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VOL. 132 | NO. 35 | Friday, February 17, 2017

Grizz Hit All-Star Break With Loss, But Their Goals Are Within Reach

By Don Wade

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After he had answered the obligatory questions about the Grizzlies’ ugly 95-91 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in the last game before the All-Star break, coach David Fizdale spoke to the big picture: “We’re in good position.”

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol puts up a shot against New Orleans on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at FedExForum. Gasol just missed a triple-double in the 95-91 loss and said if he had shot better, the Grizzlies would have won. 

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

At 34-24, the Grizzlies are sitting at No. 6 in the Western Conference – two games ahead of Oklahoma City and only 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah. The No. 4 seed is not out of reach.

But that’s true only if the Grizzlies can correct what happened again on Wednesday, Feb. 15: They checked out, at times, against a below-.500 team.

Explanations?

“If I could fix it, I would,” said center Marc Gasol, who just missed a triple-double against New Orleans with 15 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but found fault with his 6-for-17 shooting night that included going 0-for-3 from behind the arc.

“I thought that if I would have shot the ball better tonight, we would have won, honestly,” he said.

That may or may not be true. But what is true is this: “We can’t play down to competition,” said Vince Carter. “We just have to continue to be us.”

They have 24 games to do that after the break. And the schedule is easier than it was before the break. 

“Everything is in our control,” Tony Allen said.

Well, not really, but they are in good position – albeit, with work still to be done.

Team Like No Other

Yes, the Grizzlies shoot threes like they never have before during this playoff run that is six years and counting. In fact, over the last six seasons they averaged 4.8 made threes per game. Coming into the last game before the All-Star Break, they were hitting 9.2 threes per game.

Even so, opposing coaches looks at them as the grit-and-grind Grizzlies, the guys who will push you around and take your lunch money.

“Their physicality, that’s the way they play,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. “They have an identity that has been here a long time, since Zach Randolph has been here.”

In a copycat league, Golden State coach Steve Kerr still says of the Grizzlies, “They’re unique because of Zach and Marc. There’s a lot of good bigs in this league, but there aren’t many left who can dominate a game on the low block. Zach, especially, will just punish you down there. That’s old school. That’s ’90s-style basketball. It’s different.”

The Stars

Gasol is headed to his third All-Star Game. He’s averaging 20.6 points per game, his career high, and after rarely shooting threes has become one of team’s best long-range marksmen at 38.5 percent.

“To be able to post, stretch the floor, pass the ball – he’s arguably the best at all those things from his position and even into other positions,” said Fizdale, the man who has unleashed Big Spain. 

The only lingering questions: Will he stay healthy a year removed from his foot injury? So far, all signs are good and Gasol has, as much as it frustrates him, sat down a couple of times for scheduled rest. When he’s aggressive, he can carry the Grizzlies. When he lets the game happen around him, which is less frequent now, the Grizzlies are not nearly as good.

“Your stars really have to put up some numbers to win at a high level and at the same time still get guys involved,” Fizdale said. “You’ve got to be a little more greedy. For him and Mike (Conley) that’s not a natural thing because they’re so unselfish. But you can see it starting to come for both of them.”

Conley was, to quote Kerr, a “lock” for the All-Star Game if he had not hurt his back. Conley seems to be using the snub for motivation. In the long run, that might help the Grizzlies even more. 

Supporting Cast

Z-Bo remains productive. His 14 doubles-doubles off the bench lead the league. Allen still has flashes where he can change games with his chaos and defense, but is he the same defensive stopped once could be deployed on perimeter stars for long stretches?

Chandler Parsons was supposed to be in that “star” category, or at least on the fringe of it. His knees either hurt enough, or concern management enough, that he remains on a minutes restriction and continues to take off games for “recovery.”

He hits the All-Star break averaging 6.5 points per game and shooting just 27 percent from 3-point range. 

“(He) would be another element if he can get closer to who he can be,” Fizdale said.

JaMychal Green has been solid as a starter at power forward, but the Grizzlies will need the 40-year-old Carter to continue not acting his age. They also need Brandan Wright to stay healthy. He’s been an injection of energy and athleticism in the post.

“He’s incredibly versatile in the pick-and-roll defense and he’s a heck of a shot-blocker,” Fizdale said. “He brings something to that position we haven’t had.”

Veteran Toney Douglas appears to be the choice at backup point guard, barring a deal before the trade deadline of 2 p.m., Central Time, on Feb. 23.

“He can change the game defensively with his ball pressure and his motor offensively,” said Fizdale.

And although his minutes have been spotty of late, Troy Daniels can be a 3-point threat off the bench. He’s shooting 39.2 percent from long range.

The Push for Playoff Seeding

With a team so hobbled by injuries last season that they used an NBA-record 28 players, the Grizzlies went just 11-18 after the All-Star Break. 

This time, the Grizzlies will start the stretch run healthy except for Parsons’ ongoing knee issues. But nothing can be taken for granted. Wright says even a strong forward move could be wiped out in little more than a week.

“A five-game losing streak will put you back in seventh and that’s not where you want to be,” he said.

Gasol said the loss before the break should inspire reflection.

“You gotta be honest with yourself, see what you gotta work on,” he said. “Hopefully we will be honest enough, smart, whatever you want to call it, humble too, to start to do what we gotta do to be successful.”

Fizdale is hopeful, though. The chance to get home court in the first round is still there, to be decided in these last 24 games.

“You want a chance,” he said. “We have a ways to go in some areas to truly be considered a contender, but I think we have time to get to that. I thought we played better basketball going into the All-Star break. This loss (to New Orleans) is disappointing, but I saw some things that are a lot better over the last 10 to 12 games.

“As long as guys are pros and keep themselves in shape over the break, we can hit the ground running and we’ll be alright.”

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