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The new look Memphis Grizzlies started the Lionel Hollins era in a surprisingly strong fashion but succumbed to the old demons down the stretch to fall to the Denver Nuggets minus Carmello Anthony 100-85 Tuesday night at the FedEx Forum.

The Grizzlies started strongled byO.J. Mayo scoring 12 points in the opening stanza. Memphis led 25-24 at the end of the first quarter. The 25 points means that since Marc Iavaroni’s firing the Grizzlies are averaging 24 points in the first quarter compared to the dismal starts that characterized the team’s play prior to the coaching change. Unfortunately the Grizzlies bench couldn’t maintaint the tempo and the team failed to break 90 pts for the 11 time in the last 13 games.

Conditioning, long whispered as a possible problem for the team’s late game collapses, was brought out in the public as Lionel Hollins blatantly questioned the team’s shape in the post-game news conference. “I can’t speak for anything before I got here,” Hollins said. “But what it looks like to me is the guys aren’t in good shape and, as soon as there is a little bit of adversity, we tend to start going our own way and doing our own thing. We have to develop some discipline to stay with what we are doing and play together.”

Mike Conley, who Hollins said was going to be given the keys to the car as far as the team’s point guard role is concerned, seemed to struggle with the pedals against the suffocating Denver defense as he scored only 6 pts with 4 assists while turning the ball over 4 times and having two shots blocked. His backup, former starter Kyle Lowry fared little better with 4 assists against 3 turnovers and 2 shots blocked but did manage to score 13 pts in a little over 24 minutes of action. Denver point guard Chauncey Billups led all scorers with 29 pts and 3 assists to go with 4 steals and 2 blocks.

When the point guards were able to get past Billups the Nuggets big men of Nene, Kenyon Martinand Chris Anderson were there to cover for the guards with 10 blocks and 6 steals between them. Conversely, Marc Gasol was held scoreless in the game. The only big man to look strong was Darrell Arthur who finished with 8 pts and 9 boards in only 24 minutes. Arthur also failed to get into the game in the 4th quarter when Denver pulled away.

Memphis trailed by 10 pts at halftime but pulled themselves back into the game with a strong 3rd and early 4th quarter to make the score 78-82 with under 8 minutes to play but the Nuggets turned on the jets down the stretch and the Grizzlies wilted under the pressure getting outscored 18-7 after that.

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