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VOL. 131 | NO. 67 | Monday, April 4, 2016

Grizzlies Reeling with Desperate Bulls in Town Tuesday Night

By Don Wade

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Guard Bryce Cotton became the 28th player to take the court for the Memphis Grizzlies this season. And if you didn’t know much about Cotton, yet another 10-day contract signee, you’re in good company.

Matt Barnes (right) scored 24 points, but the Grizzlies still lost 119-107 at Orlando on Sunday. Zach Randolph (left), had 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. The Grizzlies carry a six-game losing streak into a Tuesday, April 5 home game against Chicago.

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

“I don’t know much about him, to be honest with you,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said upon Cotton’s arrival late last week. “He was a scoring point guard in college (at Providence), and I think he’s been in China this year.”

Playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, to be exact.

With five games left in the season and a playoff spot still not clinched and the Grizzlies’ hold on the Western Conference’s 5 seed down to a mere half-game over Portland going into games on Tuesday, April 5, this is where the Grizzlies are. This is who the Grizzlies are – a basketball version of the ancient Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine.

And it you have no idea about Abbott and Costello, that’s fine, too. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello could be 10-day contract guys just as easily as Bryce Cotton or the already jettisoned Ray McCallum, who was a 20-day contract guy if you want to think of it that way, because he had two 10-day deals.

The Chicago Bulls come to FedExForum Tuesday night and they are even more desperate than the Grizzlies, sitting just outside the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Bulls (39-38) are at least on a little one-game winning streak.

The Grizzlies (41-36) are on a six-game losing streak, their longest skid since dropping seven straight in November of 2009.

How long ago was that, really?

Well, Bryce Cotton was 17 years old and attending Palo Verde High School in Tucson, Ariz.

Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Zach Randolph were all still in their twenties.

Yeah, a long, long time ago.

“We’re not used to this, even though we have a whole new team – young players,” Randolph told media after the Grizzlies lost 119-107 at Orlando on Sunday. “Ain’t no excuse, but we’re not used to this.”

Because injuries have taken away center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley, among others, and trades sent rotation regulars Courtney Lee and Jeff Green packing – not they didn’t have their flaws – Randolph and Barnes have become the offensive go-to guys.

Randolph was sill solid as one of three primary options with Gasol and Conley and capable of carrying the load on a given night. But now his life is one unending double-team. And while Barnes went for 24 points and hit the first four 3-pointers he took at Orlando, he has been forced to go from supporting actor to a lead role.

It’s too much.

“You are putting a lot of pressure on him to be our best player next to Zach,” Joerger said.

While Joerger has continued to praise Allen, Barnes and Randolph for their leadership on the court and in the locker room, those three have been around long enough, and now seen enough from their teammates, to understand they have to play above their norm if the Grizzlies are to break the losing funk.

“Not being able to play off guys as much (meaning, Conley and Gasol), maybe feeling that pressure that if they don’t score, we are not going to win,” Joerger said of the state of things for the veterans.

Another vet, Vince Carter, has been doing his part, too, but he’s pushing 40 and even if having a good game on a particular night, he can’t go out there and play 35 minutes.

“Just have to stay the course,” Carter said after that sixth straight defeat. “There is a dark cloud over us right now, but we can still see the light of day. It’s still possible. Win a couple of games, and everything feels a little better.”

The schedule after Tuesday night has the Grizzlies at Dallas this Friday (the Mavericks also are fighting for a playoff spot), at home against Golden State on Saturday, and finishing out the regular season at the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, April 12, and at Golden State the following night.

“No one said it’s going to be easy,” Carter said. “I think everyone understands that.”

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