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VOL. 130 | NO. 250 | Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Pressure of Parity: There’s Golden State … And Everybody Else

By Don Wade

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San Antonio had just handed the Grizzlies a 20-point home loss. Someone asked Spurs coach Gregg Popovich what his team could take from the game.

While Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) and power forward Zach Randolph (50) can still ground-and-pound, Memphis is moving toward playing more small ball and that change now has Randolph playing off the bench and fewer minutes. 

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

His answer: Even the Spurs were a work in progress, continuing to chase the shadows of perfection. Which, on Dec. 3, was personified in the still-undefeated Golden State Warriors.

“I don’t think anybody in our league, other than Golden State… The rest of us don’t play well for 48 minutes,” Popovich said.

So take heart, Grizzlies fans, for by that measure the local pro basketball franchise and its issues – shifting lineups, Grit and Grind giving way to a smaller and faster style of play – are not that different from the rest of the NBA.

“Everybody’s gonna deal with something,” said Grizzlies veteran Vince Carter, who has pretty much seen it all.

Consider the Houston Rockets. They were down 3-1 in a playoff series last season and rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers for a spot in the Western Conference Finals. They came into this season believing – valid or not – they could go farther. So, expectations were high.

But after a 4-7 start, the Rockets fired coach Kevin McHale.

“The team was not responding to Kevin,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said then. “There is no time in the West.”

Every team is working with the real calendar of the present 82-game season. But there is also each team’s own timetable. And the greater the expectations, the tighter the noose is around the concept of patience.

The Grizzlies, of course, have experienced this because even before the season tipped off there was the narrative that time was now against them. The core of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen was aging and this might be the last go-round

The first third of the season has only confirmed that idea, and the introduction of a new style of play has thrown a new challenge into the mix. The Grizzlies clearly are in transition. But again, they aren’t alone.

The Chicago Bulls changed coaches before the season. Defensive-minded Thom Thibodeau gave way to rookie NBA coach Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls still play a brand of stingy defense that would make Thibs proud, but they continue to search for an offensive identity.

The Chicago Bulls, with a new coach in Fred Hoiberg, are undergoing some changes. But they’re still trying to keep pace with the league’s elite, which includes the San Antonio Spurs.

(AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

Hoiberg has tried to integrate a faster, pass-oriented style of play on offense and some players have had trouble adjusting. To the point, some of Thibodeau’s old sets were put back in. Hmm, sounds like Memphis two years ago, doesn’t it?

Bulls veteran Joakim Noah recently told espn.com that he “didn’t want to paint a gloomy picture,” but said the Bulls had “issues,” adding, “We are still trying to figure out who we are.”

Even the Oklahoma City Thunder, with two resident superstars, have had to adjust to first-year coach Billy Donovan.

Not that Gasol cares about any of it.

“It doesn’t matter what other teams are going through,” he said. “What matters is what we’re going through.”

Through 30 games, the Grizzlies were on the high side of the roller coaster at 16-14. Other teams are trying to grasp with the reality of struggling to reach .500.

This was supposed to be a breakthrough year for New Orleans, which snagged the No. 8 seed in the West last season, but instead the Pelicans were 8-19 through their first 27 games.

The Washington Wizards, 46-36 a year ago, didn’t expect to break slow from the gate, but they did and were 12-14 through their first 26 games.

After the Grizzlies routed Washington 112-95 on Dec. 14 at FedExForum, Wizards center Marcin Gortat tried – tried – to explain their inconsistency.

“I have no idea,” Gortat said. “It’s not like we come out here and we don’t want to play basketball.”

Yes, a struggling team is often a mystified team.

And the league, once you get past the Warriors – 26-1 through their first 27, and maybe the Spurs, 24-5 through their first 29 – is closely bunched. Sure, Philadelphia started with one victory in its first 30 games and the Los Angeles Lakers – the one team they beat – are horrible.

But after that, there’s enough parity to put a smile on Roger Goddell’s face.

“You gotta play every night,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “There’s so much parity, and so much competition, everybody’s in.

“You have a game where your energy level is not where it needs to be, you can lose to anybody. That’s what’s going around the league.”

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