, has replicated Gay's recent strong rebounding from the small forward position with 8 a game. And while O.J. Mayo's three-point stroke hasn't really been there with 3-14 long-range shooting over two games, he's played with both more swagger and impact off the bench these past two games, scoring 21 points on 8-14 shooting against the Nuggets and scoring 9 points but with 6 assists and 3 steals against the Wolves.

The Grizzlies also got some help with losses by the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers last night.

The Standings: With the win over the Timberwolves and the Jazz loss to the Mavs, the Grizzlies moved back into the final playoff slot, half a game ahead of the Jazz and a game behind the Blazers, who are 7th. The Grizzlies are 1.5 games behind the 6th-place Denver Nuggets and 2 games back of the 5th-place New Orleans Hornets. Game of consequence tonight: The Nuggets are at home against the Boston Celtics.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Griz to Sign Rodney Carney

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Two days after losing Rudy Gay for at least a month, the Grizzlies are set to sign free-agent small forward Rodney Carney to a 10-day contract, as first reported by the Commercial Appeal.


A 2006 first round pick who's played nearly 300 NBA games for three different franchises over the past five seasons, Carney is a journeyman who is best known locally for his successful college stint at the University of Memphis.

Carney's local connection will draw attention: I've already seen comments praising the signing on those terms and wondering — with apparent seriousness — when the Grizzlies will finally sign former Tiger Antonio Anderson, and I've seen comments blasting the idea that former Tigers drive ticket sales.

But Carney's collegiate record is pretty much irrelevant to this signing. Carney was simply the best available free agent small forward.

Carney has three viable NBA skills: He's a terrific athlete at 6'7" who can run the floor and finish in transition. He's a decent defender (though not as good on that end as I thought he would be). And he's a viable catch-and-shoot threat from long-distance, making 34% on his career.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rudy Gay Out Four (or More) Weeks: Can the Griz Survive?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 1:58 PM

UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that the on court/off court stats cited via haven't been updated in about a month — which I didn't notice. Current numbers underscore the same point about the team being better with Gay on the floor at both the offensive and defensive ends, though the difference now isn't quite as extreme because the "bench" has improved over the past month. I'll update the numbers when I have a chance.

The Grizzlies got bad news yesterday when an MRI on Rudy Gay's injured shoulder revealed enough damage to keep him out of the lineup for what's estimated to be at least four weeks — which would be nearly half the remaining season. This loss comes at the team's most optimistic moment of the season, in the midst of four-game winning streak and a playoff situation in which the Grizzlies are now tied for the 8th seed and only 1.5 games out of the 5th seed. Can they remain in the playoff race without him?

Rudy Gay will be on the sidelines for the next month.

What is Being Lost: On the season, the Grizzlies have outscored opponents by 2.9 points per 100 possessions with Rudy Gay on the floor. (All on-court/off-court numbers from Without him? They've been outscored by 10.5, the biggest point swing related to any individual player on the team. Gay leads the team in minutes (39.9) and is second in points (19.8 per game) and PER (18.0). He has also been, arguably, the team's most significant two-way player this season. In short, a major, major loss.

Playing Without Him: While the Grizzlies have been much worse this season when Gay's gone to the bench, they've actually been pretty solid in the three-and-a-half games in which Gay hasn't been available at all.

With Gay serving a one-game league suspension on December 18th, the Grizzlies took the San Antonio Spurs — the league's top team so far this season — to overtime on the road before losing. With Gay out sick on January 1st, the Grizzlies played at Utah in what was a single-possession game into the final minute before losing 98-92. And with Gay out with a sprained toe on February 8th, the Grizzlies won a rousing overtime road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Game 57 Notebook: Grizzlies 102, Sixers 91

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 11:46 PM

The Lead: The Grizzlies head into the All-Star break with a four-game winning streak and a 12-3 record over their past 15 games, but the real lead tonight was the injury Rudy Gay suffered in the middle of the second quarter.

Rudy Gay, after his shoulder injury. - WARD ARCHER

After hitting the floor on a drive and taking two free throws on one-hand shots, Gay left the game for good with a subluxation on his non-shooting shoulder. As I understand it, a subluxation is a partial dislocation. Essentially, Gay's shoulder popped out and immediate popped back in. The damage this did will be determined by an MRI tomorrow, and until that happens, no one can be sure about how serious this is. The range could be anywhere from surgery to a few days rest and treatment. The best guess seems to be that given Gay's youth, lack of history with shoulder problems, and where the injury occurred (i.e., shoulder rather than knee), there's a good chance that this isn't serious. But we won't know until tomorrow. If nothing else, the All-Star break gives Gay a weeklong rehab cushion that could minimize the number of games missed.

As for the game itself, the Grizzlies came out tonight and blitzed the Sixers in the first quarter with stifling defense that, for once, wasn't a by-product of Tony Allen, who played only two minutes in the quarter. The Grizzlies used five steals and three blocks in the quarter to force eight Philadelphia turnovers while not having any turnovers themselves. As a result, the Grizzlies went up 26-10 after one quarter.

The Grizzlies pushed the lead to 18 midway through the second quarter and were up 41-26 when Gay left the game. But Gay's departure and the free-throw awkwardness — both Gay's and the Grizzlies fouling on the other end to get him out of the game — seemed to knock the team out of its rhythm. Over the next 15 minutes, the Sixers outscored the Grizzlies 44-30 to pull to within one but could never get over the hump, as the Grizzlies used a fourth quarter shooting explosion from Mike Conley — 15 points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-4 from three-point range — to put the game away.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

About Last Night: Three Factors in Effect, Playoff Race Heating Up

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Got sidetracked after last night's 116-108 Grizzlies win over the Denver Nuggets. So rather than the standard post-game notebook, a few thoughts on both last night's game and the immediate future of a very real playoff race:

Last Night's Game, Signature Plays, and the Griz Three Factors: The Grizzlies enjoyed one of their best wins of the season last night. Down 17 points (86-69) late in the third quarter to a Denver Nuggets team whose league-best offense was humming, everything was going wrong.

Grizzlies basketball this season has been defined in large part by three statistical indicators: The team leads the NBA in turnover differential and points in the paint. And after a slow start they've pushed themselves up to 6th in offensive rebounding, a category where the Grizzlies lead the NBA a year ago.

But, down 17, with four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Grizzlies were lagging behind the Nuggets in all three of these pet categories. The Nuggets offense was not being disrupted and the Grizzlies were not getting themselves the extra possessions and easy baskets needed to offset their nightly deficiencies from long-range.

Two types of signature plays embody the brand of basketball the Grizzlies have thrived with this season: The Tony Allen Steal and the Zach Randolph Putback. Down 86-69, the Griz were also getting blanked on both of those types of tone-setting plays. Allen had zero steals. Randolph had a lone offensive rebounded, but no putbacks.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Game 55 Notebook: Grizzlies 89, Bucks 86

Posted By on Sat, Feb 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM

The Lead: You could see this one coming. The Milwaukee Bucks entered the game 29th in offensive efficiency and were facing a Grizzlies team currently ranked 9th in defensive efficiency and moving up. Meanwhile, the Bucks were 6th in defensive efficiency and were getting a Grizzlies offense ranked 20th on the season and coming into this game without O.J. Mayo (league suspension) and Zach Randolph (nursing a sore ankle) and with Rudy Gay gutting his way through multiple injuries.

Given all that, this was shaping up to be a low-scoring muddle of a game, and that's exactly what it was.

Other than an unlikely third-quarter explosion from Corey Maggette, who scored 20 points in the quarter on 4-4 three-point shooting (he's a career 32% shooter from distance), the Bucks could never get anything going offensively. But that one little run of shot-making was enough to make this a competitive game as the Grizzlies own offense was searching for scoring options for much of the game: Mike Conley and Darrell Arthur, suddenly the primary shot creators, combined to shoot 4-17 in the first half. Back-up point guards Greivis Vasquez and a debuting Jason Williams created exactly zero points in a combined 11 minutes.

Rudy Gay delivered an admirably effective 14 points (5-11 shooting) and 3 assists in nearly 40 minutes, but you could tell early on that he was severely limited. In the first quarter, he finished a play on the block with a soft lay-up that would normally be a dunk, and with a reasonably clear angle to the basket on a 2-on-1 break, he gave the ball to Conley instead. Gay was clearly trying to pick his spots, but when the team ran a few isolation plays for him down the stretch, he struggled with turnovers.

Ultimately, good defense, a spark of energy from Tony Allen, and a bounce-back second half from Mike Conley was enough to polish off a bad Bucks team. But I don't think the Grizzlies could be this limited against better Denver and Philadelphia teams on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively, and hope to win.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Game 53 Notebook: Lakers 93, Grizzlies 84

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 11:07 PM

A quicker than usual post-game report as I face Tuesday deadlines on non-hoops work:

The Lead: The Lakers used strong defense from their pair of seven-foot post players and deft three-point shooting from secondary scorers (Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, and Shannon Brown combining to go 8-15) to pull away from the Grizzlies in a physical, often intense, but not terribly elegant game.

In the late third quarter, Marc Gasol bloodied Ron Artest's nose fighting for the ball and the game stopped for a couple of minutes as no one — Griz players, referees, coaches, Artest's teammates — seemed quite sure how Artest would react. This was followed by a Rudy Gay technical, a hard foul on Gay by Kobe Bryant, and other bits of potential chaos.

The Grizzlies responded well to all of this, using a series of steals to pull within 78-76 at the midway mark of the fourth quarter. From there, the Grizzlies' offense fell apart as the Lakers went on a 13-2 run before a couple of late Sam Young three-pointers brought the final deficit into single digits.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Griz Move Into Playoff Position/Winning Streak Trends

Posted By on Sat, Feb 5, 2011 at 12:29 AM

With a 112-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at FedExForum Friday night and an earlier loss by the Portland Trailblazers to the Indiana Pacers, the Grizzlies improved to 27-24 and moved into 8th place in the Western Conference, good enough for a playoff birth if the season ended today.

It wasn't as easy as many anticipated. Trying to avoid tying an NBA record with 23 consecutive single-season losses, the Cavs stayed with the Grizzlies for three quarters. The Grizzlies began by making their first 10 field-goal attempts, but you got the sense that with the offense humming so smoothly against such an ostensibly inferior opponent, that the Grizzlies got complacent at the defensive end — and three early fouls for Marc Gasol didn't help. Even when making every shot, the Grizzlies couldn't get more than 6 or 8 up on the Cavs, and when the offense bogged down with missed shots and turnovers, the Cavs kept going, holding a seven-point lead at halftime and going up by as many as 12 in the third quarter. The Grizzlies finally got serious, turning up their defense, focusing the offense more on Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, and cutting the deficit to one at the end of the third quarter. The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter with a 13-0 run and essentially put it away.

Enjoy this playoff perch for a moment Griz fans, because a tough road game tomorrow night against the Houston Rockets could make it short-lived, especially since the team had to play Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph 45 and 44 minutes tonight, respectively.

But the Grizzlies head to Houston on a season-best five-game winning streak. And rather than go deep into the win over the Cavs, I'm going to instead highlight four individual-player trends that are helping drive the team's current good play:

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Here Comes J-Will

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 2:31 PM

The Commercial Appeal has reported today that the Grizzlies are on the verge of signing former point guard Jason Williams — recently cut by the Orlando Magic — to a contract for the remainder of the season. It's a somewhat risky move for a team playing its best basketball of the season. And the impetus behind the move is highly questionable. How to feel about it?:

The Right Idea: The instinctual reaction of most close followers of the Grizzlies will be to kill this move. But before we go that route, let's establish a few things.

First, the Grizzlies are one of the few teams in the league that are carrying only two point guards on their roster. And given that one of those is a late-first-round-pick rookie, in Greivis Vasquez, currently sporting a 36% shooting percentage and a 7.96 player efficiency rating (15 is league average), and given that, rightly or wrongly, the team isn't willing to give O.J. Mayo spot minutes at the position, clearly this is an area of potential need.

I like Vasquez. I think he's been a viable back-up point guard for the Grizzlies this season and I think he could develop into one of the better back-up points in the league with his combination of size, court vision, and gutsy play. But the idea of adding a third point guard to the roster — as insurance and to give the coaches an alternative to a rookie providing middling production — makes plenty of sense. If that player can be an NBA veteran with playoff experience, all the better.

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Mid-Season Cover Story

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 8:12 AM

My (mostly) annual mid-season Grizzlies cover story for the Flyer's print edition is out this week. With the team now bearing down (no pun intended) on a playoff spot, the topic was obvious. Check it out here.

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