by Kevin Lipe
I’m sure Dallas is glad to have Tyson Chandler back. Letting him walk immediately aftr the Mavs won the title in 2011 was something that Mavs owner Mark Cuban clearly regretted, and he’s a good player still who helps them win games. But. Down the stretch of last night’s 109–90 Grizzlies win in Dallas, Zach Randolph went through and around and over and into Tyson Chandler like he was Antonio McDyess in the 2011 playoffs—whom he not-so-gently ushered into retirement—or maybe the chair in a Yi Jianlian draft workout video.
That’s really the story of last night. Sure, other players had great games—the win was a team effort, with the Grizzlies doing good things pretty much regardless of who was on the floor at any given point—but last night was A Z-Bo Night, a vintage performance like we haven’t seen from him in a while, and Grizzlies fans were appropriately filled with awe/wonder/admiration/mirth while Randolph dropped jabstep jumper after jabstep jumper right on the head of Chandler (and whoever else happened to be unlucky enough to be between Z-Bo and the basket).
This was the inverse of the Griz/Mavs game played here in Memphis on MLK Day, in which the Grizzlies struggled on defense and couldn’t get much going on offense either, and even though Z-Bo had a good game (again, pretty much taking it to Tyson Chandler) the decision to play he and Marc Gasol the entire second half came back to bite Dave Joerger and the wheels came off down the stretch as a Dirk Nowitzki takeover put the game out of the Grizzlies’ reach. Last night, even without Mike Conley—who sprained his wrist in the Orlando game catching it in a jersey coming off a screen—and Tony Allen, still nursing an ankle injury suffered in the 76ers game on Saturday night, the Grizzlies came out and got it done.
This wasn’t a half-hearted effort like the night before against Orlando, either, where the Grizzlies got up 20 and coasted across the finish line against a Magic team that just isn’t good enough to catch up to them even if they’re playing 70%. This was a Griz team that was not about to let up—a team who wanted to send a clear message to the Mavs: you owe us one. Clearly the MLK Day loss left a bad taste in their mouths, and so they rolled into Dallas determined to rectify it. That it was a Z-Bo game to remember was just the icing on the cake.
➭ In the absence of Mike Conley, point guard duties were split between Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes, both of whom had very good games against Dallas. Udrih continued to rain fire from midrange, where he’s 58.7% from 10–14 feet and 56.1% from 15–19 feet for the whole season. He’s still bad from three, but a midrange shot from Udrih is still a very efficient shot (and the same goes—albeit to a lesser extent—for Courtney Lee, who’s 47.1%/50.7% from those same distances) and his midrange game has really done wonders in opening up the floor for the Grizzlies’ second unit.
Calathes, on the other hand, apparently has not forgotten that the Mavericks had his rights and thought that Gal Mekel would make a better NBA point guard, and decided to punish them for it last night, going 4–8 from the field for 13 points, including 2–3 from three, where he wound up that slow-moving release and dropped a couple of bombs. Calathes continues to play himself back into the form he was in late last season, something he clearly needs consistent minutes to be able to do. Having two viable backup point guards who can both play with Mike Conley and who can also play well together is still sort of a weird new experience for Grizzlies fans, but it’s really proving to be one of the key arrows in Dave Joerger’s quiver this season.
➭ The rule of thumb has long been “As Mike Conley goes, so go the Grizzlies,” but both on Twitter and on the Griz broadcast last night there was discussion of Courtney Lee as an equally suitable bellwether for the Griz. As mentioned in a recent installment of Chris Herrington’s Pick-and-Pop column for the Commercial Appeal, the difference in Lee’s splits in wins and losses is pretty interesting. In wins, Lee averages 12.6 points on 52% shooting, and 56.3% 3-point shooting. In losses, Lee averages 7.5 points on 36% shooting and 21.1% 3-point shooting. Correlation isn’t causation, of course, but when Lee is shooting at or above 50%, a Grizzlies win is likely. Definitely something to keep an eye on as the season goes forward (and one of my main hesitations about bringing Lee off the bench: his number of FG attempts drops like a rock).
➭ Jon Leuer, who had some sort of lingering stomach illness that was at least partly responsible for his poor performance before the Jeff Green trade knocked him completely out of the rotation for a bit, appears to have returned to something like his normal form. I still think the Grizzlies need someone bigger and stronger at backup PF (at least for certain matchups) but a Leuer who is 100% certainly helps, as he can stretch the floor a bit and also now needs to defend his title of “best dunker on the Grizzlies” against the new Jeff Green challenge. (Sadly, I don’t think Leuer will be able to win the Best Grizzlies Dunker title belt back from Green.)
➭ Tyrus Thomas got to play the last minute and a half! That’s all I can really say about it. There wasn’t really anything noteworthy about his garbage time performance. If Thomas is going to stick, it’ll be as an end-of-the-bench big and my assumption is that he’ll have to earn his keep in practice rather than in games, since there’s not really much room to squeeze him into the game rotation.
➭ Grizzlies Twitter was briefly sidetracked by reports of a fight on the sidelines of the Iowa Energy’s game last night between diminutive preseason roster point guard Kalin Lucas and Grizzlies rookie Jarnell Stokes. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened, but reports are that Lucas went at Stokes during a timeout, and they got into it, and both were ejected from the game. I’ve stood pretty close to Jarnell Stokes, and I’ve watched him play a pretty good bit of basketball between the University of Tennessee and the Grizzlies. I’m having a hard time coming up with an amount of money that you could pay me to try to punch him. He’s huge, his strength is off the charts, he’s tough as all get-out—there’s a reason he drew so many Z-Bo comparisons when the Griz drafted him. That’s the kind of physical player he is. Never punch that kind of basketball player. For any reason. I’m sure the details will emerge at some point about what happened, but it’s not something that should happen on a sideline.
Tweet of the Night
Tyson Chandler’s bounce back year was fun while it lasted, until Z-Bo jab-stepped him into a pile of smoldering rubble— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) January 28, 2015
The Nuggets are in town Thursday for a game that will be nationally televised on TNT. Seems that the Knicks’ terrible season has been the best thing that could’ve happened to the Grizzlies’ meager slate of national TV games. Then, on Saturday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder roll into town for Wrestling Night at the Forum, complete with awesome title belt giveaways. I’ve heard some rumors about the halftime entertainment for this one, and… let’s just say I’m planning on watching it instead of going to get snacks, and I really like snacks.