It was only fitting that for the Grizzlies to finally crawl back over .500 at 20-19 on Jan. 17, they had to rally from a seven-point deficit in the last 4:01 of the fourth quarter at FedExForum to beat the Sacramento Kings 91-90.
And if that first sentence seemed a little long and made you work hard, well, now you know how the Grizzlies feel.
“It’s been a long, emotional and mentally taxing ride,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said after the team had climbed the latest self-imposed mountain to get to the other side of .500.
It might take more than the usual Grit and Grind madness from fans in FedExForum this year for the Grizzlies to make it to the postseason.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Three days later, on Jan. 20, Joerger and his team carried a five-game winning streak into the Martin Luther King Jr. Day game here against a New Orleans Pelicans team that had lost eight in a row.
“You don’t want to hang around .500 too long in the West,” Joerger said about two hours before tip-off.
The Pelicans were missing three starters. Thus, opportunity was trying to kick the door in and allow the Grizzlies to move two games over .500. But the Grizzlies being the Grizzlies, they would have none of it.
At one stretch in the fourth quarter, they went more than three minutes without a field goal. New Orleans went on an 11-2 run to go up 87-78 with 5:28 to play. In the last four minutes Memphis worked the deficit down to two points three different times, but never got closer.
Fans, predictably, will pick on everything that did and didn’t happen in that last quarter to explain a bad loss like this. Like forward Zach Randolph didn’t get enough touches (true). Or Kings guard Tyreke Evans, our old Memphis Tigers friend, scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and went past Tayshaun Prince like he was a light pole rooted in the ground (also true).
The coach’s view is always longer.
“It got away from us a week ago,” Joerger said. “We walked around, didn’t play hard enough and Milwaukee played harder than us. We came in and walked around against Sacramento. We didn’t play hard until the last six, seven, eight minutes. We escaped with a win. Tonight we walked around and walked around. We are not going to play better until we play harder.”
Funny thing is, when the Grizzlies lost to San Antonio on Jan. 7, after a furious 14-2 run in the last 1:59 of regulation sent the game into overtime, they heard cheers as they left the FedExForum court.
“The response we got at the end of the game was solely off our effort and our willingness not to give up, regardless of the score, regardless of the time,” point guard Mike Conley said.
It is the attitude that must prevail going forward.
Before games of Wednesday, Jan. 22, the Grizzlies were tied with Denver, at 20-20, for ninth place in the Western Conference and three games behind eighth-place Phoenix for the last playoff spot.
At sportsclubstats.com, however, those three games appear to span the Grand Canyon because the Suns were considered to have a 71 percent chance to make the playoffs and the Grizzlies but a 4.7 percent chance. Even though the Nuggets had the same record as Memphis, they were given a 10.9 percent chance.
Of course, it wasn’t so long ago that this site and others had the Grizzlies playoff chances even lower – about as likely as someone filling out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket this March and taking $1 billion from Warren Buffett.
“Either way, we don’t pay attention too much,” Conley said. “If we paid attention when it was 3 percent, you could look at it like the season’s over. And if it’s 60 percent, you can look at it like you’re gonna make it. You gotta work for it, regardless. That’s where we stand.”
Most immediately, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24-25, the Grizzlies have a two-game home-and-home set that begins in Houston. The following week offers a three-game road trip to Portland, Sacramento and Minnesota.
The Grizzlies are a disappointing 11-13 at home and 9-7 on the road. Center Marc Gasol is still working back into game shape, having played but four games after missing 23 with a knee injury. The Grizzlies had adjustments to make before he was hurt, after the injury, again after adding forward James Johnson and shooting guard Courtney Lee to the mix, and yet again now that Gasol is back.
“We’ve had to change our identity, the pace we play, the plays we run, the guys we look to for scoring,” Conley said. “Now that Marc’s back, hopefully we’ll be able to find a rhythm and stick with it.”
And perhaps start to turn the odds a bit more in their favor.