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VOL. 130 | NO. 243 | Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Going Small, Grizzlies Score Big Against Wizards

By Don Wade

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Before the game, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger confirmed the lineup change that moved power forward Zach Randolph and swingman Tony Allen to the bench and installed forward Matt Barnes and guard Courtney Lee as starters – and left forward Jeff Green as a starter – wasn’t just a one-time whim while in Miami.

Forward Jeff Green was one of six Memphis players to score in double figures with 16 points in a 112-95 victory over Washington on Monday, Dec. 14.

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

“This isn’t a situational deal,” Joerger said. “This isn’t going to be a night-to-night deal. This is what we’re going to do for a while whether there are thousand different reasons to do it or not to do it.”

And then on Monday, Dec. 14, at FedExForum, the Grizzlies showed that, at least for a night, there were 112 reasons to do it with a 112-95 smashing of the Washington Wizards.

The Grizzlies (14-12 heading into Wednesday night’s ESPN game at Chicago) shot a season-high 56.4 percent from the floor and also nailed 10 of 15 threes (66.7 percent). Barnes scored a season-best 20 points and Lee had 15.

But more importantly, center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley played like this was their team as each posted a double-double. Gasol scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and tossed in six assists with three blocks. Conley finished with 18 points and 11 assists.

“Me and Marc have to lead the way,” Conley said. “We understand that.”

The Wizards (10-13) were without injured guard Bradley Beal and guard John Wall had an off night shooting as he made just two of 11 from the floor for six points, albeit with nine assists. So, this was something less than a definitive test of how the new-look Grizzlies will fare going forward.

But for a night it all worked pretty well. Green had 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting and chipped in four of the team’s 26 assists. Backup point guard Mario Chalmers had 12 points off the bench and in 20 minutes of work Randolph contributed eight points with four rebounds.

And again, Randolph sounded like the perfect teammate when talking about the shakeup that took him out of the starting lineup.

“I’m gonna be a professional about it, come to work every day, take care of my business,” he said.

Allen missed a second straight game with right knee soreness that apparently came over him just before the Miami game started. So that bears watching.

But overall, the Grizzlies had more spring in their previously creaky step. Barnes has been a huge part of this, too. He may be 35, but without the birth certificate there’s no telling for sure.

“He runs longer and faster than everybody else on the court,” Conley said. “He gets a rebound and he just goes.”

Barnes also has found his shooting touch. He hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range on Monday and has made 12 of 23 over his last four games.

“Slowly but surely it’s coming,” said Barnes, who began the season in a shooting slump.

The larger question, of course, is will the Grizzlies continue to improve with this new small-ball style of play? Regardless of style, their defense has been mediocre at best this season but they looked more energetic and focused against Washington.

The Wizards, however, also missed some open looks, whether it was Wall behind the arc or center Marcin Gortat at the rim; Gortat also was on the receiving end of a monster Jeff Green dunk.

“Defensively, we did a great job,” Gasol said. “We did a really good job of keeping guys outside the paint.”

The Grizzlies have suffered more than the occasional blowout loss and if there’s another in Chicago, it will re-start the rumors about Joerger’s job security. On Monday during his pre-game scrum with media, he was in good enough humor to laugh off the speculation at one point, but also spoke to those lopsided losses and his comment after the 24-point loss to Charlotte when he said the Hornets were just a better team than the Grizzlies.

“The frustration of getting dinged by 30, that’s getting old,” Joerger said. “You’ve seen when coaches lose teams. It’s not that a coach doesn’t do a good job, it just happens. I don’t believe that’s happening.

“The one thing I did want to clarify is – I made a comment the other night that I didn’t say very well. What I’m trying to say is if somebody beats us, they’re probably better that night because they won … that’s not to say that other teams are better and I don’t believe in our team or anything like that.

“I’m not trying to be a politician and back up,” Joerger said, “but I just wanted to clarify that.”

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