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VOL. 130 | NO. 248 | Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Grizzlies Talk New Lineup, Easing Schedule and Christmas Presents

By Don Wade

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Feel like Christmas is closing in on you? Feel like you’re being double-teamed – work and all the usual daily responsibilities, plus shopping for family and friends?

The Grizzlies are right there with you. Coach Dave Joerger admits his shopping is not done. Neither is Vince Carter’s, even though he’s been balancing the holidays and the grind of an NBA season for going on 20 years.


One consolation: Carter’s daughter, Kai, is 10 and so she makes things easier for her father.

“She makes a list now,” Carter said. “It’s pretty extensive.”

Center Marc Gasol got the shopping done a couple of weeks ago, but it was more of a defensive move, what with Gasol always talking about the importance of playing defense.

“We need the extra time because the little girl (daughter Julia) keeps unwrapping the presents,” Gasol said on Monday, Dec. 21, before the Grizzlies practiced at FedExForum.

Mike Conley still has many gifts to distribute, but like a good point guard he knew where he had to deliver. So he got his wife’s and mom’s shopping knocked out first.

“I’m no fool,” he said.

Practically speaking, Joerger considers it something of a gift that that the Grizzlies finally are where they are in the schedule. They survived the first 29 games of the season, which he identified as extremely challenging before the first game ever tipped.

Their record of 15-14 obviously could have been better, but it also could have been worse. They’ve changed to a style emphasizing smaller lineups and faster play and without many practice days to work on it.

Now, they have the immediate challenge of three road games during Christmas week – Tuesday, Dec. 22, at Philadelphia, Wednesday at Washington, and the day after Christmas at Charlotte before playing the Los Angeles Lakers at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, at FedExForum.

“The emphasis right now is to not have a hangover after what’s been a very difficult 29 games,” Joerger said. “Now, get re-focused on this four-game set – two and two, and knowing you got a day and half to be with your family.”

Said Conley: “The holiday season is always difficult. Travel, family around … our schedule is going to ease up on us a little bit (later) and we’ll have a few days to practice between games. Hopefully, that’ll bode well for us.”

Joerger was encouraged by the Grizzlies’ improving defensive intensity last week. They played hard and did a good job containing the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference – the Indiana Pacers – last Saturday here in a 96-84 victory.

“We played with a lot of emotion on Saturday,” Joerger said. “And with a lot of passion much of the week. Defensive numbers are much improved, especially that starting group I think is at 90 (points allowed) per 100 possessions. It’s still a small sample size and it could jump …”

But it’s a beginning.

For the time being, expect the Grizzlies to continue to start Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes on the wings and Jeff Green at forward with Gasol and Conley. Tony Allen, Joerger said, is still “day to day” with knee soreness; Allen has missed five straight games, the same number of games the Grizzlies have employed the new lineup.

Regardless of lineup, Gasol says they must play defense. Otherwise, any good work they do on the offensive end will come undone – just like the presents at the Gasol household when little Julia gets her hands on them.

“If we don’t all play defense, if we’re not all engaged, that is frustrating for us because we know we don’t have the firepower to overcome,” Gasol said. “If we don’t play defense, we can’t win.”

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