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VOL. 129 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 7, 2014


Stretch Against East Teams Pivotal for Grizz Playoffs Push

By Don Wade

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It wasn’t unthinkable that Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks would come into FedExForum and win. They were, after all, protecting a one-game lead over the Grizzlies for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, Nowitzki has been on a hot streak, Rick Carlisle is one of the NBA’s best coaches and the Grizzlies were without point guard Mike Conley.

But giving up 110 points? That’s what the Grizzlies did Wednesday, Feb. 5, losing 110-96 and getting dominated 56-32 in the paint.

“We needed this game,” forward Zach Randolph said. “We’re better than (allowing 110 points). We’ve got to be better, especially to get where we’re trying to get.”

Back in the postseason party. Where, theoretically, anything is possible.

After dropping their third game this season to the Dallas Mavericks, Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies find an upcoming stretch against Eastern Conference teams important in the playoffs race.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Given the team’s recent play – the league’s best defensive rating (94.3) through a 9-2 stretch upon center Marc Gasol’s return – this was a very unGrizzly-like performance, to invent a word.

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger pointed the blame at himself, saying, “I did a poor job at getting us ready against the multiple action pick-and-rolls that they ran.”

Dallas left town with a 29-21 record, a two-game lead over the Grizzlies (26-22). With a 3-0 record this season over Memphis the Mavericks would own the tie-breaker should it come down to that for a playoff berth or seeding, if you wish to dwell on worst-case scenarios.

“This is a game that was worth two – their win and our loss,” Joerger said.

That about says it. Except that, this has been a season dedicated to doing things the hard way.

It’s likely the Grizzlies keep Conley and his sprained ankle off the court until after the All-Star break. A re-injury might mean a month or more on the bench and that almost certainly would end the Grizzlies’ playoff chances.

The remaining schedule before the break looks like this: Saturday, Feb. 8, at Atlanta, Sunday, Feb. 9, at Cleveland, Tuesday, Feb. 11 at home against Washington and John Wall, and Wednesday, Feb. 12 at Orlando.

Having lost the Dallas game, the Grizzlies really need a 2-2 split. Even without Conley, there is no excuse for not beating a Cavaliers team that couldn’t defeat the Los Angeles Lakers when they literally ran out of eligible players and by NBA rule center Robert Sacre, who had fouled out, was put back in the game so the Lakers would have five players on the court.

And the Magic are even worse than the Cavs.

“These are the four biggest games of the year,” Joerger said. “There are 30 after that. These are four teams we are playing from the East (code for the lousy conference aside from Indiana and Miami).

“It’s a tough time for us to play without Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter,” Joerger continued. “But it is what it is. It’s very important. Otherwise, you’re going to come into the last 30 games and say, `jeez, we’ve got to go 21-9.’ This is big-time right here.”

Of course, you need go no further than the Mavericks’ locker room to hear comments about how this victory, to quote Carlisle, “guarantees nothing.”

It did put Dallas eight games above .500 for this time this season, though guard Devin Harris was even careful with that fact.

“We don’t want to jinx it,” he said, “but we’re headed in the right direction.”

Enough so that Carlisle quickly tired of talking about the status quo.

“We’re looking to move up in the standings, not hang on to the eighth spot,” he said. “Who wants to be in the eighth spot if you have a chance to move up to seventh, sixth, fifth or fourth?”

It’s a viewpoint that, for now, is beyond the Grizzlies. For them, there is only the eighth spot, the closest entrance into the playoffs, and a four-game push before the break that makes beating the Cavs and Magic as crucial as any game against the Mavericks.

“There are no games in the NBA that are not important,” Gasol said.

For the Grizzlies, no truer words were ever spoken.

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