Saturday, February 28, 2015

Next Day Notes: Clippers 97, Grizzlies 79

Posted By on Sat, Feb 28, 2015 at 9:44 AM

click to enlarge Tony Allen's defense has been one of the few bright spots of the Grizzlies' play since the break. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen's defense has been one of the few bright spots of the Grizzlies' play since the break.

Last night’s Grizzlies loss to the Clippers at home was one of the most dreadful, sleepwalked, unengaging, frustrating games I’ve ever had to sit through in person. As has happened many times this season, the Griz came out and looked like they were attempting to not lose rather than to win and unlike most of the other times they’ve tried it, last night, the Clippers came to play.

Don’t read this as my not wanting to credit the Clippers for anything that happened last night. After the Griz came from behind to beat them in L.A. on Monday, I’m sure they had last night’s game circled on their calendars, waiting for a chance to redeem themselves. They played excellent defense throughout—especially in the second half—and without Blake Griffin, their offense has opened up a great deal for DeAndre Jordan, who has actually learned how to play basketball at some point in the last two seasons. The Clippers are a good (though clearly flawed, especially at the wings) team, but last night wasn’t frustrating because of what they were doing.

It was frustrating because the Grizzlies look like they’re still on the All-Star Break, half of them out of shape and the other half unable to get back into any sort of rhythm matching what they had before. If this is what it’s going to be like every year there’s a “new and improved” longer All-Star break, then I’m not sure I think it’s such a good idea anymore. Marc Gasol has regressed to the old, passive Marc Gasol, not taking shots, not attacking the basket, taking crappy-looking fadeaways and trying to turn every post-up into that little flip-hook as he runs across the front of the rim. I get that Zach Randolph has been playing out of his mind lately, but the fact of the matter is that Zach got going the way he did because Gasol was drawing so much attention from defenses. If Gasol is going to revert to passing and start adding in Dirk shots that he almost never hits, the Grizzlies are going to have to start dealing with teams triple-teaming Randolph in the paint again. It happened a lot last night.

Gasol isn’t the only one who looks off right now. Mike Conley was starting to struggle through the end of January and the beginning of February, but now he’s not “struggling” so much as “melting down.” Conley shot 2–11 from the field last night, with only 2 assists and 3 rebounds to show for 25 minutes of play. Before the break, Conley’s struggles (and the fact that he was only playing 25–28 minutes a game) were masked by the great midrange game of Beno Udrih, but now, not only does Udrih look like he’s put on some weight, but he also can’t hit the broad side of the barn from spots where he was shooting close to 60% two weeks ago.

click to enlarge Jeff Green still helps, but he struggled last night against the Clippers. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeff Green still helps, but he struggled last night against the Clippers.

Meanwhile, the new guy is having trouble integrating, too: Jeff Green, after having a run of really good games, has started to look lost, settling for pull-up jumpers (which, let’s be honest, he should never shoot) and overthinking what play to make. Green’s struggles can be chalked up to still not being comfortable on the team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not (1) happening and (2) negatively affecting the offense.

If the defense of the Tony Allen/Nick Calathes/Kosta Koufos trio—of whom even Koufos had kind of a rough night last night, struggling to do anything when matched up with Jordan, who is playing at an extremely high level right now—hadn’t been as good as it is lately, the Grizzlies would not have won a game yet since the break. They stole wins in Portland and in Los Angeles, but couldn’t get it done in Sacramento, and last night was everything that they struggled with in those games, multiplied and magnified to an excruciating point.

I’d feel better about it if there weren’t a road game at Minnesota looming tonight, because the last time the Griz played in Minneapolis, they played down to what they thought was the worst team in the West, and found themselves down ten points and playing catch-up the whole night. The Griz need to find some source of motivation for this one—pride in themselves, revenge for the loss the Wolves hung on them last time up, fear of falling apart down the stretch of what has been a very special season to this point, whatever, it doesn’t matter—and avoid falling into a 3-game losing streak.

Things could, of course, be worse. The playoffs are still a ways off. The Griz have a moderate lead over the Rockets for the 3rd seed and only trail the Warriors by 4.5 games for the first overall seed in the West. There’s plenty of reason to think that this rust is just because of the unusually long All-Star break, and that the losses to the Kings and Clippers have rattled loose at least some small measure of the on-court complacency we’ve seen from the Griz the last four games. If they can watch the film of last night’s game and get mad about it, they can start to play their way back into world-beating shape. But it’s not going to happen without a change, a change in attitude and approach from what they’ve been doing since Sunday night in Portland.

Either way, the sooner the Griz get a win to wash away whatever residue was left behind by last night’s loss, the better.

click to enlarge Z-Bo tried to carry the team last night, but could only do so much. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Z-Bo tried to carry the team last night, but could only do so much.

Tweet of the Night

Not really related to much of anything that happened last night, but Chris Paul always has something to say:

Up Next

A stretch that could get really ugly if the Grizzlies want to let it. Tonight, the Griz are in Minnesota for a SEGABABA against the Timberwolves, who seem to enjoy having Kevin Garnett around. Tuesday night they’re home against the Jazz, who they’ve already dropped a home game to, and then Wednesday they’re on the road at Houston to take on the Rockets. None of these are easy games, even when the team is playing well, even though the Wolves and Jazz are hardly world-beaters. It’s going to be really important that the Griz buckle down over this weekend and get some kind of momentum heading into a really tough March.


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