It is no longer too early to determine the highlight of the Grizzlies 2013-2014 season.
It happened on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles when Tony Allen jumped and inadvertently kicked Clippers guard Chris Paul in the face.
Allen was ejected from the game and suspended for another. Didn’t matter. The Grizzlies beat the Clippers and swept their four-game West Coast road trip. They were 7-5. It stands as the high-water mark in a season in which any metaphor involving drowning men or sinking ships is right on target.
First-year Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger has seen his team struggle so far this season, due in part to injuries to key contributors such as Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Since that road trip, the Grizzlies have gone 3-10, and lost five in a row for the first time since 2010. Their overall record going into their Saturday, Dec. 21, game at New York is 10-15 and they are 5-10 at FedExForum after losing just nine games at home last season.
So what good can come of this?
Well, the shoe Allen was wearing when he kicked Paul is being auctioned online for a good cause – nonprofit Youth Villages – and has been autographed by Allen and is mounted in a display case.
Proceeds generated from the sale of the shoe will be matched by an anonymous donor up to $10,000. Youth Villages is auctioning the shoe through eBay and the auction runs through Sunday, Dec. 22. The goal: raise $15,000 to buy Christmas gifts for children at their residential campuses and group homes.
Meantime, let us examine the injured parts of the Grizz collective: Marc Gasol’s knee, Quincy Pondexter’s foot, Allen’s hip, Mike Conley’s thigh, Zach Randolph’s toe, Ed Davis’ ankle, Tayshaun Prince’s leg and, well, we’ve probably missed some body part somewhere, but you get the idea.
The Grizzlies are in pain, the worst of it coming this past week with Gasol and Conley out at the same time.
“Marc is hardest to replace,” first-year Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Mike is co-hardest to replace.”
After the almost equally disabled Los Angeles Lakers came to FedExForum and beat the Grizzlies 96-92 on Tuesday, Dec. 17, coach Mike D’Antoni said: “They’re like us, looking for a point guard. (Jerryd) Bayless is a good guy, but he’s not Mike Conley. They miss him.”
The hope is that Conley is able to play in New York. Clearly, the Grizz have missed Gasol (going 3-9 since his injury).
But it would be disingenuous to say the Grizzlies’ struggles are only connected to injuries. They were scuffling on offense and playing sporadically on defense before Gasol’s MCL sprain. They are in the bottom five in the league in scoring and next-to-last in 3-pointers made per game, averaging fewer than five. In recent years, they excelled at offensive rebounding and steals but now are merely middle-of-the pack.
From the start this season they were seeking their identity and when they couldn’t really find it, one was provided for them. Out with the Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies and in with these wounded and slothful bears who seem to prefer early-game hibernation. Joerger repeatedly has said the Grizzlies have “eased” into games.
“We can’t afford to keep starting off so bad,” Conley said after the Grizzlies spotted Minnesota a 19-point first-half lead in another home game they would lose, this time 101-93.
Against the Lakers, the Grizzlies fell behind 15 points in the first quarter. They scratched and clawed their way to a brief one-point lead late in the third quarter. But then they slid back down, falling 11 points behind in the fourth quarter and never drew closer than three points.
That is exactly how bad teams play, night in and night out. This is now how the Grizzlies play, night in and night out.
“It’s killing us,” Randolph said. “Every game we come out, get down, and it takes a lot of energy to get back.”
More energy than a depleted, offensively challenged team has. When Conley limped off the court late in the game against Minnesota, he had scored 28 points. He is leading the team with 18.2 points per game and 6.3 assists. Gasol was averaging 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
You cannot fill those lines on the stat sheet every night by waving in Nick Calathes, Ed Davis and Jamaal Franklin or summoning a warm body from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League.
After the Grizzlies absorbed a 116-100 pounding from the Oklahoma City Thunder – again at home, on Dec. 11 – Randolph said, “We just have to stay positive. It’s the NBA; there are a lot of games left.”
But not as many as when he said it.
As veteran Mike Miller said before the season tipped off: “The one thing people gotta understand is that just because we were in the Western Conference Finals last year does not guarantee anything this year. The Western Conference has gotten way better.”
And to this point, the Grizzlies have gotten way worse. Sometimes, it’s just your turn to get kicked in the face.