Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Grizzlies, Memphis, and MLK Day: Still a Long Way to Go

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 9:09 AM

The Memphis Grizzlies do a phenomenal job with their annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration. In what I consider the crown jewel of the Grizzlies' operations side’s achievements, the team pulls out all the stops to recognize and celebrate the legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind in this country for all who suffered racial and economic injustices. The team traditionally honors former athletes who have been examples of Dr. King’s legacy, and hosts a captivating symposium that allows the honorees to share stories of adversity and inspiration. 
A recent Grizzlies MLK Day uniform
  • A recent Grizzlies MLK Day uniform

The celebration, of course, also surrounds an actual NBA game. The Grizzlies were the first organization in the NBA to place an intentional emphasis on the day, which is fitting, considering Memphis’ history as a key city during the civil rights movement and Dr. King's tragic assassination here in 1968.

The NBA has since hitched their wagon to the Grizzlies' innovation and made MLK Day a major event league-wide. This also resulted in the Grizzlies being bumped from the prime-time nationally televised game to the earlier afternoon game (and even being moved to the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day in 2017). The NBA eventually made things right by returning the Grizzlies to the Monday game last season. In 2017 and 2018 the team wore uniforms inspired by Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

The Grizzlies and the NBA have done an excellent job of capturing the essence of Dr. King on a surface level, but there is so much more that needs to be done, especially in the city where Dr. King took his final breath. I was born and raised in Memphis and I love this city with everything I have. I love its soul, its attitude, its hospitality, its culture. There’s isn’t much about this city that I won’t defend to its core — except for the fact that now, 50-plus years after Dr. King’s assassination, Memphis still has a long way to go as far as achieving the actual essence of his dream.

The difference between schools in the inner city and the suburbs is appalling. As someone who has a background in working hands-on with the city’s youth, and alongside its school system’s employees, I can tell you that a visit inside of some of the inner-city schools can bring you to tears. There are no rules or laws that separate us but there is a lot of “that’s just how it is.”

The racism is veiled, but still alive and well. There are parts of town that people avoid, either because of perceived danger or just plain ignorance. From another viewpoint, there are also parts of town that people stay away from to avoid unfair treatment, stares, and racial profiling.

But the show must go on. The games and the festivities around them must still be played. There’s a cliché that gets a lot of notoriety here in Memphis: Namely, that the Grizzlies bring the city together. This is a cliché to which I will never subscribe. Sports don’t bring a city together. They are a temporary escape from reality — a coping mechanism. If a person has disdain or prejudice towards someone of another race or social class, it doesn’t magically disappear when you both see the upside in Jaren Jackson Jr.

Maybe the Grizzlies cause you to cheer together against a common enemy or to join together in the joys of victory, but all of that can quickly fade away when you see the guy that you just gave a high-five to pull his wife closer as she clutches her purse in the parking lot while passing you. I’ve been a part of this scenario enough to know that it’s a real thing. I’ve lived in this city long enough to know that it needs work to achieve all that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. Has there been progress? Yes, but there is little to actually celebrate about.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Trade Deadline Forces Grizz into a Tough Gasol Decision

Posted By on Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 8:19 PM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
With the NBA trade deadline approaching, the Memphis Grizzlies’ ownership and front office will have a tough decision to make. Marc Gasol, who has a player option on the final year of his contract in 2019-20, can either opt in for one year or opt out — and become an unrestricted free agent. Opting in would pay him the remaining balance of the nearly $26 million owed to him. Opting out means he could explore other offers and find out what NBA teams might pay for his services.

Opting out doesn’t necessarily mean an end to Gasol's career with the Grizzlies, as he could also re-sign with the Grizzlies with a new contract. This could also include a situation where Gasol would opt out of his final year, become a free agent, and re-sign with the Grizzlies for a lesser amount that would help the team with its cap situation.
All of these options, of course, depend on Gasol’s decision, but the Grizzlies ultimately have the opportunity to decide their own destiny concerning Gasol by simply — or not-so-simply — moving him by the February 7th trade deadline. Many within the fan base have been saying that Gasol should be traded, and the constant, and now annual, trade rumors from local and national media have done nothing but add fuel to the fire.

It’s easy to see Gasol’s decline on the court. Never an natural athlete, he has even struggled lately as a positional defender — an ability that once led to his being named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol hasn’t been assertive offensively, either. Whether this is because of health issues, physical decline, or disinterest is hard to tell. He's been routinely passing up shots and hasn't been much of a primary, or secondary, option, which is vital to this Grizzlies team's success. Gasol's been frustratingly gun-shy from mid and three-point range, as well, and his post fade-away has seemed to well … fade away.

Gasol's decline at both ends of the court is a key reason for the Grizzlies' failure to win this season.

Of course, it would be great if a deal happened that would benefit the Grizzlies and Gasol, but the often-heard refrain of “just trade Marc for some picks” is more fantasy than reality. For the Grizzlies to be able to trade Gasol, the other team would have to be able to return comparable salary numbers. This would likely take the form of a bad contract coming back from a contending team. It won’t be multiple young players – and maybe not even one young talent. You also more than likely won’t see a lottery team with cap space (which is also a rarity) absorb Gasol’s deal and trade a lottery pick.

The same decline in his game that's obvious to those of us who see Gasol up close can can also be seen from afar — including by the teams that the Grizzlies would most like to trade with. Would a contending team be willing to trade one of their young players, a larger contract, and maybe a low first-round pick for Gasol? Maybe. But this same team would probably also be more inclined to offer more for the services of Anthony Davis, who will definitely have suitors at the trade deadline. The Grizzlies also have the option of simply leaving the choice up to Gasol, and not trading him. What could then be viewed as “Marc Gasol leaving for nothing” could also be the Grizzlies freeing up $26 million in cap space without having to take on years of a filler contract from a trade.

Regardless of how this all plays out, the ball is in the Grizzlies hands, and they are on the clock.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Is It Time To Crank Up The Tank?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 9:34 AM

cover_grizztank-teaser.jpg

This time last year, I created a hashtag on Twitter that would serve as a coping mechanism for fans who were left to deal with the doom and gloom of that losing season. As a play on words, based on the rallying cry for the Confederate statues to be removed — “Take ‘em down 901” — as coined by former Grizz head coach David Fizdale — #TankEmDown901 was my personal attempt to get fans on board for the team's tanking.

Last year, it made perfect sense. A team that was aging and filled with mediocre young talent in need of a potential young star had the opportunity to position itself to do just that. Mike Conley had suffered a severe heel injury, so sitting him for the season gave the team an out. The Grizzlies were so bad without him that it was second nature to do as little as possible to try to actually win games. It was clear what the best course of action was. The “tank” was full of gas — locked and loaded.

This season, things are a little different. The Grizzlies owe a conditional first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics from the Jeff-Green-for-Tayshaun-Prince trade. So, it would be a little haphazard to go into what is an imminent rebuild for the franchise without a strategic plan.

It was no secret that Grizzlies ownership and management were doing everything they could to make this season’s team the best it could be in order to convey the worst pick possible to Boston. If this plan also resulted in a playoff berth for the Grizzlies, it would be a win-win for the organization. Regardless of the spiel coming from the front office, coaching staff, players, and even the owner, the main goal was always to get off of the trade obligation to Boston with the least amount of damage.

This plan looked like it had a great chance of working, earlier in the season, but now that the Grizzlies sit at 19-24, 14th in the Western Conference, and with the eighth worst record in the NBA, the question of whether or not to tank again this season is not as simple as it seemed, even a few weeks ago.

There are a few things of which many fans don’t really have a clear understanding. So, it’s been entertaining to see those who fought the #TankEmDown901 movement last season until the bitter end, now turn bloodthirsty over the chance of taking another high pick this year. Tanking has an odd thrill to it.

But fans need to understand what is at stake in totality and not what is just in front of their faces. For one thing, the pick that the Grizzlies owe Boston is top eight protected this season, top six protected in 2020, and unprotected in 2021. If the Grizzlies are bad enough to finish in a position in which they draft in the top eight this season, you can expect that they will be bad enough again next season to be among the top six picks.

The kicker is that in the 2021 draft, which is most certainly going to be a bad one for the team, the team is staring at the possibility of not only being bad but having to surrender their pick, regardless of position, to Boston. Most who are for tanking this season are basing that position on the team getting one of the projected top four picks, including Duke Freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. The reality is that the Grizzlies would more than likely, based on current odds and record, draft outside of the top four — in a draft that is weak, except for the studs at the top.

I would prefer the Grizzlies just let the season play out and not do anything drastic to put themselves in the best position to neither win nor lose. The reality is that with proper planning and execution of the pending cap space, good things could become available over the next two years. I know that asking for proper planning and execution from Pera and company is basically like asking for consistent weather in Memphis. But regardless of what they do, a lot is at stake regarding the draft this season and the next few to come.

There are too many question marks about how tanking this season could turn out. I would prefer to see the team finish outside of the top eight picks, but with the way things have been going lately, the Grizzlies may not have a choice.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

After Slow Start, "Slow Mo" Keeps Things Moving

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 7:04 AM

Kyle Anderson defends against the Spurs, Wednesday night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyle Anderson defends against the Spurs, Wednesday night.
I’ll preface this by saying that I am probably the last person to expect to write something about Kyle Anderson without being biased. I’ve had a strange fascination with him, dating back to the summer before the 2014 NBA draft, when he was taken eight spots behind the Grizzlies' pick at 30th overall.

Tayshaun Prince was the team's starting small forward, and I welcomed the prospect of having a play-making small forward that actually showed the ability to make three-pointers in college — shooting 48 percent in his final season. And Anderson was crafty around the basket and found ways to get to the rim in spite of his obvious lack of athleticism.

And then he was “Spurred.” Or should I say “Popped”?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is known for shaping his players to fit his system and philosophy and he made no exceptions with Anderson. Gone were Anderson's days of being on the ball and being the primary ball handler. Instead, Popovich used Anderson as more of a power forward with limited on-ball usage. While Anderson’s offensive game was forced to change, he also developed a knack for being a high-level on-ball defender.

Anderson’s signing with the Grizzlies was a bit of a surprise, and his tenure with the home team started off a little rocky. After an early achilles injury that limited him in the preseason, Anderson found himself coming off the bench in a reserve role. He would struggle to find his way with the team even after gaining the starting spot after the now-departed Chandler Parsons began to experience knee soreness.

As of late, Anderson has picked up his game, and despite his nickname, “Slow Mo,” he has quickly become a necessary component of lineups that lead to success. He is far from being a great shooter — especially from three-point range, only shooting 27 percent on the season — but Anderson has a knack for scoring around the basket and has been much more assertive since being allowed to be on the ball more this season.

Defensively, he has been outstanding. Though he's Limited athletically, Anderson's high basketball IQ, combined with his elite-level hand instincts and reactions, allows him to work angles and create turnovers. He was one of the team's best rebounders during a crucial period where rebounding was a prime need, and his ability to find and feed rookie stud Jaren Jackson Jr. is unmatched among his team-members. (Not to mention, it brings cheer to the fanbase that wants to see Jackson emerge as more of a scoring threat.)

In Wednesday night's 96-86 victory over his former Spurs team, Anderson didn’t have a monster game, or even a revenge game, but he had the type of Kyle Anderson game that we have come to expect — one that's relatively low scoring, mixed with timely plays and defensive highlights. This was most evident in a highlight-reel lob pass and finish by his favorite target, Jackson Jr., late in the second quarter, and an insane block of a Bryn Forbes shot with 4:47 remaining in the game.

That sequence was typical Kyle Anderson, as he missed a free throw on one end, got back on defense for a chase down block, and started off a break that led to a Mike Conley layup that made the score 91-77, basically sealing the deal on the victory.

Anderson will never be a knockdown shooter, he won’t blow by anyone on his way to the basket or amaze you with his offensive aesthetics, but he does things that pass the eye test — and fill the spreadsheet — that contribute to winning. When the Grizzlies are making a run and playing good basketball, it's more than likely that Anderson will be on the floor. Regardless of his deficiencies, he's looks to be a player you would want to keep throughout this transitional season and the imminent rebuild.

His game won’t wow you, although you will get a kick out of noticing that he actually appears faster during slow motion replays than in real time. Go look it up. It’s a real thing and it’s low-key awesome. Sort of like what he brings to the table for this team.

Don’t blink, (well you actually might have time to blink a lot) because Slow-Mo is making things happen faster than you think!

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Monday, January 7, 2019

The Curious Case Of Mike and Marc

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 8:29 AM

I actually left an unfinished draft of this article on my personal blog-site before the season started. It was going to be a an article that explained why, in a transitional season like this one was scheduled to be for the Memphis Grizzlies, having players like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol was so vital. It was meant to outline, while the best years for both Gasol and Conley were behind them, how it would be the best idea to still base the team’s immediate future around them. 
MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston

It seemed like a solid way of thinking at the time but, just like the real life product on the court, I never got around to actually finishing what I started. It was good in theory but the actual follow-through was left incomplete.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Conley and Gasol pick-and-rolls have been as much as a staple of the franchise for Grizz fans as growl towels, close wins, bad draft picks, and blowing big leads. The two veterans have had a chemistry that has made them one of the winningest active tandems in recent history. Whether it’s been under the leadership of Lionel Hollins, Dave Joerger, David Fizdale, or JB Bickerstaff, when all else fails, some good ol’ Mike-and-Marc magic has seemed to always save the day — or at the very least, make the Grizzlies a team that can compete and play above the talent level of the sum of its collective parts.

The duo is 361-288 (55.6 percent) playing together over their careers, which is impressive. But they are only 57-56 as a duo since the 2016-2017 season, which also lines up with the departure of fellow “Core Four” members Zach Randolph and Tony Allen.

The Grizzlies are currently 18-21, and have gone 6-16 after starting the season with a 12-5 record. Conley leads the team in scoring but the offense has been abysmal lately, especially with Gasol being inconsistent and limited, either physically or emotionally. It’s also fair to say to say that Conley and Gasol have done a poor job in trying to look for rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. more in the offense.

Trading the last two members of the core four that captured the city’s heart is always a possibility, and honestly, as a media member who is also a fan and a Memphian, I can see both sides. It’s an interesting dilemma, because you know that trading one or both will ultimately send the team into rebuilding mode, immediately.

I took a hard stance against tanking this season, due to the fact that the Grizzlies still owe their 2019 draft pick to Boston if it lands outside of the top eight picks, but as the season and reality progress, I have found myself not as “10 toes down” as before.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The two core vets were supposed to be the guys who would help hand the franchise over to the new era, led by Jackson Jr. This looked to be the case early in the season, but lately, it seems like they are simply denying the inevitable change that has to come. You can’t help but wonder if it would be better for Jackson — and the team — if Gasol and Conley would defer to him more, to allow him to be the focal point of the offense while they still do “Marc and Mike stuff.” It would be something similar to the way that they still deferred to Zach Randolph, even while at the height of their careers. It’s frustrating and confusing. It seems like it should be much simpler than what we're seeing on the court. The two established leaders should be benefitting to the young players and helping them grow, which should ultimately lead to wins.

But it simply isn’t happening.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Bickerstaff’s Bad Habits Bite Again Against Boston

Posted By on Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 4:36 PM

Sometimes a person can be so good at what they do that they make whatever it is that they are doing look easy. Oddly enough, sometimes someone can also be so bad at what they are doing that they can make whatever it is look like it’s a lot easier than what it is.
I’ve never coached an NBA team before. I’ve never been a coach of any sports team on any level. I am far from the greatest of basketball minds. I won’t pretend to act like I know all of the ins and outs of what an NBA head coach’s job entails, but like many other people who observe the Grizzlies of late, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really that hard?
Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff

Certain things seem like they should be simple. If a certain thing works, then let’s keep doing that until said thing doesn’t work, or, even better, starts to show signs that it is about to stop working soon. It also seems that with all of the advanced metrics available at any head coach’s disposal, that it would never be out of the realm of possibility to see, with even more great detail, what works and what doesn’t. Like, there are literally stats that show you what combinations of players work and which ones don’t.

I thought that the Grizzlies had moved past this. After two consecutive wins — against the Lakers on the road and then at home against the Cavaliers — it seemed as if head coach JB Bickerstaff had had an epiphany. It seemed as though he and his players were going to embrace Jaren Jackson Jr. more, and look to make him more of a focal point on both ends of the court. After a great game against Los Angeles, which included a step-back three-pointer to drive a stake through the heart of LeBron James, and a Cleveland game where Bickerstaff allowed Jackson to play through a not-so-good performance without pulling him, it looked like he was finally getting it.

But yeah …

The Grizzlies hosted Boston Saturday night, held a 17-point half-time lead, and led by as many as 19 points. Even so, the team found a way to lose, 112 to 103, in a game where, with a 14-point lead with 5:43 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Jackson was taken out and played only a little more than a minute for the rest of the way.

Dillon Brooks, who finished with 19 points, was the team's leading scorer when he was pulled early in the fourth quarter in favor of Garrett Temple. Actually, Brooks and Jackson were the team's leading scorers when both were pulled — which also coincided with Boston’s comeback and a 33-16 fourth-quarter scoring advantage.

Coaching is hard. I’m sure it is. Bickerstaff comes from a distinguished line of coaches who mentored him, including his father, but I swear coaching seems a lot easier than Bickerstaff has made it look, lately.

Bickerstaff has to hear the murmurings from the fan-base. I’m sure he reads tweets and columns like mine, as well as those of other local journalists. I’m sure he knows what's being said. It seems to me that if he got the same losing results while using all of his assets, namely Jackson and Brooks (and Jevon Carter), that fans and pundits would be more understanding. There would be less, “Well, if we only did this …” and more, “Well, we gave it all we had.”

Therein lies the problem: We haven’t been giving it all that we have. Too much of what we do have — and need, in my opinion — is remaining on the sideline when they're needed most.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

He's Not Z-Bo, But ...

Posted By on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 at 8:28 AM

The Grizzlies need to continue to feed Jaren Jackson.

During the aftermath of the Grizzlies' five-game losing streak, I decided to visit a fan page on Facebook to sample what the responses were. I stumbled upon a comment thread that included someone basically saying that Jaren Jackson Jr. needs to be more of a focal point — and that he was “Z-Bo 2.0.” A couple of people responded with agreement, but I, for one, want no part of it.
Jaren Jackson Jr. - JOE MURPHY/NBAE
  • Joe Murphy/NBAE
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.

I’m a huge Zach Randolph fan. He and Mike Conley are easily my two favorite Grizzlies ever. He had amazing touch around the basket, he was as strong as an ox, and his hands swallowed offensive rebounds like Pac-Man threw down power pellets. He was the team’s leading scorer during the Grit 'n Grind era and he embraced and reflected everything that was the heart of this city. What Randolph meant to this team and this city will never be duplicated — but that's not the issue I had with comparing Jackson to Randolph.

Despite all of Randolph’s strengths, and the contributions that he made to the franchise, he still had a game that was mostly limited to scoring around the basket and from mid-range. He showed the ability to occasionally knock down three-point shots, but for the most part, his bread-and-butter plays were made in, or near, the paint. You knew what Randolph was — and what he wasn’t. No one expected him to dunk on someone or lock somebody down on defense. He was Z-Bo and we expected him to do Z-Bo things. 
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Jackson, on the other hand, has a ceiling that is almost literally through the roof. Many draft analysts and NBA minds projected him to be a stretch big with limited post skills and elite defense. Not many predicted that he would be as good in the paint as he has already showed so far this season, and even fewer foresaw his ability to get to the basket off of the dribble. In just 34 games this season, Grizzlies fans have seen him showcase an ability to shoot three-pointers at an increasing rate, score in the paint and in traffic, get to the basket off of the dribble, roll to the basket or pop out to the perimeter when setting screens, score off screens set for him, and, of course, do awesome things like hit a step-back three-pointer in LeBron James’ face to seal a victory.

Jackson’s potential is scary-high and it seems as though Coach JB Bickerstaff — and Jackson's teammates — are finally realizing, after initial stubbornness, that a player like Jackson should not be treated as a project or as a cherry on top of the team sundae. He has the potential to be this Grizzlies team’s first or second option — something that it needs in order to balance out Conley’s high usage and point production. Even in games like Wednesday night’s 95-87 victory over Cleveland, where Jackson finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block after struggling for most of the game, Bickerstaff continued to use him. This wasn't the case just a few games ago.

No, Jaren Jackson Jr. is not Zach Randolph, but even on past Grizzlies teams that had Marc Gasol and Conley in their primes, Randolph was still consistently the team’s leading scorer. Even though the offense was run through Mike and Marc pick and rolls, they still managed to get the ball to Z-Bo enough to let him carry the scoring load. Jackson is not the same type of player, especially when it comes to rebounding, but he has the tools to be called upon more as a scorer for this team. And he has defensive skills that Randolph never had.

Jackson doesn’t need add muscle or start wearing a headband to try to live up to short-sighted comparisons. He just needs to be the given the opportunity to be the best version of Jaren Jackson Jr. that he can be.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Grizzlies Five-Game Skid Has All Eyes On Bickerstaff

Posted By on Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 7:32 PM

The Grizzlies have lost five straight games, including three straight on their current five-game road trip. After a 14-5 start that had them atop the Western Conference, the home team is now 16-16 and sitting outside of the top eight playoff seeds in 10th place. 
JB Bickerstaff - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JB Bickerstaff

Whenever a team has a fall from grace like this, there is always a wide range of reactions and responses. Fans are asking, “Is this who the team really is?” “Do the Grizzlies need to do something drastic to shake up the roster?” “Are we about to move to Nashville?”

Well I haven’t heard that one yet, but it wouldn’t be a Grizzlies season without someone worrying that each and every loss inches us closer to Nashville.

Probably the most common response to the Grizzlies recent run of mediocrity has been an increased amount of criticism towards first-year head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff, who filled in for David Fizdale after Fizdale was fired early last season, is serving in his first permanent role as a non-interim head coach after stints as interim here in Memphis and in Houston. Many of the questions concern his perceived under-utilization of rookies Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter, and his over-use and over-dependence on the players who stand in their way the most — Jamychal Green and Shelvin Mack.

This year’s Grizzlies roster is far from perfect. As a matter of fact it has a generous helping of flaws. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are at the twilights of their respective primes and there is no other consistent scorer outside of those two. There is definitely a need for talent upgrades in certain areas, but I, for one, believe that a lot of the Grizzlies' problems don’t come down to “trade this player and trade that player” but more to “play this player and not that player.”

Yes, the Grizzlies could trade for another scorer or shooter, but in the meantime, I believe that a lot of the team's roster issues can be remedied internally. Maybe the most unsettling feeling that I have is that we are leaving bullets in the chamber. It’s the feeling of not maximizing everything that the team has to get the best results — and that, unfortunately, points directly to Coach Bickerstaff.

Do I think that Bickerstaff is a bad coach, in general? No. I’ve seen bad coaches and I’m not quite ready to label him as such. He’s a phenomenal defensive coach and has the genuine, unanimous respect from his players — something that has been a rarity throughout the history of the Grizzlies. Is he stubborn? Yes. And it is clearly to his detriment. It makes me wonder if someone from the Grizz front office or owner Robert Pera himself has ever addressed Bickerstaff about certain things.

Unlike the three Grizzlies coaches before him, Bickerstaff comes off as the one who would most likely respond well to criticism — or a decree — to make a change, which makes me wonder if it's ever happened.

Pera has been around the team up close lately and I, like many, would love to hear his thoughts. We have a rookie in Jackson who has all of the tools to be a superstar and it often seems as though Bickerstaff handles him with unnecessary caution. This was clearly seen in Friday night's 102-99 loss to the Kings, in which Jackson had 12 points in the first quarter, then went scoreless and, more importantly, was under-utilized for the rest of the game. Jevon Carter brought life into a Houston game last week and he was not rewarded for his performance, either.

It’s odd. It’s head-scratching. It’s frustrating. Bickerstaff seems to manage his rotations as if the Grizz are a star-studded super team that doesn’t need a young star like Jackson or a defensives spark like Carter to help win games. They are both treated like luxuries, instead of two players that the team needs to help them win. Bickerstaff is old-school, cut from the same cloth as his father, Bernie Bickerstaff, and former Grizz Coach Lionel Hollins. He comes from a belief that rookies have to wait their turn and that it’s best to rely on your veterans to win. But, in my opinion, his over-dependence on Grizz veterans has cost him several games this season, and has rightfully brought him criticism.

In a season where you already are at a talent disadvantage, there is no excuse for not using all assets that you have at your disposal. He’s a new coach with old-school ways, a combination that so far has had mixed results.

But things need to turn around soon.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Jevon Carter’s Debut Brings Hope To Dismal Grizz Weekend

Posted By on Sun, Dec 16, 2018 at 9:08 PM

Jevon Carter
  • Jevon Carter
Somewhere in the middle of a 100-97 loss to Miami on Friday night and a 105-97 loss to Houston on Saturday, the Memphis Grizzlies managed to be involved in a botched three-way trade. The now infamous deal that never happened included Memphis, Phoenix, and Washington, with the butt of the joke being that the Suns were expecting to receive Dillon Brooks from the Grizzlies instead of Marshon Brooks. Washington was the mediator of the trade and supposedly relayed the wrong Brooks to Phoenix. After Marshon Brooks and Wayne Selden were told they were traded, they were later pretty much given a “my bad, bro” by Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace, as the deal was basically dead after the miscommunication was discovered.

Also, somewhere in the middle of the weekend's two losses, was the debut of Grizzlies rookie point guard and second-round pick Jevon Carter. Carter has gathered a bit of a groundswell from fans that were calling to at least see what the team had in the former West Virginia Mountaineer. This was becoming a dilemma as Grizz coach J.B. Bickerstaff was leaning heavily towards veteran backup point guard Shelvin Mack, so much so that it seemed like we would see very little of Carter this season. Cam Rose of the Outsiders Podcast suggested that Carter be used more in a way similar to how Boston plays three point guards in Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Smart. Other teams have tried this as well and it works — especially when one of the smaller guards is able to defend shooting guards or small forwards.

At any rate, Carter was impressive in his debut, scoring 11 points in 22 minutes and getting two highlight-worthy steals from Chris Paul and James Harden — two of the best guards in the NBA. Carter was relentless on both ends, sparking a comeback for the Grizzlies that brought them to within six points after being down as many as 21. Memphis came up short in Carter’s debut, but he left an impression that I hope will cause Bickerstaff to call his name more often.

I wrote a story during the pre-draft workouts about how no one screamed “I'm Memphis” more than Carter. When he said his mother was from here and he'd spent time living in the Bluff City, it only sealed the deal. His mother is easily his biggest fan, and if you'd seen her at a Memphis Hustle game you would clearly agree. I managed to sit close enough at a recent Hustle contest to overhear an exchange after Carter took a bump and came to the bench. His mother, Cynthia Johnson, said something along the likes of, “You okay, babe? You need a band-aid or something? You know I got you, boo!” And, trust me, it was loud enough for Carter to hear.

The Hustle and Grizz medical staff probably won’t need Cynthia’s band-aids, but this team and this city definitely could use Jevon Carter coming in to stop the bleeding now and then, so to speak. Carter could be a healthy spark off the bench — and just the addition the Grizzlies need to get back on track after the recent rough patch.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Bah Humbug! Memphis Should Have Seen Joakim Noah Coming

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 6:34 AM

I’m disappointed in you Memphis. Not because of the low attendance numbers this season, in spite of a Grizzlies team that has managed to look like a playoff contender in the always competitive Western Conference. And doing so, while national media said we had a better chance of moving to Las Vegas or Seattle than making the playoffs. Not because first year head coach JB Bickerstaff is low-key putting together a coach-of-the-year season while implementing one of the league's best defenses. No, I'm disappointed because we have yet another great reclamation project on our roster and too many fans didn’t see it coming before it happened.
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Christmas is 12 days away. Its officially time to sing a song about gifts from your true love that literally no one would be excited to see under the tree. (Hey babe, I got you some pregnant geese that are literally in the act of laying eggs!) But anyway. Speaking of gifts that no one wants … recent Grizz signee and NBA vet Joakim Noah was the turtle dove of guys sitting at home on the couch. The former Defensive Player of the Year and MVP candidate was mostly down-talked by Memphis fans and media members alike.

“He’s old”
“He’s injured”
“He sucks”
“How does he help?”

These were all things fans said and asked about Noah on social media and elsewhere; things that were said about a player that has done exactly what he was brought in to do — bring infectious energy off of the bench, rebound, and embrace his role. His humility and genuine gratitude for being back in the game has been as storybook as it gets. Just another heart-filled holiday story to add to the Grizzlies' list of residents on its Island of Misfit Toys.

Noah wasn’t the first player to come to Memphis looking for resurgence. He isn’t the first to come with a game and attitude that matched the heartbeat and core of this city, and hopefully he won’t be the last. He joins the likes of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, James Johnson, Lance Stephenson, Tyreke Evans, and probably some other guys that I’m forgetting about.

Noah will have big games where he comes in and makes his presence felt. He will have games where you forget he’s on the court. But for the most part, I believe that Noah will help this team tremendously, on and off the court. He has a work ethic that will impress and inspire the vets and a quirkiness and peculiarity that will speak to Jaren Jackson Jr. He is broken, damaged, weird, loud, and disruptive.
Sounds like a match made in Memphis, and we should have seen it coming.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

James and Lakers Blow Out Grizzlies, 111-88

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2018 at 11:13 PM

The piercing, pubescent squeals that were prevalent during the Kobe Bryant days weren’t there Saturday night, but the horde of Memphis area Laker fans still got what they came to see, as the LeBron James-led version of the Lakers dominated the not-so-home team 111-88. After struggling to find their rhythm early in the season, LeBron’s Lakers have since found their stride and unfortunately the Grizzlies were caught up in the middle of them flexing their new-found muscle.

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Down by as many as 29 points, the Grizzlies, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and their third game in four nights, had no answer for what looked like LeBron and company playing NBA 2k on rookie difficulty. Everything fell early for the Lakers, and what didn’t fall found a way to end up back in someone wearing purple's hands. The Lakers ran away with the rebound total 57-36, as Tyson Chandler and Javale McGee combined for 24.

Adding to the deflation of the evening and the stench of freshly purchased Lakers jerseys was the barrage of three-pointers made by the visitors — namely from Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had four each. James also almost messed around and got a triple-double with 20 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists. On a positive note for the Grizzlies, Wayne Selden had a productive game, scoring 17 points in his nearly 21 minutes after returning from an injury that had sidelined him the past few games.

Selden downplayed his individual performance and spoke about the team's lack of effort, instead: “The stuff we didn’t do tonight is stuff we’re capable of,” said Selden. “Boxing out, getting to shooters, and stuff like that; we just didn’t do it tonight like we should have been.”

Every team has games during the season where they flat-out lay an egg, and this game in front of a pro-Lakers crowd was amongst the most rotten eggs possible. There is always a feeling of resentment when the opposing team’s fans come in droves, and the Grizzlies' performance didn’t offer much in the way of defense for the home team. The line at the Wing Guru inside FedExForum seemed even longer than usual, with fans that tapped out on the game, figuring an order of Honey Suicide wings would be better than the slow death they were seeing on the court.

But like all things, the game finally came to an end. In typical and expected fashion, the LeBron/Laker fans left in bunches — prematurely — as their king made his final exit from the court with about three minutes to go. James missed his last game in Memphis, due to rest, but in this one his devoted following was given plenty to be as obnoxiously giddy about as possible.

Okay, Grizzlies, you guys took the night off on this one, but enough of this. You have a bounce-back season to finish. Here’s to more effort, fewer tired legs, more rebounds and fewer reasons to give fans who come to see the road team something to cheer about.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Grizzlies Cough Up 17-Point Lead, Lose to Raptors 122-114

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 10:57 PM

The Memphis Grizzlies entered Tuesday night's homestand on a two-game losing streak, and faced the top team in the East in the Toronto Raptors. After a brief stint at the top of the West, Memphis has hit a rough patch, having trouble closing out close games and giving up sizeable leads.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies had an abysmal start to the game. Jaren Jackson picked up two fouls in the first minute of play, and took an early seat on the bench. Meanwhile, the Raptors jumped out to an 8-0 lead.

The Grizzlies defense eventually settled in, slowing down the game and allowing the Grizzlies to battle back to take the lead with 4:13 remaining in the first period.

Both teams got it going later in the first quarter, with the Grizzlies finishing with a 1-point lead over the Raptors at 32-31.

The Grizzlies's defense on Kawhi Leonard was particularly strong to start the game, holding him to 4 points on 2-5 shooting, and no assists. Overall, team defense played a big part,.I n his pregame availability J.B. Bickerstaff talked about how the Grizzlies would throw a lot of bodies at Leonard. Kyle Anderson's effect cannot be diminished, however, as he played fantastic individual defense on Leonard.

The Grizzlies continued their surprisingly high level of scoring in the second quarter, finishing with 39 points. Mike Conley also had a nice block on Kyle Lowry at the buzzer that left the home crowd on their feet heading into halftime.

Marc Gasol led all players in the first half with 15 points, dished three assists, and played with a great rhythm on both ends of the floor (shooting 6-9 and registering 2 steals). Garrett Temple also had an impact with 12 points and two made threes.

Overall team defense was stout in the first half, accumulating tons of deflections, 7 steals, and making it difficult for Toronto to get into their offensive sets.

The Grizzlies went into halftime with a 71-59 cushion over the Raptors, and extended the lead to 17 early in the third. On the first possession out of the half, Conley and Gasol executed a brilliant two-man game that was essentially a give-and-go vortex with both players swirling around one another's screens and cuts, resulting in both defenders following Conley's drive into the paint before he kicked the rock back to Gasol for an open three-point make.

But the Raptors battled back to cut the Grizzlies lead to one point, as Memphis' defense fell flat for most of the period. At one point the Raptors were shooting 11-14 in the quarter, and the Grizzlies didn't seem to get any stops, until they strung several together to end the period. The Raptors finished the third quarter shooting 11-21 from deep, and trailing the Grizzlies 97-93.

The stellar defense on Leonard fell apart in the second half. He finished the third quarter with 9 points and shot 7 free throws after scoring just 5 in the first half. He finished the game with 17 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, and one turnover.

Jaren Jackson picked up another couple of fouls in under a one-minute span early in the fourth quarter, and things continued to go downhill from there. Memphis has been giving up a lot of three-point looks from the corner this season. The Grizzlies have been relatively lucky, with teams not converting on those open looks at as high of a rate as they should, but they got bit in this game, as Toronto buried corner three after corner three down the stretch to put the game out of reach. The Raptors hit 7 threes in the final quarter.

Conley also missed consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter. He's done that several times this season, and I can't tell if it's fatigue late in games or if it's a mental thing.

In his postgame press conference, Bickerstaff said the Grizzlies got rushed as the Raptors dialed up the defensive intensity, forcing Memphis to play at a pace too fast for its comfort. He also characterized the open three-point looks granted to Toronto in the corner as non-structural, saying "there were some errors we made to create those situations. We're not trying to give up corner threes by any means." Still, this has been a problem pretty much all season, and tonight was the first time the Grizzlies paid for it. It probably won't be the last.

Marc Gasol rolled his ankle late in the game, finishing with a noticeable limp. Fortunately, his injury appears to be a day-to-day thing.

In the locker room after the game, JaMychal Green (13 points, 7 rebounds) said: "We just got to bounce back. Ain't no excuse. We just got to come in, play hard, and when it gets down to crunch time, lock up."

The Grizzlies will have two days of rest before they travel to Brooklyn on Friday to play the Nets.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Grizzlies Beat Mavericks 98-88, Tie for #1 in West

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 11:17 PM

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Grizzlies returned to FedExForum hoping to secure another win, and a tie for first in the Western conference, after 16 games.

The Dallas Mavericks arrived in Memphis on a four-game win streak, having beaten the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Jaren Jackson had faced off against every other top 5 2018 draft pick except the Mavs' Luka Doncic before tonight.
MATTHEW PRESTON
  • Matthew Preston
In his pregame availability, Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the foundation has been set after 15 games and lauded the team's solid identity and culture. In terms of improvement, Bickerstaff said better offense will come along as the Grizzlies get more comfortable with one another, and learn each others' games and how to play toward their teammates' strengths and tendencies.

The Mavericks started the game on a 5-0 run, but the game sank waist-deep into that Grindhouse mud soon after and remained bogged down, per the Grizzlies' liking, from that point onward. Neither team pulled away by more than a few points, with the lead changing hands 17 times.

The Mavericks got an early boost from Dorian Finney-Smith's two threes. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies shot 0-4 from deep to begin the game.

Jackson put on a showcase in the first quarter. Though he and Doncic were the star rookies in this matchup, Jackson spent more of his time guarding and being guarded by DeAndre Jordan.

Jackson made Jordan look downright foolish on a handful of possessions. On one play, Marc Gasol kicked the ball out to Jackson in the corner. Jackson dribble-drove into Jordan, backed up, then drove past him for a reverse-layup.

In another sequence, Jackson hit a deep two in Jordan's face, then blocked Jordan's dunk attempt on the other end. Jackson registered another block on Jordan in the post soon after. The Mavericks finished the first period shooting 29.2 percent from the field.

Between the first two quarters, the Grizzlies game-break entertainment featured a three-way competition between dental equipment. I'm only pointing that out because the competition and accompanying video made less sense than episode 8 of the recent Twin Peaks. I don't know if it was ineffectual production or high art, but I didn't like it (unlike episode 8 of Twin Peaks).

Another absurd thing that happened: Jackson had multiple highlights in one sequence. Doncic had a look from three, but didn't want to take it with Jackson defending the perimeter. Instead, he drove towards the rim, but only made it about a step before Jackson picked his pocket, ran the court, and finished at the other end with an and-one spin move. It was sublime and deserving of the Black Unicorn nickname I've seen spreading on Twitter.

Mike Conley also had a sweet assist to Jackson in the second quarter, where he drove to the rim and no-look flipped the ball over his shoulder to the trailing rookie. I'm interested to see how the Grizzlies' fast break offense unearths ways to leverage Jackson's abilities for easy points.

After the game, Bickerstaff said Jackson has "... an offensive skill set that we're just beginning to see." I agree.

Through good overall team play, the Mavericks pulled ahead early in the second quarter, and held that lead til near the end of the half. But the Grizzlies clawed their way back to a four point lead after two quarters.

One thing I liked seeing: Gasol looking great on one of his rumbling hook shots in the paint, with bouncy footwork and an elastic finish. It's nice to know that shot is still very much in his tool belt.

Bickerstaff called a timeout less than a minute into the second half, after Doncic and Smith Jr. hit quick threes. Doncic would finish with 8 points in the period.

The teams finished the third quarter tied at 74.

Memphis suffocated Dallas in the fourth quarter, holding the Mavericks to 14 points. I repeat: the Grizzlies held the Mavericks to 14 points in the final period of play, and did so on the second night of a back-to-back (when their previous game was on the road).

Meanwhile, solid and clutch play by Conley, Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple, and Gasol enabled the Grizzlies to close out the game on the offensive end.

Conley had another stellar shooting night, filling the basket to the tune of 28 points, and going 7-11 from deep! Five of those triples came in the second half. He also dished seven assists, had two steals, and five rebounds.

His shooting was efficient — 10-18 from the field. Conley made it to the line for only two free throws, but I don't mind him pouring in nearly 30 points without having to put his body on the line to get to the charity stripe this early in the season.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Kyle Anderson was effective in this game as well. His passing and defense were stellar, and he's shown much better touch around and near the rim in the last two games. He finished with 8 points on 4-6 shooting, and had 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He had one particularly clutch play late in the game, where he missed a corner three, stole the rebound away from the Mavericks, and finished with a jam.

JaMychal Green buoyed an otherwise disappointing performance by the Grizzlies bench. Wayne Selden and Marshon Brooks had trouble making good decisions with the ball, especially in the pick and roll, and combined for just 5 points. Mack had a lackluster shooting night, taking a small number of shots, but he made a timely three in the fourth quarter, and didn't turn the ball over once.

Green had a nice return to the home court after his jaw surgery. He had a nasty block on Dennis Smith Jr., and scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting, 2-4 from three. He was one rebound shy of a double-double.

Gasol had a solid night on offense, contributing 17 points on 6-16 shooting, but missed all five of his three point attempts. He made up for it on the boards, however, pulling down 15(!) rebounds (all defensive).

Memphis beat Dallas on the boards (45-43), and in the paint (44-36).

Defense won the game again for the Grizzlies. The Mavericks average about 110 points a game this season, but couldn't break 90 at the Grindhouse. Gasol and Jackson had 4 blocks each. The team had 11 overall. The Mavericks finished shooting an anemic 34.1 percent from the floor.

One thing Dallas did differently for stretches at the beginning of the game and second half, pointed out by Chris Herrington, was put Jordan on Jaren Jackson and smaller forwards on Gasol. As a result, Gasol's three-point game was taken away, and he spent much of his time down low with Jackson on the perimeter—when their positions are usually the other way around.

After the game, Bickerstaff and Gasol said they weren't too worried about other teams trying a similar tactic, and attributed the scheme and its success to the type of personnel the Mavericks have.

The Grizzlies are now tied for first in the Western conference after 16 games. That's not a tiny sample size. But the team isn't thinking much about that. Bickerstaff said he won't be paying too much attention to the rankings until after the All-Star break, and Gasol said he was happy, but that being happy isn't the same as being satisfied.

The Grizzlies are off until Wednesday, when they'll take on a dangerous and similarly slow-paced Spurs team in San Antonio.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 11:01 PM

If you watched Friday night's home game against the Sacramento Kings, you know the first quarter was the Jaren Jackson show. On the first offensive possession of the game, the Grizzlies pitched it to Jackson in the low post, and he scored as easily as one pours syrup on a pancake.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies leapt out to a 15-2 run, fueled by Jackson's nine points, including a made three-pointer and at-will scoring in the post. It helps when your post footwork is ahead of schedule and your touch is softer than an infant's hair. Nemanja Bjelica couldn't guard him for beans, and had a rough go while guarded by Jackson on the other end.

Memphis also benefited from 66.7 percent three-point shooting in the first quarter, with Jackson, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and MarShon Brooks each sinking a three.

The Kings got going near the end of the first period, however, with help from a speedy and electric De'Aaron Fox. He converted on a buzzer-beater to get the Kings to within one point heading into the second quarter.

The second quarter was defined by two nasty Wayne Selden dunks. Selden attacked the rim three times from the arc, finishing with two jams and an and-one elevated lay-in.

Fans were also treated to more of Jackson versus the Kings' number-two draft pick, Marvin Bagley, and Jackson dominated the matchup. In one sequence, Jackson blocked Bagley in the post (he ate his lunch y'all), and finished over him on the other end.

Did the Kings fumble the Bagley by not drafting Jaren Ja... *special ops shoots me in the neck with a tranquilizer.

The Kings took the lead briefly in the middle of the second quarter, but the Grizzlies battled back and went into halftime up 62-51, after Conley hit a floater with 3.4 seconds left. Fox got a shot off on the other end, but Jaren Jackson blocked it at the buzzer.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies never trailed in the second half. On one of the first possessions of the third quarter, Conley no-look deflected a pass that resulted in Marc Gasol getting fouled at the other end. The Grizzlies defense is scary good.

Memphis went back to their bread and butter to start the game in the second half, tossing the ball down low to Jackson and letting him feast. The Kings simply had no answer for him. He set his NBA career high in points (27), converting an alley-oop lob from MarShon Brooks. Jackson also finished the night with six boards (four of which came in the first quarter).

In his postgame press conference, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff lauded Jackson's performance and potential, saying: "He's just figuring it out. That's the blessing of it, is that he doesn't even understand how good he truly is yet."

Bickerstaff didn't finish the game with Jackson, however, opting to sit him in the final minutes, again. Familiar face Troy Williams made some clutch plays for the Kings and sank a couple triples down the stretch, and Sacramento got within three points in the final minutes of the game, but the Grizzlies managed to pull away just enough to close it out.

Two possessions at the end stood out. One featured the Kings' Iman Shumpert getting a second-chance opportunity in the corner. He waved off his teammates and shot a turnaround three-point airball over Garrett Temple.

The other happened when the Kings trailed by three with 1:41 to go, and an ultra-aggressive Gasol drove through all sorts of contact and for an and-one finish. Gasol would end the night with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and set the Grizzlies' franchise rebounding record (with former record-holder Zach Randolph in attendance, no less!).
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Conley had another solid scoring night, tallying 19 points on 7-16 shooting. He only hit 1-4 from three, but facilitated the offense well and notched six assists. It must be nice for both Conley and Gasol to be able to feed the rock to Jackson to start the game and the second half, and let him get his own buckets without either of the Grizzlies' elder statesmen having to exert much energy.

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield led the way for the Kings, combining for 35 points. Fox finished the game with a game-high 10 assists, and was the fiery engine for the Kings' offense for most of the night. Their high level of play wasn't enough to earn the win on this go against the Grizzlies, however.

The Grizzlies were back to their usual ways of protecting the rock in this game, turning the ball over only 13 times to the Kings' 21. Memphis also won the battle in the paint 54-42.

One weak spot for the Grizzlies was their free throw shooting. Conley missed consecutive free throws for the second time this season, and the team shot only 62.5 percent on 24 shots from the charity stripe. The Grizzlies also continued to give up a hearty helping of open looks from deep, and are lucky that the Kings converted on just 12 of their 33 attempts.

While ZBo has yet to suit up for the Kings this season, nothing was going to stop him from seeing his daughter sing in the Lausanne choir at FedExForum Friday night. He also caught up with old teammates, coaches, and FedExForum employees.

The Grizzlies return to action when they take on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves in Minnesota on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Grizzlies Lose First Home Game to Utah Jazz 96 - 88

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2018 at 11:04 PM

The Grizzlies hosted the Utah Jazz at FedExForum Monday night, where Memphis had been undefeated for the first five home games of the season. It was the third matchup between the Jazz and Grizzlies, with Memphis winning the first two.

Memphis entered the night having played their most exciting home game thus far with Saturday's Wrestling Night win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Mike Conley's shooting bounced back in a major way (32 points on 12-24 shooting, 4-8 from deep).
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The win against Philly was a trademark Grizzlies nail-biter, with Memphis coming back late, and winning by 6 in overtime. Unfortunately, they lost Dillon Brooks to a freak injury that will leave him sidelined 6-8 weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

The Grizzlies started Monday night's game in a stupor, playing sloppy on defense and shooting poorly (1-9) from the field, and stumbling out of the gate. Meanwhile, the Jazz got a Thanksgiving spread's worth of open looks from three in the opening period, but only converted on four of 12.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies defense stabilized, however, holding the Jazz to 36 percent FG shooting for the half, and Memphis was able to claw ahead midway through the second quarter to head into halftime with a 43-40 lead.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol led the way in scoring for the Grizzlies in the first half, pouring in 16 points. Despite missing Dillon Brooks' punch on both sides of the ball, the Grizzlies bench contributed 14 points in the half between Wayne Selden, Shelvin Mack, and MarShon Brooks. Surprisingly, Jaren Jackson led all Grizzlies in assists with 3 dimes in the half, and Memphis crushed the Jazz in the paint, 28-14.

Things were pretty much the same after halftime, with both teams struggling to score in a brawling defensive matchup. Both the Jazz and Grizzlies remained very much in the mud.


One notable defensive stop (that featured two new Grizzlies) happened when Donovan Mitchell drove to the hoop and Garrett Temple kept his position between Mitchell and the basket, and guided Mitchell right into a Jackson weak-side block.

Speaking of Jaren Jackson, his defensive impact was felt throughout the game, and he avoided foul trouble (earning his first personal with 5:59 left to go in the third quarter). Moreover, he notched his first NBA career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Strangely, he only played 25 minutes, though he finished with 3 fouls, and wasn't on the court at the end of the game.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies tied the Jazz at 62 with about 3 minutes left in the third, but Utah pulled ahead and didn't relinquish the lead. Memphis kept the game within striking distance until late in the fourth, and looked like they might make another late comeback, but couldn't hit enough shots (especially from deep).

Defense was the star of the matchup tonight, with Gasol continuing to helm the Grizzlies on that end of the floor in Defensive Player of the Year fashion. Unfortunately, Rudy Gobert (15 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked very much like the reigning DPOY, and held Jackson at bay. True to form, the Jazz played tremendous, and highly physical, team defense.

One area of weakness for Memphis on defense was their coverage on the perimeter. The defense gave up a lot of open looks beyond the arc, and I'm surprised the Jazz didn't convert on more of their three-point attempts. Monday night also marked the first time this season the Grizzlies had more turnovers than their opponent, and the Jazz capitalized on those opportunities. Memphis lost on the offensive boards as well, pulling down 8 to Utah's 13.

In his postgame press conference, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the game got away from the Grizzlies due to choppiness. He said the game was choppy in the way it was being called, and the team struggled to find a rhythm amid funky, injury-adapted rotations and offensive disorganization.

Bickerstaff also spoke about how the Grizzlies need re-establish the strong bench chemistry they had before Dillon Brooks' injury.

Joe Ingles played exceptionally well for the Jazz, finishing with 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists. Garrett Temple's defense on Donovan Mitchell was pretty impressive. Mitchell had 12 points on 3-14 shooting and went 0-2 from deep.

Mike Conley had another good shooting game, leading all Grizzlies with 24 points on 43.8 percent shooting from the floor, and converted on 3 of his 8 attempts from three.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol looked way more aggressive in this game, and has been talking about how he needs to step up his game in that regard. He banged around in the paint, took quick shots, and made assertive moves to the rim. He finished with 16 points on 7-13 shooting (missing all four of his three-point attempts), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. The Grizzlies need everything they can get on the offensive end, so hopefully Gasol maintains this level of aggression.

Kyle Anderson had a horrid shooting night, failing to convert on his sole three point attempt, leaving shots short at the rim, and shooting 27.3 percent from the floor on 11 shots. Anderson had a positive impact in other areas, however, gobbling up 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal. But the Grizzlies will need Anderson to pick up his shooting if they want to stay above .500.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Garrett Temple's defense was on point, but he had a cold shooting night, contributing just 6 points on 25 percent shooting, and missing all four of his attempts from deep. Shelvin Mack also failed to hit a triple.

MarShon Brooks had 10 points off the bench, shooting 4-9 and 1-2 from deep, but was often trying to manufacture a shot totally on his own when the Grizzlies offense went stagnant. The Grizzlies can't toss the rock to Brooks and expect him to pluck buckets out of thin air against an elite defensive team like the Jazz. Memphis definitely needs him to take shots, but he needed help getting better looks in this game.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies return to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Greek Freak Bucks.

Spicy Stat of the Night:

Cursed Tweet of the Night:

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