Beginning with Wednesday night’s game against the Jazz, and carrying through to next week, the Grizzlies are entering the stretch of a five game road trip out west. How well they perform over this span will go a long way in determining their postseason fate. As such, the 3 Shades of Blue team got on the grind to look at the upcoming opponents, the team’s marksmen, and of course – Memphis’s playoff fortunes.
1. Big game against the Warriors tonight, who are fifth in the league in pace, at 98.6 possessions per game. How do the Grizzlies slow them down?
Chip Crain: Rebound and patient offensive execution. Not many people realize this but the Warriors are able to play at a high pace because they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league. The key to slowing them down is to not settle for jump shots (the Warriors want you to take those) and to pound the offensive glass to keep them from getting out and running. It really is that simple.
Matthew Noe: Gonna sound a bit, ahem, perverse, but use plenty of clock on offense and make them work. Multi-screen plays will make the wing guys work a lot on D, and should slow down the transition game as long as the Grizzlies don’t turn the ball over a ton. A good portion of this will fall to Conley, but the big guys can also make Bogut and Lee aware of the grind to keep them from running the floor as well.
Carl Chaplin: First, stop Steph Curry from going big, especially 3pt shooting. The Warriors average 24 3pts a game, making over 37% of them, with 1/3 of them coming from Steph at 7.8 3pts a game. Second, fight for every rebound. The Grizzlies were weak on this in the game against Utah. The Warriors are second in the league in RPG with 45.3 pg while allowing opponents 43.3 pg. The Grizzlies need to come out on top of the rebound game, especially on second chance points. Often offensive rebounds are kicked out to wide-open team members who can hit the 3.
Steve Danziger: Let Zach Randolph abuse David Lee in the post. The Grizzlies own the season series vs. Golden State 2-1 thus far. In the two wins, Zbo went for 23 and 11, and 21 and 12, respectively (points and boards). In the loss, the Grizz missed Gasol’s high-post game terribly, as the Warriors’ defense was able to key in on Randolph, holding him to just 15 and 6 with a +/- of -26. With Marc back, the paint should be much more open for #50 to do work.
2. Which game should we be most worried about on this road trip?
Chip: Clearly the Grizzlies need to win against the Warriors and Blazers to continue rising in the standings but the game that scares me the most is in Denver the night after the Blazers game. Denver has a huge home court advantage being a mile high and on the second game of a back to back and two games in a row with huge playoff implications that Denver game is when a letdown night can occur.
Matthew: The next one. Every single one has monumental bearing on whether the Grizzlies will be playing basketball or golf come the third weekend in April and beyond, and for the team to focus anywhere beyond the end of its collective snout is dangerous. As for the fans (i.e. us), I’d say Minnesota. Last game of the trip against a team the Grizzlies just beat soundly only a few days previous. Admiral Ackbar game for sure, especially in light of how the Grizzlies barely eked out a “supposed to win” game against the Jazz to open the trip.
Carl: The Warriors game will be the hardest because both teams know they are fighting for the playoffs and the winner of this game will be in 6th place. Also, we will see if the Warriors 6 days without a game will help or hurt them. The other game that will be hard is the Denver game. It will be the 2nd of a back-to-back after a game with Portland, plus the high-altitude of Denver. It will be a difficult game. It helps that Memphis has a strong and good bench. The team will need them to play well.
Steve: I have a hard time placing anything but equal weight on the value of any game, but obviously winning against any of the teams you’re in direct competition with in the standings gives you double the ground in the playoff race. +1 for the good guys is a big -1 for the bad guys, so tonight’s Warriors matters the most for now. That being said, the last thing you want to do is give that ground right back the next time out, so just win ‘em all!
3. The Grizzlies are 13-2 in the last 15 games in which Mike Miller has hit 2 or more three pointers. Coincidence, or something more to it?
Chip: Correlation doesn’t equate causation. There is clearly a correlation but is Mike Miller hitting threes the cause of the good record or does Mike Miller get open looks at threes because the interior players are so dominating that teams are having to leave the perimeter open to slow down the guys inside? Either way it is a nice stat to consider and watch.
Matthew: More, and it’s not really the old “he’ll space for the big guys and Conley” rap. Ok, it is a bit-but it’s also just the simple fact that he gives the Grizzlies a player who is a viable threat to score 1.5 baskets at a time, and that leads to more points. More points with a good defense leads to wins.
Carl: It is a vital part of the Grizzlies offense, that has been missing for many years. If the Grizzlies had a consistent 3point shooter as part of the first unit, it would make it easier for ZBo and March to operate inside. It is no coincidence for several reasons, including the added points and the shot of uplift it gives to the team and the home crowd.
Steve: I have to say that there’s something to it that’s greater than chance, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what. It’s not only that Miller happens to be hitting these threes; he happens to be hitting them in big moments. I’ve got no stats at my disposal to back it up, but it just feels as if every time Miller sinks a big three-point shot, it happens to come as an extra spark to a run that’s either getting the Grizz back into or closing out a game. Dude has been a huge asset down this closing stretch.
4. “Paging Courtney Lee…” What has happened to him this month?
Chip: Two things have happened in my opinion. Lee is being defended now rather than ignored like he was when he first arrived in Memphis and the Grizzlies interior players are having more success inside (the proper first option in my opinion) because teams aren’t able to collapse on the bigs when defending the perimeter. Courtney isn’t shooting that well and likely teams will stop defending him to tight to see if his confidence is waning on his shot while doubling down more. However, Lee has been effective against teams trying to do that so far this season. As long as teams play Lee straight up it makes Randolph and Gasol that much more effective.
Matthew: “Deferential” is a shamefully inadequate word to describe how he looks on the court. Three possibilities here: one, he’s been told to rein it in a bit to get the big three tuned for postseason (HIGHLY UNLIKELY); two, he’s got a nagging injury of some sort that’s affecting his lift or mechanics (about as unlikely); three, he’s become mired in a slump that’s gotten into his head so badly that he’s lost trust in himself. Allowing him to get some harmless clankers up in a game situation would be a wonderful side benefit of a Grizzlies blowout win against one of the opponents on this road trip-it would surely help him to recover a comfort level with throwing the ball toward the hoop.
Carl: Up and down. That’s the best way to describe it. We can speculate that Lee is not use to starting and playing this many minutes per game. But I think the truth is that Courtney has never shot a lot in the NBA. When he was with Houston in 11-12 he only averaged 10 shots per game. With the Grizzlies he’s averaging 9 shots per game. As the chart shows, he’s just a streak shooter with up and down games. He’s in a real down slump and needs to shoot more, which is what shooters do to get out of their slump. He needs the encouragement of his teammates to shoot more.
Steve: I don’t think Courtney is healthy. He tweaked his ankle right before the All-Star break, and save the huge 5-three pointer outburst against the Cavs, he has not been the same ever since. The fact that Coach does not have him out there firing away in garbage time minutes to get his groove back leads me to believe that there’s something wrong physically, and it’s not just in his head.
5. The ghost of Hollinger has the Grizzlies’ playoff odds at 81.2% now. Where to you have them rounding out?
Chip: 4 out of 5 sounds about right. There are five teams fighting for four spots. The Grizzlies still have to play @ Golden State, @ Portland, @ Denver the night after playing in Portland and still have to go to San Antonio, play Miami and end the year at Phoenix and here against Dallas. It won’t be easy but the playoffs are in the Grizzlies paws. Win and they are in no matter what. Other teams can’t say that as easily.
Matthew: Around 75%. Dallas and Phoenix are alternately showing signs of weakness, and the likelihood is high that one of the two will suffer a playoff-fatal lapse…and Portland is spiraling. This is also why the GSW and POR games are so important-nothin’ like a good head-to-head win against a team with whom the Grizzlies are fighting for a postseason spot.
Carl: Ask me in 8 days after this current road trip. For now, I’ll say 99% because of the way the Grizzlies are playing and based on the games they have left. Then, the fact that they have the won the season series over Phoenix, thus are 2 games up on them in the lost column with 11 games to go and that Dallas, I think, has a harder remaining schedule.
Steve: I’m at a less optimistic, but still pretty sunny 66%. As Chip highlighted yesterday, the Grizzlies have been excellent in clutch situations. As such, however, they’ve won a lot of games that could have easily gone the other way. They are in a great spot right now, but the margin for error is so slim that a few bad bounces could send this thing spiraling in the opposite direction in a hurry. Ultimately, I think the Grizz make it to the dance, but not without making us sweat a little.
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