Blazers 112, Grizzlies 106: Five Questions


  • Larry Kuzniewski

After four quarters of close basketball, but a small if not comfortable Grizzlies lead, the Griz lost an excruciating close game last night after making a few critical offensive and defensive lapses down the stretch that allowed the Trail Blazers to force an overtime. Between not making layups, not grabbing important rebounds (and, in Jeff Green's defense, no other Grizzlies player even tried to rebound on Portland's game-tying tip-in), and not making the right defensive play, it was a frustrating way to watch a game slip away against a team that's under .500 in the West.

To add injury to insult, Marc Gasol—who was questionable for much of the game with soreness in his foot—ended up (1) almost punching Meyers Leonard in the face and (2) leaving the game early with a "mid-foot injury" and not returning.

So, as you can see, not the Grizzlies' best evening. Certainly not their worst, not this season, but for a team that wants every win it can get for seeding purposes, this was one that was very winnable.

Here are five questions from last night's game.

Why not rest Marc Gasol instead of playing him?

The right move with Marc Gasol, who has played some very poor games lately and has been struggling all season, whether that's from poor conditioning or nagging injuries or whatever else, was probably not to play him in the first place. The All-Star break starts after the Grizzlies' Wednesday night game at Brooklyn, and (in theory anyway) Portland and Brooklyn are both losing teams, the kind the Grizzlies have mostly been handling lately.

Given where Gasol is at lately, why not just shut him down until the break and let his foot get a chance to heal up those three or four extra days? I think there are a few reasons, none of which I really agree with.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

1. Gasol is fiercely competitive and basically refuses to acknowledge that he is capable of feeling pain in his body. He's played through torn abdominal muscles, he's come back from a grade 2 MCL sprain way too early to carry his team to the playoffs, he's played through high ankle sprains—the dude just plays through everything.

As he ages, though, somebody's got to be able to stand in his way of doing it. At 30, and signed to a five-year max deal, every indication is that the Grizzlies plan to build their next contending core around Gasol. He's old enough now that his rest has to be taken seriously, and letting him play through any and everything he can physically handle isn't the responsible approach to that.

2. I don't think Dave Joerger thinks it's really his responsibility to make sure guys get rest, or at least not games off.

The truth is that Joerger's an old-school coach in a young body. We've always known this about him. His focus seems to always be on the game in front of him, and winning that game at all costs before moving on to the next one. Sometimes that's good. There are times when that's a really useful way to power through a tough section of the schedule. But... overall, I think it's an area of his job where he's got room to improve. Rotation decisions, rest decisions, player development—all of these things eventually fall on the coach at some level, and pushing too hard on immediate day-to-day results can be detrimental to all three.

3. Resting key players no matter the circumstances is something that really only the Spurs do well. The Warriors probably would if their best players ever had to actually play in the fourth quarter. Just because only the Spurs are good at it doesn't mean the Grizzlies shouldn't try, but that's not really the culture of the organization right now. Zach Randolph has rested several games when he's gotten banged up the last couple of seasons, and he's come back playing really well, but Gasol and Conley never really stop. They never shut it down. And as much as I'd like to say "Yeah but those guys just want to play," at some point, it shouldn't be their call anymore.

The Grizzlies have invested a lot of money in training facilities this season, and they went to training camp specifically to work with P3 on injury prevention (yeah, and then Wright got hurt and Adams stayed hurt, but still). The next step is to take that injury prevention focus and apply it to who plays on back-to-backs and who doesn't, and that sort of thing. It's cultural. It's got to come from the top, and it's also got to be built over time.

We'll see what Gasol's prognosis is today, but I still contend he probably shouldn't have been in the game to begin with, and under no circumstances should he be on the floor Wednesday night in Brooklyn. It's just not worth it.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Tony Allen is shooting 40.7% from three this season?

That's not a question, but I'll roll with it: yes. He is. He's still a career 28% shooter from range, but this season, he seems to be not only choosing his spots more wisely but converting them at a higher rate than usual.

Part of this is that he's still left wide open on a regular basis because teams don't think he's going to hit anything from that far out. For the most part, I'd say that's still a safe assumption, but the more Allen is able to make them pay for leaving him wide open, the better, and an evolution and improvement in his jump shooting is certainly a welcome change.

I don't think he's going to become Ray Allen out there or anything, but even just being able to take advantage of defenses literally pretending he's not on the floor is a big deal for Allen, and so far this year he seems to be making the most of it.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Jeff Green was really good, and then not so good. What should we expect from him?

Here's the thing that Jeff Green's time in Memphis has told us: averages don't really mean anything for Jeff Green. He may be averaging 12 points a game, but that doesn't mean he's got a lot of games with 12 points—he oscillates between good games and bad ones, and occasionally has an "average" one.

So to say that he's had great games lately (which he really, truly has) and had some bad games lately (which he has, against Dallas and last night against Portland) but the truth is somewhere in the middle? That's not really the case. The truth is that he's all of these players at once, and you never know which one is showing up for a given game. And that's the frustrating thing about trying to predict how Green will play or whether he'll fit with the team or what lineup move is going to make him better: he's just not consistent enough to reliably predict, in general. Sometimes he plays like the best player on the floor. Others, not so much. And sometimes, like the Dallas game, he's on the court longer than he should be and his tendencies to get lost on defensive switches get exaggerated by his fatigue.

The safe expectation is that Jeff Green is going to have really great games, and really bad games, and some games in the middle, at random intervals. The truth isn't just somewhere in the middle. With Green (like so many other things) the outliers in either direction have to be considered part of the reality.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Is Ryan Hollins going to get signed for the year?

Who knows. On Monday night, with Marc Gasol injured, in an overtime game, Hollins only played 6 minutes, and missing person JaMychal Green played 13, after two weeks of seeing Hollins push him out of the rotation. Since the initial drive to sign Hollins was because of a lack of frontcourt depth, one would've been safe in assuming a Gasol injury would've meant more minutes for Hollins, not less.

But who knows. Maybe Joerger knows they're not going to keep him for the year and was trying to see whether he could make things work without playing him? Maybe Hollins was getting killed in the minutes he played and Joerger pulled the plug? (That doesn't really match with what I saw in the game—I don't think Hollins is a good player, really, but I didn't think he doing anything that was worse than normal.)

If Gasol is going to miss time with the foot injury he suffered last night, I'd expect Hollins to grab that last roster spot as a security blanket in case they need the depth. But that also depends on what the Grizzlies have cooking for the trade deadline.

Speaking of the trade deadline, are the Grizzlies going to make a deal?

Seems unlikely at this point. I know for a fact they've had calls—at this point of the season, every team in the league is talking to every other team in the league just trying to see what they can pry loose. But the truth is that the Grizzlies don't have many players they can trade who aren't on expiring contracts, and teams who need cap space can just... wait until the summer when the cap goes up by $30mm instead of actually giving up something of value to clear space.

I'm sure the Grizzlies would love to turn Jeff Green or Courtney Lee's expiring deals—players they're probably not going to bring back anyway—into some sort of asset, whether that's a pick of some sort or a young player on a rookie contract. But I'm just not sure there's that much of a market for wing players who will get more money on their next deals who are free agents. The cap increase has tilted the economics of expirings in such a way that it just doesn't make sense for very many teams to make that kind of deal unless they think Courtney Lee or Jeff Green could be the piece that gets them in the NBA Finals. And if they're in the Western Conference, they probably won't be.

Tweet of the Night

We're big fans of the haiku form at Beyond the Arc World Headquarters, and, well, this is techincally a haiku.


Up Next

The Grizzlies are in Brooklyn to take on the Nets on Wednesday, who aren't playing as bad as they have been lately, and won a game Monday night on a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater. It's the last game before the break, on the road against a bad East team, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a lack of focus, but we'll just have to see.

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