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

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

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

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

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. 
  • 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.

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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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

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

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
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
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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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Is It Time To Worry About Mike Conley?

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 10:39 AM

What's going on with Mike Conley? His shot is cold from midrange and from deep. While he's shown surprising speed and burst — considering he's only been playing full speed basketball for about a month after having not played since November 13th, 2017 — his floaters and shots close to the rim aren't falling.

I think it's still too early to know for sure what Conley's new normal is, but currently he appears to be experiencing a shooting slump and hasn't gotten his legs back. He's consistently mentioned the importance of — and that he's working on — his conditioning in the few weeks he's been back on the court.

In Ten Takes after Ten Games, Chris Herrington broke down a couple things that alarmed him about Conley in Wednesday's game against the Nuggets. There was a moment where Conley sped between two Nuggets defenders to tap a loose ball downcourt for a Garrett Temple dunk, instead of handily beating his defenders to the ball and pushing the fast break himself. Herrington also pointed out that Conley often looked a little tired, and struggled to turn the corner like he used to in the game against Denver.

Are these things indicative of new physical limitations that Conley (and the Grizzlies) will have to deal with? I don't know yet. But consider that the Grizzlies played Wednesday night's home game coming off of a West Coast road trip that featured the Jazz and a back-to-back ending against Golden State.

Conley played heavy minutes in each game, including both back-to-backs. He was guarding Steph Curry till late Monday night in Golden State, flew back to Memphis, and played the 9-1 Nuggets on Wednesday. Jamal Murray nearly had a 50 point game against the Celtics before his visit to Memphis. I don't think we have to hit the panic button on Mike Conley yet. We'll need more time, and he'll need more time to get his legs back.

It is somewhat alarming that Conley is playing heavier minutes this year (31.5) than he did in his short stint last season (31.1). And this is happening when Conley has much better backup in terms of handling the ball and initiating the offense.

We've seen Wayne Selden, Kyle Anderson, and especially Shelvin Mack afford Conley the ability to play off the ball, and that's kicked the Grizzlies offense up a notch from when Conley had to facilitate everything. If Conley's experiencing a shooting slump and conditioning is a work in progress, I think the Grizzlies offense could vault higher than where it currently resides, in the middle of the pack.

I'm not sure what Coach Bickerstaff could've done to get Conley more rest on the West Coast road trip and the home game against Denver. The Jazz and Nuggets games were close, and the Grizzlies collapsed in the second halves of the Suns and Warriors games. As improved as the roster is, the Grizzlies can't live without Conley when trying to come back or close out a game.

Conley remains the crux for the Grizzlies' hopes for a meaningful playoff run. To me, his game looks like it's almost back where it used to be, minus shooting and conditioning, but maybe he isn't the player he used to be. How will it all play out?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Grizzlies Close Out Wizards 107-95

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2018 at 9:20 AM

Since the Grizzlies don't play on Halloween, FedExForum celebrated the holiday Tuesday night with trick-or-treating for the kiddos pregame, and spooky sketches and in-game music. Fittingly, the first half of basketball was a nightmare for both teams. The Grizzlies finished the half shooting 39 percent from the floor on 42 shots. The Wizards shot 41 percent on 37 shots. At the half, the Grizzlies led 46-45. By comparison, the Warriors scored 48 points in just one quarter on Sunday.

The Grizzlies coaching staff and players have been throwing around the word "thrust" a lot recently, saying that they need to more strongly initiate their offense quicker, and with more power and direction. Basically, imposing pressure on the defense and making the defense bend and react.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies did not show any "thrust" in the first half of Tuesday night's game. Instead of lifting off, the offense taxied aimlessly, like they were cruising the parking lot looking for an open space, in no hurry whatsoever.

Indeed, the Grizzlies have a problem unfolding their offense in a reasonable amount of time. In his piece for The Athletic, Peter Edmiston crunched the numbers and the Grizzlies are the slowest team in the league, getting their shots off later in the shot clock than anyone else. Memphis started the game shooting 1-8. Conley missed consecutive free throws (for the first time ever?). Temple started 1-4. Jaren Jackson entered foul trouble early (and remained in foul trouble for the rest of the game).

Thankfully, the Wizards had a frighteningly bad half as well.

The Grizzlies have struggled coming out of halftime for a while now, but that wasn't the case last night. Jackson committed his fourth foul before a minute had passed in the third quarter, and wasn't able to make an impact on the game in the second half. Other than that, the Grizzlies came out strong on both sides of the ball in the third quarter.

Suddenly, the offense had flow. Conley and Marc Gasol worked their magic two-man game. People moved and were found off the ball. Good looks and shots were generated. The Grizzlies opened the quarter on a 18-1 run, at one point extending the lead to 19.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
On defense, the Grizzlies' energy and length generated a number off turnovers. Unfortunately, Memphis wasn't able to capitalize on these turnovers, and converted just three of their 13 fast-break opportunities.

The Wizards rallied in the latter part of the third, cutting the Grizzlies lead to 6, and finished the quarter with 27 points to the Grizzlies' 32. Their run continued till midway through the fourth quarter, getting the Wizards to within four points.

For a bit, it looked like the Grizzlies were poised to cough up another big lead (like they did in Sacramento). Instead, Memphis closed out the win with a steady hand. Garrett Temple's defense on Bradley Beal was clutch down the stretch. Aside from Omri Casspi officially becoming a Grizzlies defender by fouling Beal on a 4-point-play, Temple held Beal scoreless in the final period, and hit a three of his own.

Shelvin Mack, whom the Grizzlies leaned on heavily throughout the game, allowed Conley to play off the ball down the stretch, greatly enhancing Conley's scoring opportunities without over-taxing his stamina, and enhancing Conley and Gasol's two-man game overall.
In back-to-back offensive sequences, Gasol received the ball wide open from midrange and from deep due to his two-man game with Conley as Mack brought the ball up the court and initiated the offense. After drilling the dagger triple, Gasol let loose this celebration.

The Grizzlies have wanted to get Conley off the ball, and to alleviate the primary ball-handling burden, for a while now, and Mack enabled just that in last night's game. He scored 14 points in 29 minutes, shot 2-3 from deep, and handed out eight assists.

Another surprise from last night's game? The Grizzlies shot 46 percent as a team from deep, and made 13 threes. And the space that shooting provided Conley and Gasol was impressive to say the least. Also, Anderson quietly, finally, had a nice game. He finished with five points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and four steals. I expect his scoring to bump up a bit when he finds his groove with the team.

Special shout out to Ivan Rabb, by the way. Due to Triple-J's foul trouble, Rabb played nearly 12 minutes tonight and made the most of them. He played with composure, facilitated the offense, and outworked Otto Porter's defense in the post.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies return to action on Friday, when the Jazz get a chance to even the score at home in Utah.

Tweet of the night:

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Grizzlies Bounce Back, Defeating Suns 117-96

Posted By on Sat, Oct 27, 2018 at 10:54 PM

Uncertainty hung in the air going into Saturday night's home game against the Phoenix Suns. After a compelling win against a scary Utah Jazz team, the Grizzlies suffered a disappointing loss in Sacramento. The Grizzlies coughed up a halftime lead when the Kings clamped down on defense and clawed their way to victory.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Worse than the loss, Marc Gasol suffered what appeared at the time to be a potentially season-altering injury when De'Aaron Fox came down on Gasol's upper back area fighting for a rebound. The good energy from the win over Utah evaporated.

Fortunately, Gasol wasn't seriously injured after all. "It was a pretty bad scare when it happened. Thankfully, everything is okay. No structural damage or anything too serious to worry about," he told The Daily Memphian.

Doubts remained elsewhere, however, regarding the team's rebounding, defense, and especially with Kyle Anderson. Anderson's length, ball-handling, and IQ portended to him quickly fitting in with the Grizzlies, but he's struggled to find his groove.

While Anderson didn't make much headway acclimating himself to the team in this one, the Grizzlies were able to hold their own on the boards, gobbling up 39 to the Suns' 35. The Grizzlies performed better on defense, as well, with Ayton being the only Phoenix player to score in the 20s, but the Suns' offensive woes were more indicative of their youth, inexperience, and lack of Devin Booker tonight.

The matchup also featured another marquee rookie matchup between number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton and fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson. With Saturday night's game, Jackson has faced off against every top-5 draft pick except Luka Doncic.

The Grizzlies built up a sizeable lead in the first half, creating a 25-point cushion behind 61 percent shooting, including 7-13 from deep.  The high shooting percentage may speak more towards the Suns' defense than the Grizzlies offense. The Grizzlies are currently rated last in the league in offense, and it shows. The offense frequently falls stagnant, and fails to generate good or easy looks for anyone.
Ayton, the lauded #1 overall pick for the Phoenix Suns, didn't impose himself at all in the first quarter. He routinely passed out of the paint despite having the physical advantage against his defender, and finished with 2 points on just one shot.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Ayton turned that around, however, in the second quarter, going 6-6 and scoring 6 straight on Jaren Jackson when Gasol sat. He would finish the game with 25 points on 12-13(!) shooting, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.

One thing that stood out in the first half was the Grizzlies' offense not immediately going down in flames when Conley exited the game for rest. Shelvin Mack buoyed the team nicely and dished 4 assists as backup point guard, and Wayne Selden chipped in 10 points and 2 two assists.

Gasol, Conley, and Selden all finished the half in double digits, with five other Grizzlies scoring at least 5 points. Ayton was the only Suns player to finish the first half in double-digits with 14 points, with only 3 players notching at least 5 points.

Anderson continued to struggle finding his groove with the team. After starting, he got the hook with 7:46 remaining in the first quarter after missing a couple bunny shots near the rim, and going 0-3. He finished the half with 0 points on those three shots.

The Grizzlies maintained their advantage in the second half, keeping a healthy points margin over the Suns. Their solid lead late into the game allowed Yuta Watanabe to check in, and become the second Japanese player to play in the NBA in league history. Japanese NBA Twitter definitely paid attention to the moment. My two most viral tweets, by an enormous margin, were crappy handheld phone videos of Yuta dunking in the warmup line, and spinning to the hoop, missing, but drawing the foul. Virtually all of the RTs and favs were from Japanese basketball fans.
Jaren Jackson had a rough game defensively. He wasn't able to deter Ayton, got into foul trouble early, and earned the first technical of his NBA career after receiving his 5th personal foul. It's funny that his offense has come along more quickly than his defense.
Garrett Temple has absolutely locked down the starting shooting guard spot. His defense has been crucial, his ball handling on point, and he finished the game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. It appears to be for the best, as Dillon Brooks gets to come off the bench with more freedom to impose his will as a dynamic playmaker. Brooks actually ended up playing about four more minutes than Temple, but that's partially indicative of the Grizzlies comfortable lead for most of the game.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies bench contributed nicely in this win. Wayne Selden continued to impress. He finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting, and provided a nice punch at the two spot. Marshon Brooks played his role perfectly as instant offense off the bench, pouring in 18 points in 19 minutes.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol didn't look limited in his return to action. He finished with 19 points on 8-16 shooting, and hit 3-6 from deep (including a Steph-range near buzzer-beater to end the first half).
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Mike Conley had a solid game without having to soak up super-heavy minutes. He scored 11 points and tallied 7 assists in 28 minutes. Usually when Conley leaves the game to rest, the Grizzlies offense goes down in flames. Garrett Temple and especially Shelvin Mack were able to buoy the offense when Conley exited, and to not immediately enter a tailspin without Conley is a new development.

When I asked Conley what it's meant to be able to go to the bench and the offense stay afloat, he said Mack, Temple, and Anderson have been huge. "[It] allows me to keep fresh legs longer." He also noted that their play will allow him to regain his conditioning with each game as he returns to pre-injury form. J.B. Bickerstaff understood the importance of being cautious with how much the Grizzlies lean on Conley, saying "I feel bad because there's been times where it feels like we're wearing him down, so we've got to do a better job of giving him some breaks."

The Grizzlies are now 3-2 on the season, and return to action on Tuesday when they take on the Washington Wizards at FedExForum.

Epilogue: the Grizzlies blared Kid Rock's Bawitdaba to pump up the crowd late in the fourth, and I've never seen less of a reaction. Let us pray that this trash song gets retired and forgotten sooner rather than later.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Grizzlies lose game and Gasol in Sacramento

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Memphis led confidently for the first half, boosted by nice bench play, only to come out flat in the third quarter. The Kings' defense overall was impressive in the second half, and allowed Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox to help them claw their way back from behind to win the game. Far worse, Marc Gasol left the game after fighting for a rebound when De'Aaron Fox came down on his head/neck/shoulder area.

But first, some fun things that happened in last night's game.

Usually when the Grizzlies play the Kings, nothing too notable happens. You don't get storylines like ZBo vs the CP3 and Blake Griffin Clippers. Tonight was different, however.

Grizzlies and Kings factions were at each others throats on social media about which franchise had the better draft pick: Jaren Jackson or Marvin Bagley? The real deal outlived the hype. Jackson showed his skill and touch, posting and toasting Bagley in the first half. Bagley fought back in the second half, proving difficult for Jackson to guard without fouling.

De'Aaron Fox and Mike Conley's duel down the stretch was a treat as well. Conley scored in the 20s for the second game in a row. Fox, however, stole the show in this game. He was unstoppable in the fourth quarter.

I've seen Greg Wissinger, the editor of SB Nation's Sactown Royalty, keep track of which players that sat out (or were afraid of) playing against Fox. Fox took over the game at the end, and I'm legitimately going to have nightmares about him for a week. He finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists.

The Grizzlies had no answer for Fox. I kinda wish the Grizzlies had thrown Andrew Harrison out onto Fox late in the game, but there was too much ground to make up.

Fox's defensive energy was equally impressive. Jackson fouled out with 1:24 left in the game while trying to set a screen for Conley that Fox fought around. The rookie bumped Fox, and Fox slid back on the court, clapping his hands gleefuly as a dejected Jackson shuffled to the bench. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to all the Bagley vs Jackson battles yet to come.

I wish these matchups had defined the night. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies suffered a potentially catastrophic blow when Gasol went down. Was Gasol already dealing with an injury before this happened? He did look off in the second half, airballing a shot or two. Peter Edminston of The Athletic had this to say:

On the other hand, maybe the crazy pace the Kings imposed gassed Gasol's legs.

In any case, Gasol laid on the ground for an uncharacteristically long time before getting up and walking to the locker room. Worst-case scenarios are festering on the mind for the Grizzlies and their playoff hopes. If Gasol suffered a serious injury, the tanking conversation is likely around the corner.


Wayne Selden started to break out a little bit in this game. He shot spot up threes well (3-6) and had a particularly bouncy hop step that allowed him to knife between some Sacramento defenders and get into the paint for a bucket.

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