VOL. 129 | NO. 51 | Friday, March 14, 2014
The Press Box
Wins Come in Various Ways
By Don Wade
One night at FedExForum, the Grizzlies beat Portland by 10 points as they shoot a season-best 56 percent, three players score 17 or more points, and energizer James Johnson never gets on the floor.
That’s one way to win a game.
The next night in New Orleans, they shoot 42 percent, clank 14 of 18 threes, one player reaches 16 points, and in just 13 minutes Johnson does a mini version of filling up the stat sheet: four points, two rebounds, two blocks, one assist, one steal, a team-best +10 on the +/- meter, and much chaos.
It takes a Mike Conley floater with 1.5 seconds left for the Grizzlies to beat the Pelicans 90-88 and avoid being swept in the season series.
That’s another way to win a game.
“We’re playing hard and together,” forward Zach Randolph said. “Everybody’s contributing.”
The sum of this effort heading into the Grizzlies’ Friday, March 14, game at Toronto was the Grizzlies were a season-high 12 games over .500 (38-26), on a four-game winning streak and had won six of their last seven.
Through Wednesday’s games, they had inched into the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings, percentage points in front of Dallas and were two games ahead of the setting Phoenix Suns, who were just 3-7 in their last 10 games.
A season once defined by injuries, an improbable coaching change and unmet expectations has now become a season of perseverance and a quest for more.
“The mentality’s still the same because we want to go higher (in the standings),” guard Courtney Lee said. “We’re still chasing.”
Perhaps send a thank-you note to the Brooklyn Nets. Just before the start of this four-game winning streak, the Grizzlies offered up nothing short of a debacle at Brooklyn as they made 21 turnovers that led to 29 points for the Nets in a 103-94 loss that was not that close.
The poor play at Brooklyn came after a 5-2 start after the All-Star break. In retrospect, “We were feeling good about ourselves, a little too loose,” Conley said. “They showed us, un-hunh, we’ve got to be the same every night.”
Such consistency is just about impossible within the sphere of one 48-minute NBA game, let alone a month or a season. But the larger point remains valid: Memphis is not the kind of team that can assume anything.
That was true last season as the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference Finals and it is true now. But perhaps also true is the idea that this team has greater depth. Rookie Nick Calathes handed out a career-high nine assists against Portland. More telling: Conley only had to play about 29 minutes.
“It’s been huge, being able to sit for (several) minutes in the fourth quarter,” Conley said. “That’s something I’ve not been able to do the last couple of seasons.”
Nor has there been a sharpshooter off the bench like Mike Miller, who is third in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage at 44.5 and has been firing away at almost a 60 percent clip since the All-Star break.
“This is what we brought him here for,” coach Dave Joerger said.
Yet there have been games when Miller hasn’t played many minutes. The depth gives Joerger the flexibility to play to match-ups. And with Lee remaining in the starting lineup and guard Tony Allen excelling on both offense (yes, it’s true) and defense off the bench, Joerger has more moves he can make to try and jump-start the team out of its stagnant stretches.
Marc Gasol may still be wearing that big brace, but he’s again shooting, rebounding and passing like the most versatile center in the NBA. Starting forward Tayshaun Prince has been solid, back-up big man Kosta Koufos has played well of late and forward Jon Leuer has reappeared to contribute valuable minutes.
“It doesn’t have to be something you did wrong, or something you did right, that determines whether you play,” Lee said. “It’s just the flow of the game.”
And the flow of the season, which has a renewed energy.
“We’re kind of on a mission,” Joerger said.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.