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VOL. 129 | NO. 69 | Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Avoiding Heartache

Grizzlies look to turn tide of recent play

By Don Wade

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The Grizzlies had just watched the Golden State Warriors score 14 straight points to turn a seven-point deficit into a 100-93 victory. Yet Memphis coach Dave Joerger rejected the notion that the Grizzlies, who also happened to miss their last seven shots in the fourth quarter, had lost the game more than the Warriors had won it.

Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies have five games remaining to find a way into the playoffs. The easiest way: win out, which would include a season-closing game against the Dallas Mavericks.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“I don’t know that it slipped away,” Joerger said at Golden State on March 28. “The kid (Steph Curry) was the best player on the floor.”

The second part of that statement might have been true – Curry did score 33 points with eight assists – but the first part seemed like a refusal to acknowledge the obvious.

And yet on Tuesday, April 8, one day before the Grizzlies were to play the defending NBA champion Miami Heat at FedExForum, Joerger brought up that fateful Warriors game in trying to explain the team’s recent poor play, including going 2-3 on that road trip.

“This thing started at Golden State,” Joerger said. “It took our swagger a little bit.”

When this comment was relayed to forward Zach Randolph, he said, “I can’t agree with that … it was a tough game.”

If the Grizzlies do not sound of one accord heading into the latest most important game of the season, there is a good reason for that. Just 5-5 over the last 10 games, the Grizzlies’ recent resume includes the game that did or didn’t slip away at Golden State, a horrific no-show defeat at Minnesota, and what could be deemed a hangover loss at Portland two days after the Warriors game.

The close loss at Miami was a winnable game, but forgivable as missed opportunities go. And though the Grizzlies played terrible at San Antonio last Sunday, Mike Miller has a valid point when he says, “A lot of people go in there and lose.”

Sitting ninth in the Western Conference playoff race with a 45-32 record, one game behind Phoenix (46-31) for the eighth and last playoff spot, the Grizzlies have, to borrow from the golf they may be playing soon, used up their last mulligan.

They have LeBron James and the Heat here Wednesday night and they’re trying to stay a step ahead of Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the East. The lowly Philadelphia 76ers come to town on Friday, April 10, and then the Grizzlies play at the L.A. Lakers on Sunday, at Phoenix on Monday, and finish back at home on Wednesday, April 16, against Dallas. And no, nobody is even thinking about catching the Mavericks for the 7 seed.

“You’ve got a five-game block,” Miller said. “We’re fortunate. It’s hard to say that in the nine spot, but we don’t have to see what anyone does. We control our own destiny.”

Said Randolph: “It’s right there for the taking.”

If only the Grizzlies would reach out and take it. Of late, they haven’t seemed so inclined. Even Tony Allen, alias The Grindfather, has been missing his usual vigor after initially playing well on offense and defense upon his return from a wrist injury.

“I just gotta wake up out of this funk,” Allen said.

Randolph pulled Allen aside to try and help the cause.

“Tony’s Tony. He’s the reason we’re grit-n-grind,” Randolph said. “We need him – don’t ever think that we don’t.”

Joerger described the team as “exhausted,” adding, “We’ve been playing playoff basketball, `holy cow, we can’t lose a game,’ since Christmas.”

And now this part of the “playoff” season is down to five games.

“We need to win,” Joerger said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or where we’re playing.”

And if they don’t win and miss the playoffs, it will be personal. At least for The Grindfather.

“It’ll hurt my heart,” Allen said.

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