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VOL. 127 | NO. 28 | Friday, February 10, 2012

Grizzlies Show Fatigue As Season Grinds On

By Don Wade

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This isn’t the San Antonio Spurs’ first rodeo, so spare them the tales of woe over the lockout-shortened season, its compressed schedule and more back-to-back games.

The Memphis Grizzlies are feeling the effects of losing players to injury and squeezing more games than normal into a given week during this abbreviated season. Starters like Rudy Gay, pictured above, are logging heavy minutes and it’s showing.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

If any other NBA team wants to complain about the schedule, well, it is a free country. But understand: On Monday, Feb. 6, the Spurs started their annual “Rodeo Road Trip” with an 89-84 victory over the Grizzlies at FedExForum. It was just the first of nine straight road games – covering 7,941 miles – due to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo taking over their arena.

Spurs veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan played 36 and 32 minutes, respectively, and as though the clock had been turned back. Before the game even tipped off, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins had made the following points: playing well is more mental than physical and fatigue can be more mental than physical.

“Look at the older teams still kicking butt,” Hollins said.

He didn’t mention the Spurs by name, but he didn’t have to because the Spurs sit atop the Southwest Division. And though coach Gregg Popovich has been making good use of his younger players, the team belongs to Duncan, Parker and, when he returns from injury, Manu Ginobili.

“Pop does a good job to manage everybody’s minutes,” Parker said. “Pop always tries to keep us fresh.”

It’s a luxury Popovich has that Hollins does not. Even in a normal 82-game season with Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur healthy, the Grizzlies likely would be pushing their starters harder than most teams. Tony Allen’s recent injury has only stretched the Grizzlies’ thin bench even further.

Against the Spurs, Hollins played Rudy Gay 45 minutes, Marc Gasol 42 and Mike Conley 41. Then, in an 85-80 win over Minnesota (minus Kevin Love) came an almost magical lift from Quincy Pondexter, who started in place of Allen and scored a career-high 17 points; from Dante Cunningham, who had a season-high 12 points with seven rebounds; and from Marreese Speights, who tied a career high with 15 rebounds.

“All those guys who played well, we really needed it,” Hollins said.

Still, the Grizzlies shot only 37.2 percent and this marked the 10th time in 11 games they haven’t shot more than 44 percent from the field. Hollins will concede that tired legs contribute to jump shots gone astray.

“Sure, some of that’s physical fatigue,” Hollins said. “But some of it is just the mental part. After awhile, mentally, you just need a break.”

The need for a break also conflicts with the need for practice, something that has just about disappeared because of the tight, 66-game schedule. The general consensus: The quality of play has dropped this season. Charles Barkley, NBA analyst for TNT, said recently that he is “embarrassed” by the level of play.

Asked if Barkley had a point, Gay said: “There’s a lot of talent. The level of play could be a lot better.”

The Grizzlies’ win over Minnesota on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at FedExForum was a perfect example, and a game that left both teams at 13-13. The Timberwolves looked tired from the start and guard Jose Barea said: “We just didn’t have the energy.”

After the Spurs game, Hollins for the first time this season readily admitted he needs to find more rest for Conley, Gay and Gasol.

“Everyone (in the NBA) is going through the same thing,” Conley said. “Everybody has to play a lot and everybody is tired. Everybody has injuries and everybody has to find a way to push through. We are no exception.”

Said Gay: “We are not asking for any sympathy. We just have to pick it up and find a way.”

The Grizzlies have three more games left on this five-game homestand, including a Friday night game against Indiana, and it’s part of a span in which the Grizzlies play seven of eight and 10 of 13 at FedExForum. It represents their best opportunity to stockpile wins.

“Everybody is gonna have stretches where the schedule is good and everybody is gonna have stretches where the schedule is difficult,” said Nuggets coach George Karl. “My whole thing is keep winning 80 percent at home, 50 percent on the road.”

The Timberwolves have a 6-5 road record after the loss to the Grizzlies, but at one point in March the T-Wolves play seven straight road games, and 11 out of 13 on the road.

“After the All-Star break, it’s just brutal,” said Minnesota coach Rick Adelman. “We start with three games in three nights and the third night we play a team (Phoenix) that’s been off a week. You look at it and you can’t understand why it is the way it is.”

But the Grizzlies do understand the potential cost of wasting this homestand.

“It’s starting to get late,” Gay said.

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