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VOL. 132 | NO. 63 | Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Grizzlies Reeling as They Begin Two-Game Homestand

By Don Wade

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When the Grizzlies play the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, March 29, at FedExForum it will be the first of their last eight games in the regular season. When they tip off just after 7 p.m., they will do so carrying a four-game losing streak and having lost nine of their last 13 games.

Besides Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley’s best efforts the team lost at Golden State last Sunday. Conley scored 22 points with nine assists the next night in a loss at Sacramento, the Grizz’s fourth straight defeat.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The latest defeat came on Monday, March 27, in a tough-to-take 91-90 setback at Sacramento.

“We’re frustrated, obviously,” said point guard Mike Conley, whose 22 points and nine assists went to waste. “We’ve had good and bad games, even in the losses. We felt like we should have won. We really needed it.”

Center Marc Gasol has missed the last two games with a strained left foot. It was the right foot on which he had off-season surgery, but there is justifiable concern about what this strain could be, about what might come next. Zach Randolph started and scored 17 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.

What is certain is that if the Grizzlies are to make any kind of a push over the season’s last two weeks, it has to start now. Their record stands at 40-34 and they have close to no margin for error if they are going to make a move up from the seventh spot in the Western Conference to the sixth. They trail Oklahoma City by 2.5 games.

Can they yet make a run?

Truthfully, the numbers suggest they are – once again – trying to climb a hill too steep.

Through games of March 26, several stats pointed to the Grizzlies more or less being the team to which we’ve grown accustomed. Their 100.9 points per game ranked 27th out of 30 teams. Their points allowed (100.3) ranked fourth in the NBA and they had limited opponents to a 44.3 percent field goal percentage – also fourth in the league.

When they are of a mind to play defense and their 3-point shots are falling (their 9.3 makes per game ranked a very respectable 15th in the NBA) they can be pretty good. When either of those things is lacking, they can be extremely beatable. By anyone.

Even though they shoot the long ball better than they have in years past – and with no help from Chandler Parsons before his knee injury shut down his season – the Grizzlies still play at the third-slowest pace in the league. A slower pace doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it often is when Conley is off the floor and rookie backup Andrew Harrison looks like a man who has lost his car keys.

Advanced metrics are like traditional stats in that they can be overused or underused and you can bend them this way and that to make a point. But one seldom-discussed advanced metric that perhaps deserves more attention is “PIE.”

What’s PIE? It stands for Player Impact Estimate.

Space does not allow for a full description. But suffice to say PIE makes use of traditional stats such as points, rebounds, assists, turnovers, etc., while also capturing the percentage of game events that are impacted. Thus, a high PIE percentage typically correlates to winning. A team with a better than 50 percent PIE rating is likely to be a winning team and a player with a more than 10 percent PIE is, in all likelihood, a better than average player.

Through games of March 26, the Grizzlies PIE was exactly 50 percent, which ranked 17th in the league. It’s a metric that suggests they are almost equal distances from their floor and their ceiling.

A concept with which Grizzlies fans are well-acquainted.

Also through games of March 26, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City led the league with a 22.6 percent PIE; Houston’s James Harden and Anthony Davis of New Orleans each were at 19.3, Golden State’s Kevin Durant was at 18.6 and Cleveland’s LeBron James was at 18.2.

About what you’d expect, right?

The Grizzlies had four players over that 10 percent mark: Conley at 15.5, Randolph at 15.3, Gasol at 15.0, and Brandan Wright (in a smaller sample size) at 12.7.

JaMychal Green finished just below the magic mark at 9.5. The rest of the players were as follows: Tony Allen, 7.8; Deyonta Davis, 7.7; Vince Carter, 7.6; the recently waived Toney Douglas, 7.3; James Ennis, 7.0; Troy Daniels 6.5; Jarell Martin, 6.4; recently signed Wayne Selden, 5.8; Parsons, 5.6; and Harrison and Wade Baldwin at 5.2.

Conley and Gasol have been more aggressive on offense this season and Randolph has a found way to be effective in his role. But the PIE stat confirms that it will be an uncommon night that any player beyond those three has a dramatic and winning effect on a game, much less a playoff series.

In theory it can happen, of course, but any notion that the Grizzlies’ bench has a gear it can reach but hasn’t yet is not backed up by the numbers.

And a four-game losing streak and dropping nine of 13 has the Grizzlies questioning themselves.

“The whole trip was a disaster mentally for us,” coach David Fizdale said after the loss to the Kings. “It’s really frustrating for me as a coach because it’s not anything effort-wise.”

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