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VOL. 128 | NO. 224 | Friday, November 15, 2013

 

Looking for Last Season’s Grizz to Make Appearance … Now

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

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The Grizzlies are going out on a four-game road trip that starts with a Friday, Nov. 15, game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Maybe a change of scenery will do them good. After a 3-5 start to the season that feels even worse than the record, a change of scenery is as good an idea as any.

“It could be that going out west, leaving Memphis for a little bit and all the hoopla (will help),” point guard Mike Conley said. “Guys will go out to eat, hang out, put our heads together and get things right.”

Head coach Dave Joerger says other teams do not fear the Grizzlies anymore. The team is embarking on a West Coast trip where they will need to rediscover their groove.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Conley said that standing at his locker in FedExForum after a 103-87 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, Nov. 13, as Rudy Gay scored 23 points on his old team. The Raptors shot very well: 53.3 percent from 3-point range (8-of-15) and attempted 39 free throws to 17 for the Grizzlies.

In sum, the Grizzlies were defenseless all over the floor.

Conley, by the way, scored 29 points and made many drives through the lane and to the rim while also knocking down four 3-pointers. Problem was, for much of the night, it felt like he was on the court with four empty uniforms.

Not surprisingly, fans booed. It’s becoming a rather common sound at the arena formerly known as The Grindhouse.

“We’ve got to hold our hat on the defensive end and until we do fans are gonna be booing, fans are gonna be walking out (early), and we’re gonna keep losing games like this,” said Tony Allen, who is a Grindfather in search of his grindchildren.

Consider this disturbing stat: Last season, the Grizzlies allowed 100 or more points in a game just 11 times. This season, they have surrendered 100 or more four times in the first eight games. This is not a downward trend; this is falling off a cliff.

“Without question, people do not fear us anymore,” first-year coach Dave Joerger said, referencing the team’s trip to the Western Conference Finals last season. “We’re not playing hard enough.”

It is both a truth and an indictment. But strangely enough, opponents still speak of the Grizzlies with some reverence. They always say something like what Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game when asked about a little Memphis run that tied the score 70-70 with 3:33 left in the third before Toronto regained control and led 78-71 going into the fourth quarter.

“We knew they were going to throw a haymaker at us,” Casey said. “They’re one of the most aggressive teams in the league.”

A haymaker? These Grizzlies are more like shadow boxers.

In the tough old days (not so long ago), they led the NBA in forced turnovers. They lived off their defense and pounded the ball inside with center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph.

Now, Joerger is saying things like, “I’m tired of playing from behind. I’m really, really tired of it.” And also, “Opponents scoring easy layups is really disheartening. It’s a broken record. We have been talking about it and talking about it.”

So coach and players agree they have problems that need fixing, but there does not seem to be any energy or fire for creating change that lasts beyond a few possessions.

Lionel Hollins, the guy who was coach for that trip to the Western Conference Finals, repeatedly said the game was simple: play harder and better than the other team and then you have a chance to win that night’s game. He said it so much that it sounded like a broken record. But that broken record seemed to resonate inside the locker room.

Controlling owner Robert Pera and team CEO Jason Levien ultimately decided for the team to become better still, change was needed. They let Hollins walk and promoted Joerger from assistant to head coach.

Beyond-obvious question: Is the change in coaches the explanation for what ails this team?

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Gasol said.

Certainly, players bear responsibility here. But all of it? Most of it? Or some of it? That’s a question that’s going to rage on sports talk radio, Twitter and in offices until the Grizzlies of last season start participating in this season.

“Nobody can change what’s happening,” Conley said with his most serious look, “except the players in this locker room.”

If the Grizzlies can manage to go 2-2 on this road trip they set themselves up to get well with eight of the next nine games at home. Of course, they just lost two of their last three at home. To the Pelicans and the Raptors, who aren’t going to be confused with the Spurs and the Heat anytime soon.

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