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VOL. 133 | NO. 10 | Friday, January 12, 2018

Winning Still Feels Good, Even If ‘Tanking’ is More Productive

By Don Wade

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The big man sat at his locker with a somber look on his face. He spoke just above a whisper.

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) controls the ball against New Orleans Pelicans guards E’Twaun Moore (55) and Jrue Holiday (11) in a contest Wednesday, Jan. 10, at FedExForum. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

He had scored 29 points on the night, 14 in the fourth quarter when he had hit all four threes he took. He didn’t have much to say about that.

“Found shots in the flow of the game,” said the big fella.

His team had lost by three points. It also had scored 38 points in the first quarter and a season-low nine points in the third quarter. 

The best explanation for that? It was a Wednesday in January in the NBA and this stuff happens to somebody every night.

But for once, it didn’t happen to the Memphis Grizzlies. For once, it wasn’t Marc Gasol speaking after a loss and trying to explain all that went wrong.

The Grizzlies’ 105-102 victory over New Orleans at FedExForum, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, still left them 14 games under .500 at 13-27. It also dropped the Pelicans, who are perched in the eighth and last playoff spot in the Western Conference, back to .500 at 20-20.

Anthony Davis didn’t play because of a twisted ankle. That helped. But the Grizzlies were without Mike Conley (and Chandler Parsons), and so let’s throw the injuries out for this one.

Point is, if the Pelicans remain a playoff team they are a pretty clear example of how meaningless that can be. They would get the Golden State Warriors in the first round. They might steal a game if the Warriors nod off for a few moments, but they wouldn’t be making it a competitive series. 

We bring this up for the benefit of the last of the diehards out there that want Conley to start playing yesterday and the team to make a desperate push for the playoffs.

Futile. They can’t get there. And even if they could, they still wouldn’t be as talented as the Pelicans, who got caught flipping their intensity on and off Wednesday like a bored kid playing with the lights.

It’s at this juncture we should probably talk a little about what it means to tank. Now, literally, a tank can be a heavy armed fighting vehicle; wouldn’t that be a great weapon against the Warriors?

It’s also where you put the gas in your car. And as a verb, it is to “fail completely.”

So what does that do to a win that so easily could have been a loss? If the aim is to tank in NBA parlance and lose as much as possible so as to get the best lottery pick possible, the Grizzlies failed completely against the Pelicans.

Although if it makes you feel any better, big man Boogie Cousins had his share of blame in this loss. He made a costly turnover with seven seconds left when the Pelicans only trailed by a point. He had five turnovers on the night. Big men everywhere overestimate their ability to put the ball on the floor.

Meantime, Gasol was wearing the Pelicans’ nine-point third quarter as a badge of honor for team defense.

“Third quarter was really good,” he said.

So was the defense on the Pelicans’ next-to-last possession of the game. Cousins got the ball with JaMychal Green on him. There was no doubt Cousins was going try and make a play.

“Marc used his intelligence, put himself between Cousins and the basket,” said Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “You hope, or try to force, somebody else to beat you because you know he’s capable. You have to give Marc a ton of credit, a compliment to his basketball IQ.”

Thought that never entered Gasol’s head: I should let Boogie stroll to the basket and score so we can get a better draft pick in June.

The Pelicans still got a great look down three points as the clock expired. E’Twaun Moore, one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, launched the shot and the ball hit the rim and glanced away.

Moore took the fatalistic approach to this event.

“Gotta live with it. That one didn’t go in, so you gotta go to the next one,” Moore said. “That’s all.”

So it goes night after night in the NBA. And for some franchises, season after season.

The Grizzlies won one in a season when wins have been hard to find. It made for a nice night, even if it potentially comes at cost several months from now.

That said, the Grizzlies would be wise to keep Conley and his sore heel on the sideline. Maybe Parsons and his sore knee, too. 

They should make the best deal they can for Tyreke Evans at the trade deadline. They should treat this year’s NBA Draft as one of the most important moments for the franchise in the last decade because it will be.

And yes, when the wins do come, they should be allowed to enjoy them just a little. Because once you step on the court, how can you not try to beat the other guys?

“We got enough stops at the end to give our offense a little oxygen and get away with a win,” Gasol said.

So take a deep breath … and be happy for Big Spain and the rest of them. 

And then hope they don’t pull this kind of thing very often.

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