Outright panic or complete denial? That seems to be the choice.
You can be in the camp that is convinced the Grizzlies will miss the playoffs because – drum roll, please – they lost the first game and had one horrid, putrid, disgusting quarter!
Or you can be in the camp that refuses to admit that the Grizzlies have any issues that can’t just be brushed away with a magical basketball analytics wand. Meaning, it’s a given they will take their rightful place in the NBA Finals.
My question: Why does logic have to jump in the car the first week and take I-55 right out of town?
Everyone understood, supposedly, that with this season’s changes there would be a transition. Even though first-year coach Dave Joerger had spent several seasons on the Grizzlies’ bench under taskmaster/head coach Lionel Hollins, management’s decision to replace Hollins made several things clear:
•Management believed getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals was more than a disappointing end to a great season. It was where the ceiling met the Grizzlies’ dreams.
•So, to possibly go farther, the Grizzlies would have to get more out of their grit-and-grind-sometimes-stuck-in-the-mud offense – open things up, run more, attack more.
•Management believed Joerger, who essentially had become the Grizzlies’ defensive coordinator, could orchestrate this offensive change without sacrificing too much defense.
•Also implicit in the move was management’s belief that Hollins perhaps had received too much credit for the “edge” the superstar-less Grizzlies brought to the nightly competition. In other words, there was nothing in their metrics to suggest Hollins was, say, a +8, for his ability to push players beyond their comfort zones.
So now, here we are in the infancy of the 2013-2014 season. On opening night in San Antonio, Wednesday, Oct. 30, the Grizzlies displayed many of the troubling trends that defined the preseason. On the way to a 101-94 defeat – and yes, it was just one loss and nothing more and nothing less – they scored seven points in the second quarter.
How bad is that? Well, Tracy McGrady once scored 13 points against the Spurs in 35 seconds.
“What he did was unbelievable and for us to score seven points in the second quarter was unbelievable,” point guard Mike Conley said. “Unbelievable both ways.”
Which is also a good description for the range of emotions coming from fans and local media types as the season starts. On Twitter during the season’s first game – as in 1 of 82 – people literally were celebrating the Grizzlies leading after one quarter (proof that the new regime made the right call in dumping Hollins) or were by halftime saying that the Grizzlies, as currently constructed, were not a playoff team.
It was amazing to watch. And also rather entertaining given that I was at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium at the time watching the Memphis football team drop to 1-6 and also following the end of the baseball season on my laptop.
Still, you wonder how people can forget that, A) the Grizzlies have never won their first game in their 13 years in Memphis; B) they’ve rallied from tough starts to make the playoffs before; and C) there is perhaps nothing more schizophrenic than an NBA game. The Spurs’ 22-0 run happens somewhere in the league just about every night.
And look at what else happened: The Grizzlies followed that 7-point quarter with 31 and 36 points in the third and fourth quarters. As Conley said, “We did a much better job adjusting than we did in the preseason. We didn’t let that second quarter linger.”
I still believe that the first 10 to 15 games of this season may have a lot of rough patches. If the Grizzlies start 7-8, for example, I won’t be surprised. Now if they’re 18-22 after 40 games, well, that’s another matter.
“We’re a veteran team,” guard Mike Miller said. “We realize it’s a long season.”
Joerger does, too. Asked about fans “being on the ledge” with how the Grizzlies have looked thus far, he didn’t register much reaction.
“It’s not something I worry about,” he said.
And that’s the right answer. At least until it isn’t.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.