Thursday, January 5, 2017

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

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

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Scattered, Incomplete Reflections on Chandler Parsons

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Grizzlies 115, Rockets 109: Six Victory Haiku

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

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

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

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

Game Notes Haiku

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #63: Resting, the Schedule, and Conley's Return

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 7:36 AM

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

  • Mike Conley is back, but should he be?
  • Are NBA teams going overboard resting players? Did Memphis get screwed by LeBron James' rest?
  • Should the NBA shorten the schedule to eliminate back-to-backs? (Yes.)
  • Phil thinks the NBA should institute a disabled list or injured reserve, and he's right.
  • The Grizzlies are playing the Celtics Tuesday and the Pistons Wednesday.
  • Will Gasol go back to playing deferentially now that so many guys are returning from injury?
  • Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets are coming to town on Friday for the first time.
  • What Christmas gifts would Kevin and Phil give the Grizzlies?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Grizzlies 92, Kings 96: Joerger and Conley Return, But So Does Losing

Posted By on Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 8:47 AM

Mike Conley returned to action for the Grizzlies last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley returned to action for the Grizzlies last night.

The Grizzlies lost to the Sacramento Kings last night, 96-92. They trailed more than that for most of the game, really, and they were this close to making it another of their now-habitual comeback wins, but poor shot selection on the final play and a general lack of pick and roll defense doomed them to the fate for which they’d been setting themselves up since the first quarter. Afterwards, coach David Fizdale was displeased with the team’s effort, and mostly everyone agreed with that assessment. It was an anticlimactic night that saw two returns that should’ve at least made the game interesting.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

In Which Dave Joerger Returns To Memphis And Mike Conley Returns to Action

Former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wasn’t just the head coach for three seasons, he was also an assistant for several before that—so he was a part of the landscape of the franchise for quite a while. It was strange to see him coaching on the opposite sideline, and hanging out in the media/team dining room in Sacramento Kings gear. The reaction from the crowd when Joerger was pretty lukewarm—some applause, the occasional boo—but overall it didn’t feel like as big of a deal as when Lionel Hollins returned to town coaching the Nets in his first season back.

Joerger’s return to the Forum was mostly overshadowed by a different return: Mike Conley returned to the floor after only missing nine games on what was supposed to be a four-to-six-week transverse process back fracture. Conley’s insane toughness has been discussed here before, at length, and it was always my impression that Conley was going to do everything in his power to come back before that six week mark, but… wow. Once it became a matter of pain tolerance and nothing else, there was nothing holding him back. As we know from the way he played in the 2015 Warriors series with a broken face, his pain tolerance alone is probably worth a max contract.

In Which The Grizzlies Get Out-Worked By A Team They Should Beat

None of that theoretical emotional energy made its way to the basketball court. The Grizzlies got out-hustled, plain and simple. The Kings came up with every loose ball, the Griz defense—which has been #1 in the league since Conley went down—couldn’t keep track of the Kings’ shooters, Conley looked rusty and he and Gasol struggled to know who should be the primary option in the offense, and nothing anybody did seemed to make any of it better. It didn’t help that the refs called 56 fouls in the game, breaking up any rhythm either team was able to get into and fouling out players on both teams, but a focused Griz team should have been able to play through that.

In the final minutes, the Griz attempted to mount one of their patented comebacks, but with the ball and a chance to tie the game, Conley tried to take a shot and draw a foul instead of passing it off to someone who might have been more open, a lapse in judgement that ended in the Kings getting the ball back to shoot free throws. Hoping for a foul call in the last seconds of a game is never a smart strategic decision. It’s clear that Conley’s reintegration into the offense is going to be a bit of a struggle, which is probably foreshadowing of what’s to come when James Ennis and Chandler Parsons come back… but last night still seemed to be about effort. Some nights in the NBA a team just comes out flat and can’t get it going; last night was one of those for the Grizzlies.

In Which Everyone Is Mad After The Game

Which isn’t to say that the mood after the game was one of acceptance of that fact. Fizdale was clearly frustrated in the postgame presser, saying the Kings beat the Grizzlies to all of the 50/50 balls, and that the effort level just wasn’t there against a team that was playing harder. Asked whether the Grizzlies’ poor shooting night (they were 37.7% from the floor) had anything to do with it, Fizdale’s response was “We shoot bad every night, so that’s not what it was.”

Asked about the coach’s comments, Marc Gasol was cryptic and evasive, as though he disagreed, but then, Gasol has never been one to enjoy having his effort level questioned, even when perhaps it’s well deserved. Tony Allen and Mike Conley both echoed what Fizdale said–that the focus wasn’t there, and the Grizzlies let the Kings have too many little advantages. Conley even said that with his return and playing against Joerger for the first time that maybe the Grizzlies were too emotional and excited and once it was clear that it was going to be a rough shooting night, they let that turn into discouragement.

Regardless of who was right and what the issue was, after the game it was clear that everyone involved wasn’t thrilled with the way it had gone down, and knew they’d left a win on the table. One hopes that frustration just moves them to be sharper against the Jazz on Sunday instead of settling in like a fog the way malaise has set in on Grizzlies teams of the past. With most of the injured players returning, they’ve got their work cut out for them re-integrating important rotation pieces.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Grizzlies 93, Cavaliers 85: Obligatory Basketball Content

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 8:59 AM

Marc Gasol rested at Cleveland and only needed to play 28 minutes at home. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol rested at Cleveland and only needed to play 28 minutes at home.

For a writer like me, more of an “alt-weekly basketball critic” than anything else, games like the one last night, in which the Grizzlies beat the under-manned Cleveland Cavaliers 93-85 one night after the Cavs did the same to an equally rest-weakened Grizzlies squad in Cleveland, present a bit of a challenge. There’s a term for these games, even: the “schedule loss,” a game in which the tyranny of the overloaded NBA schedule determines that one team just isn’t going to be up to snuff for whatever reason.

The Sports Industrial Complex would like for you to pretend that these games don’t happen, that every one is a hard-fought waypoint on a team’s Journey of Destiny, and for people like me to keep churning out previews and recaps and player grades and social media content like there was any way this home-and-home between teams from different conferences in mid-December was going to have any other outcome. In an industry that thrives on (1) narrative and (2) endless analysis of the games and other peoples’ analysis thereof, it can be a little crazy to sit in the media section wondering whether to watch the game or read this cool blog post about Stanley Elkin, because only one of those things was actually worth paying attention to last night.

Back-to-backs are stupid, and everyone knows they’re stupid, and the only reason the NBA plays them is because it was originally created in the Forties to fill hockey arenas on off nights, and there are a lot of off nights. No one (except maybe former players, who seem to hate any deviation from The Way We’ve Always Done Things) actually thinks the NBA should have them—but if you take the season down to 65 games, teams lose money on gate revenue, and there are fewer Units of Sports Content for ESPN and TNT to show on their cable networks, so TV revenue probably falls too. And so they remain, and probably always will, even as the league looks for a way to make the season run ten months of the year to avoid them instead of the “obvious” solution (to someone not concerned with the bottom line) of just chopping some games off the schedule.

So there I was, caught between a review of Elkin’s Pieces of Soap and a basketball game that was barely worth playing because the Cavs’ three best players stayed in Ohio. Not that I judge them for that; rest is the right policy in this situation, especially given that Marc Gasol stayed home from the Memphis trip to Cleveland the night before. But it does make you wonder: why do we do this to ourselves, other than money? Wouldn’t it have been the same outcome if the Grizzlies had just forfeited the game in Cleveland and the Cavs reciprocated by forfeiting the Memphis game, coming out even, sparing Deyonta Davis from his apparent plantar fasciitis flare-up, and saving everyone on jet fuel and resting thirty players instead of four or five?

Instead, I found little things to talk about, because if I’m not Generating Premium Sports Content, I have failed the system entirely, which requires that each of us microanalyze games that are shown to be meaningless by the fact that the best player(s) on each team weren’t even in the same state when it happened.

Game Notes, Such As They Are

Tony Allen tied his career record for field goal attempts with 17 last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen tied his career record for field goal attempts with 17 last night.

It’s not often that Tony Allen takes 17 shots in a game. It’s probably even less likely in a game that the Grizzlies actually won. As David Fizdale pointed out after last night’s win, if Allen had made all of the layups and point-blank looks he got last night, he probably would’ve scored 25 points. Allen always steps up his offense when the team is depleted. He was great on both ends of the floor in the Warriors game Saturday night. Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated, even as he gambles even more on defense. Marc Gasol is playing at an MVP level right now and can cover for him.

Wade Baldwin can’t get on the floor in blowouts. I’m not sure if Fizdale is a little over-reliant on Toney Douglas because he desperately needs wins while Conley is out or if Baldwin, who has just been flat-out bad for a few weeks now, is such a liability that he can’t stay on the floor long enough. I hope it’s the former, and that Baldwin will see some floor time soon, before it stunts his development in true Grizzlies form. But if he’s really that bad, well, that’s not a good sign.

Bad Andrew Harrison was really bad Speaking of rookies playing badly, Andrew Harrison was terrible at just about every possible opportunity last night. He managed to be -12 in a blowout win. Everything he did was the wrong thing. Rookies have those kinds of nights sometimes, but it was excruciating to watch Harrison slowly maneuver himself into terrible situations last night. Be better, my dude.

Up Next

Friday night should be fun. This game may have been over before it even started, but Friday night Dave Joerger returns to town with his discombobulated Kings squad and I would bet more than one Grizzly has a mind to set a career scoring mark against them. I mostly hope Gasol goes 15 of 16 from three. The Kings are a team that the Grizzlies should beat, even given their injury situation. And maybe let’s go back to vehemently disliking Matt Barnes, okay, Grizzlies fans?


Monday, December 12, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #62: Warriors Beatdown Edition

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 2:35 PM

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

  • THE WARRIORS GAME
  • Marc Gasol is currently playing like an MVP
  • The contributions of the Troys: Williams and Daniels
  • Should the Grizzlies rest Gasol at Cleveland?
  • Dave Joerger's return to Memphis Friday night, and a shared dislike of Matt Barnes

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


Friday, December 9, 2016

Grizzlies 88, Trail Blazers 86: Haiku Game Notes

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 8:02 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night’s game was hard to watch right up until the moment that it wasn’t. The Grizzlies trailed Portland 68-79 with 5:45 to go when David Fizdale called his last timeout, and over those last few minutes, Marc Gasol–who ended up playing almost 35 minutes–absolutely took over, scoring 9 of the Grizzlies’ last 20 points by himself. Toney Douglas made clutch shots and plays down the stretch, and Troy Daniels, who’d struggled most of the game to find his shooting touch, made his only 3-pointer of the night from 30 feet out. Tony Allen contributed a layup and a stout enough defense to ruin the Blazers’ night.

The Grizzlies’ run of victories without Mike Conley is true to form, but that doesn’t mean it was expected, or even likely. I’ve decided to commemorate their 5-game win streak with 5 haiku about last night.

1.

The temperature dropped
Troy Daniels frozen from three
He thawed in crunch time.

2.

They’ll lose a game. But:
It doesn’t feel like that now.
Now they mock defeat.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

3.

Gasol seems Pyrrhic.
Like Sisyphus, but he plays
Thirty five minutes.

4.

I should know by now.
When cornered, the fearsome bears,
They just fight harder.

5.

Last year they’d have lost.
They’re free now, they trust their coach,
And now Marc takes threes.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Grizzlies 96, Sixers 91: The Other Things

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 7:51 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies have won four games in a row now, all of them without Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter, and James Ennis. Until last night, they’d also been without Zach Randolph, who was away from the team following the sudden loss of his mother. Last night, after a week and a half away, Randolph returned, and the Grizzlies played an emotional game, in which nothing was working offensively but they scrambled and bullied their way to victory anyway; they won a game the Z-Bo way since they had him back.

I understand why the ideas of resting on a back-to-back went out the window last night. As I said in yesterday’s recap of the Pelicans game, the Griz need to bank all of the wins they can right now before the schedule ramps up and the going gets considerably rougher. What that meant in practice last night was that the Griz were tired, not always focused, and that they couldn’t shoot (the team was 38.4% from the field and only 11.8% from 3-point range). What that meant in practice was that with the game on the line, Zach Randolph hit a layup to tie it at 91, and then after Marc Gasol and Tony Allen hit some free throws to make it a 94-91 lead, the game was won when Z-Bo grabbed a defensive rebound and forced the Sixers to foul him.

It was a normal Z-Bo play, something we’ve seen him do hundreds of times (Randolph played his 1000th career regular season game last night), but Randolph was visibly emotional as he did it, and the response from his teammates was, well, you watch it:

The basketball that was played last night really doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things. One game against Philadelphia doesn’t really matter much in the context of the overall narrative of the Grizzlies, not this particular chapter thereof stretching all the way back to the Iavaroni days. This is a group of men who have been together for a long time, who legitimately like and are friends with each other, and who genuinely care about each other.

There are times when the Grizzlies feel ancient, like some foreign thing that used to make sense but doesn’t anymore, like The Grizzlies Epic is in cuneiform on tablets no one knows how to read anymore. Then, it feels like the right thing to do is to burn it to the ground and start over, to break the continuity with the past that sometimes feels like being tied to a millstone. But then, on a Tuesday night at a poorly-attended game against one of the weakest teams in the league without three of their best players, missing five guys to injury, something like that happens, and it clicks. This is why they won’t do that.

So much has changed in the league since Zach Randolph got here. So much has changed in Memphis since Zach Randolph got here. Eight seasons is a long time. 494 games with the Grizzlies so far. There’s comfort in routine, sure, but in his postgame comments he still looks a little shellshocked (Read the comments on that from fans, by the way. This guy matters to Memphians). I can’t imagine having to focus hard enough to play NBA basketball so soon after that kind of a loss, but there he is, and there the Grizzlies are around him, and here we are. The Grizzlies won last night. But, as is usually the case with the Grizzlies, the basketball itself was ugly, jumbled, a mess. The things worth noting were the other things.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Grizzlies 110, Pelicans 108: The Long Game

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 9:28 AM

Troy Daniels is on fire the last few games. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Troy Daniels is on fire the last few games.

When Mike Conley went down, I did the math, and I did not expect the Grizzlies to win this game, but that’s exactly what they did, beating the Pelicans in New Orleans 110-108 in double overtime. It wasn’t pretty—though it certainly wasn’t as ugly as the last Griz/Pels game, which went into overtime tied at 75. But what they lacked in execution the Grizzlies made up for with sheer effort, led by some scoring outbursts from guys that you may not expect. As I said in my last recap, the way the schedule looks over the next couple of weeks, the Griz need every win they can get right now, so last night was certainly a game they needed to win.

In Which Troy Daniels’ Green Light Is On The End Of Jay Gatsby’s Dock

Troy Daniels was not good in preseason, and up to this point in the regular season, he’d been something worse than bad for an NBA player: he’d been invisible. But since the team was reduced to nine players (now ten, with the injury hardship addition of Toney Douglas becoming official yesterday) Daniels has found both his shooting stroke and the confidence necessary to fire at will from beyond the arc.

Daniels had 29 points last night. Efficiency is important, but frankly, I couldn’t care less that he had to take 20 shots to get there. In the absence of Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, somebody has to score with the Grizzlies’ second unit, and Daniels has finally found his groove just in time to be that guy. Who knows what happens to the rotation when all of these guys return; it’s going to be long enough that the Grizzlies were granted a hardship, so that seems premature to even discuss at this point. But Daniels has found his rhythm at the right time, and it’s glorious to see a guy in a Grizzlies uniform who can go out there absolutely chucking everything he thinks he can get off in time and hitting fully 50% of them.

In Which Marc Gasol Is The Absolute Best

I don’t even know that I have language for what Marc Gasol has been for the Grizzlies—all season, really, but especially since Mike Conley went down injured. It took two overtimes, sure, but last night Gasol got yet another triple double, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in just under 46 minutes. He did all of that against Anthony Davis, who is still on track to be the best player in the league here soon, and the Pelicans’ other various bigs. Davis, in particular, has always given the Grizzlies trouble (just as he does everyone else) because of his otherworldly length, but last night Gasol didn’t seem bothered by it at all. In overtime, Gasol took it straight to Davis more than once, hitting turnaround jumpers in his face. It was great.

The three point game that Gasol has shown in just the first games of this season makes you wonder what it was that kept previous coaches from letting him shoot it. Clearly this is not something he just started shooting this summer, and every time he makes a big three at a crucial moment—he was 3 for 6 last night—a little bit of me dies, knowing he could have been drilling these in 2015 in the playoffs against the Warriors. “What if”s are never fun, especially where the Grizzlies’ long, tortured history as a franchise is concerned (being one lottery spot away from LeBron and instead giving up the pick that became Darko to Detroit, anyone?) but in hindsight it’s hard not to call Hollins and Joerger short-sighted for not being willing to develop this facet of Gasol’s game. We’ve been hearing for years now that Gasol was winning 3-point contests in practice; it’s not like they didn’t know.

David Fizdale is enjoying the win streak. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale is enjoying the win streak.

In Which These Wins Are Important Because We Can Enjoy It While It Lasts

The Grizzlies have home games against the Sixers (without Joel Embiid) tonight and the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. Both of those are winnable, though Portland is definitely not an easy out given the Grizzlies’ current condition; a win Thursday would be a pleasant surprise. After that, it starts to get ugly for the banged-up Griz. Saturday brings the Durant-ed Golden State Warriors to town, and then Tuesday and Wednesday feature a home-and-home with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. There are tough games against tough teams sprinkled with winnable home games for the rest of the month, almost all on 1 or 0 days of rest. There’s just no way the Griz will be able to win all of these in OT or 2OT.

So, not to play Prophet of Doom here, but these three wins in a row are extremely important to the Grizzlies— they needed to win at least two of these to stay in contact with the West playoffs through this injury-riddled stretch. There’s just no way they’re going to win all of them, but now the task is lighter, and as the losses inevitably start to add up over the rest of the calendar year, the Griz have put themselves in a better position to come out the other side and keep trying to climb. These are important wins, these Nasty Nine games. They are putting themselves in a better position.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Grizzlies 95, Magic 94: The Comeback Win and The Coming Storm

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 9:20 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies, with nine players, won last night, only 24 hours after playing Toronto tougher than anybody expected. Head coach David Fizdale has taken to calling them the Nasty Nine (which brings back shades of last year’s pre-Chalmers-injury Hateful Eight who rolled into Cleveland and beat the Cavaliers), but there’s more to it than that–through defensive effort, a Troy Daniels who is rapidly shooting his way back to his career averages, and great individual performances from guys who needed to step up, the Grizzlies were able to grab a desperately-needed win on the second night of a back-to-back against a team with a good defense. Looking at the Grizzlies’ schedule over the next six weeks–the amount of time the team said they expect Mike Conley to be out–it was a win they needed very badly if they’re going to stay in the West playoff hunt.

The Comeback Win

First off, some thoughts about the game itself. There were a few individual performances worth mentioning, but the overall point is that the nine Grizzlies who were playing played as hard as they could for a full 48 minutes, and even when the Magic started to gain some real separation by going up 14 in the fourth quarter, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen came back in and the deficit immediately vanished. It was a game between two teams with good defenses and bad offenses, and ultimately, the Grizzlies’ defense is what pulled it off.

Number Nine when you need him. Tony Allen was a force of nature in the whole game, not shooting well but doing everything else to make Orlando miserable. The most important stretch was probably in the middle of the fourth quarter, when Jeff Green (remember him?) was on a bit of a run for Orlando, extending their lead and racking up 14 points. Allen had been guarding Evan Fournier all night, but when he came back into the game this time, he was on Green, who then didn’t get the ball at all for the next couple of minutes and was taken completely out of the flow of the game. That’s not to bag on Jeff Green—though I will readily admit that I enjoy doing that—but to say: Tony Allen can still come in and totally turn off the water on someone, and when he does, it’s glorious, and it can win games.

Andrew Harrison is not afraid Last night, Andrew Harrison continued his growth from “petrified rookie” to “I like this kid.” He made plays when it mattered, was extremely valuable on defense, where his size advantage means he has all the makings of a terror, and he didn’t screw up. Sometimes that’s the most impressive thing a rookie can do, is not screw up. By contrast, Wade Baldwin IV, Harrison’s fellow rookie, showed some flashes but still looked very raw. Harrison— no doubt thanks to his year in Iowa, at least in part—showed no such unsteadiness last night, and if the Grizzlies are going to keep their heads above water during this Conley-less stretch, that’s of the utmost importance.

Troy Daniels actually looks like an NBA player now. Percentage-wise, Daniels has always been an excellent shooter, so it was always a question of when and not if Daniels’ shot would return, and whether it would happen before he fell completely out of the Grizzlies’ rotation. The dramatically shortened bench means Daniels is going to get the minutes whether he’s ready for them or not, so it’s good that being thrown into the fire a little seems to have brought back Daniels’ ability to knock down shots. After last night’s game, Fizdale also pointed out that Daniels’ defense has improved as his shooting has improved, and I’m not so convinced, but when Daniels can shoot he can really shoot, so having him find his stroke when the Griz most need the contribution is comforting.

Also, this happened.

This would be a good one for a caption contest. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This would be a good one for a caption contest.

The Next Six Weeks

This is the part that is less pleasant. The Grizzlies’ announced timetable for the Conley injury was six weeks, and this is what the Grizzlies schedule looks like during that stretch:

grizzlies_-_next_six_weeks_-_google_sheets.png

With Zach Randolph still away from the team for personal reasons, with Vince Carter out with a hip thing, with Chandler Parsons and James Ennis out without any sort of update about the condition of any of them, with Brandan Wright basically never even having been on the team, and with Mike Conley out for the entire stretch… it’s not going to be pretty. Even if you assume the best case scenario, which is that Randolph is back next week, and Ennis and Parsons are back the week after that, it’s still not pretty. 22 games, a majority of which are against good teams, with very little rest, without the guy who has clearly been the most impressive player on the team all season long.

They won last night. I think an optimistic projection has them winning six or seven on this stretch, which would put them somewhere better than .400 but worse than .500 when Conley returns. If it goes worse than that–and it could, but if there’s one thing we know about this team it’s that they aren’t going to quit playing hard–they could be even farther out of reach with the playoff standings by the time Conley returns. January and February bring a kinder schedule, to be sure, and I certainly don’t think the Griz are out of the hunt for a playoff spot, but let’s be real: it’s now the hunt for the 7th or 8th spot, and it’s going to be a struggle for them to get there. There’s never a good time to have that many of your best players all missing time simultaneously, but… this situation seems particularly heinous.

Last night’s win was a sign that the Grizzlies are going to catch some teams off guard during this stretch and be a tougher out than they seem on paper. But don’t mistake that for “everything is going to be fine,” at least in terms of the standings. The young guys will get to explore who they want to be on the court, maybe they’ll get that injury exception and bring in Toney Douglas for a couple of weeks (though with Harrison playing this well I’m not convinced they have to), but there’s just no way to look at the schedule and at which players are available to play and think this is going to be a fun stretch on the court for the Grizzlies. In a five-day stretch they play the Warriors and a home-and-home with the Cavaliers, and they might have ten players while they’re trying to do it. Hold on to your butts, folks.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mike Conley Suffers Back Fracture, Expected to Miss 6 Weeks

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 12:58 PM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Remember when we were all talking about the Grizzlies' season, and about how they'd probably be fine as long as they didn't suffer any major injuries?

...Now they've suffered a major injury. In the midst of an undeniably great start to the season, putting up the best numbers of his career in an offense designed to maximize his abilities on the court, winning more games than anyone thought they would, Mike Conley went down after a play last night and didn't get up for a while. And now:

And from Grind City Media's Mike Wallace:

The Grizzlies were already shorthanded, missing Brandan Wright (who has yet to play a regular season minute this year), Chandler Parsons, and James Ennis to injuries, and with Zach Randolph still away from the team after the passing of his mother. Conley's injury was a freak thing, not related to playing too much or to overuse or anything—just one of those things. That doesn't make the Grizzlies' prospects over the next six weeks feel any better.

I don't know that to say. At least there are young guys to play instead of Ryan Hollins and Jordan Farmar? That seems like pretty weak consolation. I got nothing. Maybe Conley should play in full pads from now on.

Hornets 104, Grizzlies 85: Everybody('s) Hurts

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 8:06 AM

The Grizzlies had their hands full last night because of all the injuries they've suffered. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Grizzlies had their hands full last night because of all the injuries they've suffered.

Things did not go well for the hometown team last night. Without James Ennis and Chandler Parsons due to injury and without Zach Randolph, who wasn’t with the team due to a personal matter (Randolph’s mother passed away over the Thanksgiving holiday), the Grizzlies came into Monday night’s game shorthanded, played one good quarter, and then everything fell apart, eventually losing 104-85.

The loss wasn’t the only bad news of the night though, as Mike Conley was injured early in the third quarter and didn’t return. The early report for Conley was a “lower back injury,” but the Grizzlies said last night that they’ll have an update today when Conley is evaluated again. The game was already getting away from the Griz when Conley went down—these things happen when you lose the second quarter 31-14—but the Conley injury overshadowed whatever happened on the court from then on out, and frankly made it hard to care much one way or the other about what happened on the floor. Unfortunately, most of the crowd seemed to agree, and by the 2-minute mark, there was hardly anybody left in the building, a yawn of an end to a poor outing.

It’s not hard to understand why the game went the way it did: without Ennis and Parsons, the wing rotation is a shambles, depending on young and unproven guys like Troy Williams (who got the start last night) and Troy Daniels (who has yet to really have a game that convinces me he belongs on the roster) and old vets like Vince Carter, who is in a slump of his own after a blistering start to the season and who also left last night’s game with an injury. Not having Zach Randolph around means that there’s nowhere near enough offensive production from anyone else bud Conley and Marc Gasol to take the burden off the wings, which means that everything relies on Gasol and Conley. Against a well-coached, good team like the Hornets, that’s simply not good enough to hang on for 48 minutes. Last night it only really worked for 16 or 17.

The game wasn’t fun, so let’s have some fun with it:

19 Things That Were More Fun Than Last Night’s 19-Point Loss

Jarell Martin had his first career double double last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jarell Martin had his first career double double last night.
  1. Watching the (many) Garth Brooks-related promo items on the big screen. If you didn’t know Garth Brooks is coming to the Forum, you will soon enough. As a young man I had Ropin' the Wind and No Fences on cassette.

  2. There was a youth basketball game during halftime, and the biggest kid on the court—I’m not calling him fat, I’m saying he was a full head taller than all the other boys out there and built like Big Baby Davis when Big Baby Davis was still actually good at basketball—and, as is customary in Memphis now, he was wearing #50.

  3. Troy Williams had a nice dunk, one of the several he’s already got in his NBA portfolio.

  4. Tony Allen made some nice plays, including a spin move into a layup very similar to the one he pulled off when these two teams played in Charlotte just last week.

  5. Jarell Martin got his first career double-double, but it was extremely inefficent (he shot 5/13)... but, for a guy who has never really been much of a rebounder, 12 (10 of which were defensive boards) is a nice night.

  6. It wasn't very crowded.

Did I say nineteen? Because that seems like it's only six things. I guess last night was even less fun than I thought it was. Here is a clip of that Troy Williams dunk.

I'm not really sure what else to say about this one. "Grizzlies lose to good team while missing three of their best six or seven players" seems like a pretty straightforward explanation.

Game Haiku #18

When starters are hurt
The boulder rolls downhill fast;
The offense is crushed.



Monday, November 28, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast #61: The Fizdale Effect

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 3:46 PM

bta_002.jpeg

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

  • A fairly uneventful home-and-home with Miami
  • The Grizzlies will miss Zach Randolph while he's out
  • How the Grizzlies' defense got them back on track
  • Everyone ignores Phil when he's right, including Kevin
  • Was the 2OT Sixers win a quality win?
  • How badly do the Grizzlies miss James Ennis? What about Chandler Parsons?
  • Does Fizdale really know what he's doing? Why are the grizzlies so much more motivated?
  • What are the Griz doing with rest on B2B's? Do they know?
  • This week: Charlotte, Toronto, Orlando, Lakers

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:


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