Weekend Preview: The first half of the Grizzlies' current West Coast road trip didn't go particularly well and we probably should have seen the problem in the scheduling. I'd bet that if the games had been reversed — had the Grizzlies played the Warriors on the first night and the Lakers on the back end — the team would have gone 1-1. As is, the Griz, after losing to a Lakers team that looks even better than last year's champs, faced the uptempo Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back, the Warriors having been off the night before, and with injury, foul trouble, poor bench play, and the fast pace all feeding the fatigue, couldn't quite pull off a late comeback attempt.
Tomorrow, the Grizzlies face the Sacramento Kings, who are off to a promising 3-2 start but against a very weak schedule (the wins came against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Toronto, all by single digit). The story with the Kings is a couple of John Calipari protégés in Tyreke Evans and Demarcus Cousins and the Grizzlies will need to match their physicality. It should be fun to see Cousins match-up with either Randolph or Marc Gasol. Evans should pose more of a problem, particularly when the Kings go with a bigger backcourt. Paging Tony Allen?
Joerger's Close-Up: With Lionel Hollins and lead assistant Johnny Davis absent to attend the funeral of former Portland Trailblazers great Maurice Lucas, young Griz assistant Dave Joerger — widely considered someone with future head-coaching potential — will helm his first NBA regular season game.
Rudy Making the Leap?: Rudy Gay showed something in that loss to the Warriors. Visibly struggling with a strained abdominal muscle, he still played 46 minutes, scoring 35 points (14-23 FG, 3-4 FT, 4-7 3pt) to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
I know it's only five games, but so far Gay is responding to his new near-max contract as well as anyone could have hoped. The production is eye-popping: 26.4 points per game (4th in the league), 7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.2 steals while shooting 54 from the floor, 84 from the line, and 53 from three-point range. Gay's Player Efficiency Rating of 26.2 is — for the moment — 10th among starters and first (no, really) among small forwards. Those shooting percentages will come down, but what's most encouraging offensively is that Gay's assist ratio is way up — he's clearly become a more willing and effective passer — and his turnover ratio is way down. Gay's rebounding and defense both seem improved as well. He's playing an all-around game right now and his on-court demeanor has been one of a player rising to a leadership role. Gay seems on the verge of elevating himself into a new tier of legit all-star players. Let's hope he can keep it up.
Free Tony Allen?: Didn’t the Grizzlies sign Tony Allen to be a veteran bench presence and defensive stopper? Then why did Allen play a combined 19 minutes in the first two games on this trip while perimeter scorers such as Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis, and, um, Dorrell Wright were lighting up the team?
Lionel Hollins said in the preseason that he saw Allen as a "15-minute-a-game" player and, sure enough, Allen is averaging 13 for the Grizzlies.
Admittedly, Allen has not generally played well so far. Always a shaky offensive player, Allen has been worse early on, his shooting percentage way down from the past two seasons and his turnover rate the worst of his career. We've had a good look already at why Bill Simmons calls Allen "Trick or Treat." ("Trick or Treat" seems very appropriate, but I'm resisting the urge to label him "Turnover Tony Allen" — oops!)
It may be that Allen was anticipating a bigger, more offensive-oriented role for the Grizzlies, a role that doesn't mesh with his skills or what his coach wants. And I routinely cautioned fans in the build-up to this season not to expect too much from Allen.
But still, if Allen could be a 17-19 minute a game guy for a title-contending, veteran Celtics team, it's really hard to see how he plays even less for a so-far-sub-.500 Griz team with a young and struggling bench. Is it a coincidence that Allen played the most — and the best — in the team's two wins? With the Grizzlies' bench looking at the moment like as much a drag on the team as it was a year ago, the Grizzlies and Allen need to get on the same page and get him back on track. The Grizzlies need Allen to be a factor.