So on the first day of their new NBA season, the Grizzlies picked up where they left off – losing an intense, physical game in Los Angeles on Halloween night to the Clippers. It was a game that, quite honestly, did not look or feel like a regular-season game.
It seemed more important, and more a measure of how the Grizzlies have or have not changed since last spring. But that’s the impatient critic’s/fan’s view of what represents 1/82 of a full NBA season. It doesn’t have to be a preview of coming attractions.
However, if it is, there are some concerns when comparing the Grizzlies with the rest of an even tougher Western Conference.
Outside shooting: The Grizzlies’ lack of a 3-point shooter that opponents had to respect limited them in the seven-game playoff series loss to the Clippers. Two guard Wayne Ellington was acquired to help this. Point guard Mike Conley was crazy good from behind the arc in the preseason. And Quincy Pondexter supposedly was refining his 3-point stroke.
And all of that could materialize as soon as Friday, Nov. 2 at Golden State or Monday, Nov. 5 in the home opener against Utah. Or the lousy 3-point shooting that was on display at Staples Center as the Grizzlies went 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) could continue. Conley was 1-for-4, new back-up point guard Jerryd Bayless 1-for-3, Pondexter was 0-for-3, Ellington was 0-for-2, Tony Allen was 0-for-1 and Rudy Gay, who led with 25 points, was 0-for-1 but 11-from-21 overall.
Turns out, hitting open shots against the Clippers in a game that counts is a bit tougher than knocking them down against a pitiful Orlando team in the preseason. Who knew?
Bench play: Can’t blame O.J. Mayo this time, but again the Clippers’ reserves dominated as they outscored the Grizzlies 49-17. Jamal Crawford dropped 29 on the Grizz like he was grocery shopping – putting whatever he wanted in the basket.
“We wanted to guard him,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins told reporters after the game. “But he was unguardable tonight.”
It’s difficult to imagine a night in which anyone says that about Ellington, Pondexter or Bayless, who was 1-for-8 from the field. In sum, the bench made just 5-of-21 shots. This group should get better, though, when athletic big man Darrell Arthur returns from yet another injury. And Bayless did have four assists with just one turnover and played with a refreshing toughness.
Some good, some bad: Zach Randolph was as ferocious as ever, banging with Blake Griffin and pulling down 16 rebounds. But he had no feel for his shot, going 5-for-15 and failing to convert some at-the-rim attempts early in the game that turned into Clippers rebounds. If possible, he looked more “blue-collar” than ever.
While the Grizzlies had five more rebounds than the Clippers, they were outscored 52-44 in the paint. Hard to imagine the Grizzlies winning many games when they are on the low end of that one. Center Marc Gasol finished with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
A more aggressive Rudy: Several times Gay put the ball on the floor just long enough to make an explosive move and then pull up and shoot over a defender. This is Rudy at his best and he stopped a couple of scoring droughts with plays no one else on this team can make.
A little historical perspective: Since moving from Vancouver, the Grizzlies have lost their opener every season. In five of those seasons, including the last two, they made the playoffs. They should make the playoffs this season.
In theory, this Grizzlies team should be better than last season’s team. And maybe this year’s Clippers team will be better too.
Either way, it’s good to know Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and company won’t determine the Grizzlies’ fate.
Well, at least not during the regular season.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the Jon & Don Show on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.