Halfway through their 4-game road trip, the Grizzlies are 2-0. The early tip in Sacramento (2-7) was favorable for Memphis, as they racked up a 47-34 halftime lead in the hopes of resting up for another game tomorrow night. The Kings made things interesting in the second half, pulling within three points and making Memphis earn it in the fourth quarter. They did: Zach Randolph finished with 22, Gasol nearly had a triple-double, and the Grizz were +14 on the glass in a 97-86 victory, notching their first win streak of the season.
Memphis is now back to .500, but their schedule ramps up after this: Monday at the Clippers, Wednesday in Golden State, Friday vs. San Antonio, and next Monday against the Rockets. Jerryd Bayless said before the game that the team was “still putting it together,” a nice way of phrasing the frightening inconsistency the Grizzlies have shown so far. Every game is a chance to identify and solve problems, and this was no exception.
Ball Movement: The first half was as smooth as the Grizzlies have looked all year — any half that doesn’t include a 20-point deficit is nice, really. The offense was more deliberate (slow), controlling the tempo and moving the ball inside-out rather than just side-to-side. This led to 30 assists on 40 buckets and 55.6% shooting, with few lulls and slumps in between. The starters were high energy, a point Joerger has emphasized, and played heavy minutes (all in the 30’s) as a result. Jerryd Bayless returned and injected 8 points, all in the first half. It seems we’re seeing a happy medium emerge between Joerger’s desired flow offense, which looked chaotic in the first few games, and Memphis’ more reliable possesion game. Obviously though, it’s easier to get the ball inside against teams like Sacramento than it is against the Pelicans, the Spurs, or (apparently) the Raptors. When smart defenses (not the Kings’) collapse the interior, the whole offense sputters.
Turnovers: Just when you thought the Grizz had invested in some Stickum, they give the ball away 16 times. The assist stats were so high that the ratio will look favorable, but the damage (17 POT for the Kings) was still done.
Perimeter Defense is still, inexplicably, a serious problem. The Clippers will be licking their chops as they watch tonight’s film: Down 20 in the third quarter, Sacramento went to their supersmall bench lineup of Salmons, Thomas, Thornton, Outlaw, and Hayes, to try to reel in the deficit. And boy, did it work. Memphis kept Gasol and Randolph in for offensive purposes, which was really a good move — the pair abused Outlaw and Thornton in the paint — but Sacramento closed the gap to 9 on the strength of a 5/5 3-point shooting streak, helped by a three-shot foul by Randolph and a silly and-one by Gasol. The high pick and roll was deadly for Memphis, whose rotations and help defense still need adjusting. (And I’m talking about the pegs, not the fine tuners.) Gasol has chalked it up to communication breakdowns, but that’s not exactly a mysterious problem, guys. TALK.
Tight Rotations seem to be the key to victory early in the season. Joerger played 10 men tonight, though Davis saw only 2 minutes. After the big win over Golden State, Joerger gave a sound bite that has resonated in the Grizz blog-o-sphere: “I played the guys that gave me the best chance to win.” Quincy Pondexter’s slow start, Nick Calathes’ costly mistakes, and Ed Davis’ chronic “potential” have made it obvious that Memphis gets its best chance to win when the starters play at least 30 minutes. In wins this season, Zach Randolph has averaged 20.5 points in 34.5 minutes — in losses, just 9.4 points in 25.1 minutes. With Ed Davis (et al), it’s the opposite story. Obviously there are longer games to be taken into consideration: player development, playoff prep for the bench, etc — but Joerger will need to mitigate the downside of players like Calathes, Davis, and Franklin if he wants to give them floor time.
Mike Conley continues his blistering offensive play. 8/12 tonight for 19 points, 9 assists, and just 2 turnovers.
Next up is — oh gawd — the Clippers. Tip is Monday night at 9 p.m. CT.