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VOL. 132 | NO. 50 | Friday, March 10, 2017

Late in the Season, Grizzlies Still Seeking Consistency, Chemistry

By Don Wade

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Players and coach David Fizdale have had some, well, interesting things to say in the wake of that dreadful 122-109 loss to the NBA-worst Brooklyn Nets. But this isn’t about one game, one lineup change or even one quote from Fizdale that at times has been taken out of context.

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was more than a little frustrated with a recent loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets. “This is our lowest point,” he said. 

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Yes, Fizdale said during a recent media scrum that he couldn’t settle for mediocre play (good), he would continue to experiment with lineups (understandable) “until I find something that works best and gives us the best chance at holding the trophy. And if people don’t like it, they can kiss my (butt).”

Understand, though, that Fizdale was not spitting fire when he said that. He was his usual measured self. If it’s possible to sound like a statesman while inviting all who disagree to kiss your backside, Fizdale did it. There’s a lesson in that for somebody with an overactive Twitter account, but we digress.

The truth is, the Grizzlies have been playing hide-and-seek with their consistency and their chemistry since Jan. 1. A couple of hours before the Nets game, Fizdale spoke of the team’s “.500 malaise.” A couple of hours later, the Grizzlies were exactly 14-14 since Jan. 1 and when asked about the mood of the team the coach admitted, “This is our lowest point.”

But naturally it was Fizdale’s “kiss my (butt)” comment two days later that has gotten all the run. Fizdale had juggled the lineup for the Nets game, pulling out forward JaMychal Green and guard Tony Allen in favor of Brandan Wright and, ahem, rookie Andrew Harrison. The Harrison move garnered five points, one assist and two turnovers in 22 D-League-quality minutes.

No one could take issue with Fizdale wanting to shake things up a bit, but all of Memphis – from inside the Grizzlies’ locker room to the man on the street – reacted to his choice of moves with a collective SMH (Shaking My Head). It wasn’t just who came into the starting lineup, it was that Chandler Parsons didn’t come out of it. And that Zach Randolph, who has excelled playing off the bench (credit to Fizz on that one) only saw the floor for 16 minutes.

“We don’t have that much time to get ready for the playoffs,” center and team captain Marc Gasol said. “It’s now that there has to be one goal, and that’s what’s best for the team – not what’s best for one guy or another guy.”

Hmm, can read a bit into that can’t you?

To be fair, Gasol wasn’t necessarily speaking of Parsons or only about Parsons. There are plenty of concerns. It’s just that the team’s insistence on starting Parsons when his knees clearly aren’t healthy enough for him to approach the offensive production that netted him his four-year $94 million contract becomes a bigger albatross all the time.

Gasol often speaks of the team’s need to be “connected” on defense (more on that in a moment), but they have not been particularly connected on offense. Common is the possession where Parsons has space on the wing and Gasol, who is a good passer, chooses to take the ball elsewhere. Rudy Gay was often accused of being a ball-stopper here (and he often was), but Parsons’ presence was supposed to make the ball move more, to give everyone more space to operate because his 3-point shooting was something to be feared.

Count on this: Right now, no opponent is scared they are going to be hurt by Chandler Parsons.

Perhaps the FedExForum visit from the hated Los Angeles Clippers, who were to be here on Thursday, March 9, will have proved to be some sort of elixir. But for more than two months, the Grizzlies have not sustained good play.

The Nets game wasn’t just a blip and an embarrassment, though it was that, too. It was the model of how teams will continue to come at the Grizzlies.

“It’s drive Memphis, run them and drive them,” Fizdale said. “We couldn’t guard them off the dribble. That’s really our biggest Achilles heel right now: handling speed off the dribble, getting back on defense, being quicker to the ball.”

All of that was Fizdale at his diplomatic best, but basically saying what Dave Joerger said all too plainly: Compared to the rest of the NBA, the Grizzlies can look old and slow.

That said, effort is also part of the equation.

“On the ball (defense), we gotta take more pride one-on-one,” point guard Mike Conley said. “We’re relying on too many guys to help.”

The Grizzlies are in the midst of a four-game homestand that continues with the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, March 11, and the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, March 13. After that, six of their next seven games are on the road and this includes consecutive games at San Antonio and Golden State. And that lone home game? Also against the Spurs.

There is no good time to be struggling, but this late with playoff seeding on the line is especially bad timing.

“We’re hitting adversity,” said Fizdale. “We don’t get to choose when that happens.”

They do get to choose how they react to it.

“We have a lot of guys here that have been through a lot,” Gasol said. “And I trust every single one of them that they’re going to do the right thing.”

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