The Lead: The Grizzlies ended a three-game losing streak and controlled the game from buzzer to buzzer against a Minnesota Timberwolves team on the second night of a back-to-back and without its best player in suspended forward Kevin Love. Better yet, they did so while using early and more frequent substitutions to get key players needed rest.
After playing the entire first half Monday night against the Spurs, Rudy Gay subbed out at the 4:30 mark of the first quarter tonight, while Hamed Haddadi was set to check in for Marc Gasol even before Gasol picked up a third foul at the 3:20 mark of the quarter. Even point guard Mike Conley got subbed for before the first quarter expired, with on-again, off-again reserve Jeremy Pargo getting an early shot.
“My thought process was not to play them in as extended stretches,” Lionel Hollins said after the game. “It worked pretty well because the guys who came in played well. It's not about the minutes. It's about the long stretches without rest. If you play 15 minutes without a rest, you'll get tired.”
As a result, Gay (38 minutes), Conley (34), and Gasol (his season-low 29 minutes abetted by the foul trouble) played far fewer minutes than has been their recent norm. Perhaps the Grizzlies could have won more commandingly if they'd all played their more usual 40-plus, but the outcome of the game never felt in doubt despite the Wolves whittling a 17-point second-half Grizzlies lead down to 5 with a meaningless final shot from Michael Beasley.
But, as Hollins said, secondary players — particularly Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights (on the boards at least), and Pargo (in spots) — played well enough to allow the Grizzlies to control the game without relying too heavily on their core guys.
Man of the Match: Dante Cunningham has really emerged over the past couple of weeks, giving the team roughly 25 efficient, energetic minutes most nights. And tonight might have been his best performance yet. It started defensively. Marreese Speights was having a terrible time keeping up with the quicker Derrick Williams in the first quarter, with Williams registering 7 points on 3-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, and a steal in the first seven-and-a-half minutes before the quicker, more alert Cunningham came in for Speights. In the 12 minutes that Williams was matched with Cunningham, he scored only 2 points on 1-4 shooting, with 4 rebounds.
While Cunningham was slowing down the Wolves' hottest offensive player, he was playing terrific “garbage man” minutes at the other end. Cunningham grabbed 5 offensive rebounds in 26 minutes, converting three of them into putback buckets. He was also on the receiving end of the play of the game, finishing a fastbreak with an alley-oop pass from Rudy Gay to put the Grizzlies up 12 at the end of the third quarter. Overall, Cunningham gave the Grizzlies 12 points (6-11 shooting), 7 rebounds, and strong defense off the bench.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies had 21 offensive rebounds tonight, including a career high 8 from Marreese Speights. That's good, and helped offset 17 turnovers. But the downside of getting so many offensive rebounds is that you usually have to have missed a lot of shots to do so. And the Grizzlies missed an awful lot of shots tonight, with 59 — yes, 59! — missed field-goal attempts. In shooting 37% on the game, the Grizzlies survived 2-9 shooting from Speights, 4-13 from Marc Gasol, 1-8 from Mike Conley, and 3-11 from O.J. Mayo. A win is a win, but clearly the team's recent offensive ills remain relatively untreated.
The Match-Up: An odd match-up in the starting lineup, with 6'6” Griz swingman Quincy Pondexter lining up against 6'2” Wolves point guard Luke Ridnour in the Wolves' double-point-guard starting lineup. And Pondexter used his physicality, mid-range shooting, and steady defense to dominate the match-up, scoring a career high 17 points (7-14 shooting) with 6 rebounds while Ridnour struggled with 2 points on 3 assists on 1-8 shooting.
Elements of Style: The Wolves are a colorful bunch. In addition to Ricky Rubio (more on him in a minute), they start Nikola Pekovic, a hulking presence who probably looks more like an ’80s heel wrestler — he could be a lost Koloff cousin — than any other NBA player. Coming off the bench: The Michael Beasley Experience, the Diminutive Juan Jose Barea, Good Ole Boy Brad Miller, Martell Webster's Terrible Mohawk, and the Ghost of Anthony Randolph's Potential.
Watching the Spurs and Wolves in back-to-back home games, I've decided that the most annoying yet potentially effective off-the-bench two-man game in the NBA would be Barea and Spurs sharp-shooter Matt Bonner. Somebody needs to put those two guys together. That's a duo that would enrage and frustrate fans in arenas around the country.
The Jacob Riis Report: Ricky Rubio has been a sensation this season, registering more highlight assists than probably any guard in the league. But Rubio had his worst game of the season Wednesday night, registering season lows in points (4) and assists (1!?!). The lone dime Rubio dropped was a doozy — a long alley-oop feed to Wesley Johnson to cap a 10-0 Wolves run in the middle of the third quarter and force a Grizzlies timeout. But that was it. Otherwise, Rubio was all but invisible tonight.
One small game-within-the-game tonight: Rubio came in leading the NBA in steals per game at 2.44, just ahead of Mike Conley at 2.43. But Conley got the lead back tonight, nabbing 4 steals to Rubio's 2.
Tweet O’ the Game: “I can hear Heisley when he owns the Dodgers talking to the fans: "I HATED TO LOSE CWAYTON KERSHAW!!!" — @Jon_Roser
Chris Vernon Show producer Jon Roser with the strong snark based on this surprising story about Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley entering the bidding on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies moved back to .500 at 13-13 and ahead of the Wolves for 10th in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies are a game behind the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers for 8th and 9th place.
Looking Ahead: The five-game homestand continues as the Grizzlies host the Indiana Pacers Friday night. Despite losing Wednesday night in Atlanta, the Pacers have been one of the league's best road teams at 10-6 away from Conseco Fieldhouse.
Announced Attendance: 13,287
Chris Wallace expressed optimism on The Chris Vernon Show this afternoon that Zach Randolph would be back sometime in March, but suggested he hadn't started on-court work yet. So it was a nice surprise to walk into FedExForum about an hour before tip and see Randolph out on the court dribbling and shooting free-throws. Randolph didn't show any signs of a limp and seemed in good spirits.
Tony Allen missed his third straight game with a sore hip and knee. Despite conspiracy theories among anxious fans, all signs suggest Allen's aches and pains are legit. He remains day-to-day.
The All-Star reserves will be announced tomorrow night. My guess is Marc Gasol is more likely to get the nod than not, but it's a close call. I'd handicap it around 55/45 that he makes the cut.
The spinning wheel that is the Grizzlies' back-up point guard spot seems to have landed back on Jeremy Pargo for the moment. Pargo played double-digit minutes off the bench for the second game in a row. And while he still seems to be pressing — looking to make the big play every possession instead of playing with steadiness — at least in this game his play was feast-or-famine instead of just famine. Pargo had one of the plays of the game with an explosive baseline dunk and also hit a three pointer for the second game in a row. On the other hand, he forced some unnecessary shots and had three turnovers in 13 minutes. One sequence encapsulated his play: After Pargo made his three-pointer early in the fourth quarter, he stole the ball on the Timberwolves in-bounds and went straight back to the rim, only to have his lay-up attempt aggressively rejected by Wolves guard Wayne Ellington. Still, Pargo re-emerging as a useful rotation player would be enormously helpful to the Grizzlies and his play Wednesday night was encouraging.