Trail Blazers 100, Grizzlies 94: Rust Never Sleeps

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Marc Gasol had a much better game against Portland after struggling against the Clippers. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol had a much better game against Portland after struggling against the Clippers.

Capping off a disappointing weekend of Grizzlies basketball, the home team fell to the Portland Trail Blazers yesterday afternoon, 100-94. It was the first time Ninety-Four Million Dollar Man Chandler Parsons took the floor in Beale Street Blue, and he mostly played like a guy who hasn’t been on the court in months.

The good news out of this weekend’s games, other than the fact that Parsons’ legs work and he is actually able to use them to do basketball things (albeit stiffly), is that even with all of the teething troubles the Grizzlies are having, they’ve still been in competitive games with some of the best teams in the Western Conference. It’s easy to find small things that would’ve made big differences in the last two games. If Marc Gasol doesn’t go 1-10 in the first half against LA, the first half deficit is likely more manageable. In last night’s game, Chandler Parsons looked so rusty that at times I couldn't tell if it was Parsons on the court or the hulking underwater remnants of the Titanic. But if he goes 3-8 from the floor rather than 0-8, we’re more than likely breaking down a win and not a loss. Individual performances matter a great deal, and if those guys don’t have bad nights, the Griz are likely 5-2.

Which is not to say that’s an excuse, or that the Grizzlies don’t have real problems. Here, I made a list of those problems:

The Grizzlies’ Problems, In A Bulleted List

Zach Randolph (shown here against Washington) has regressed on defense this season. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph (shown here against Washington) has regressed on defense this season.
  • Zach Randolph is not a credible defender anymore, especially in pick-and-roll situations, and so Fizdale has to make offense/defense substitutions to be able to use him at the end of games. He said in his postgame presser after the Portland loss that defense was the reason he didn’t have Z-Bo on the floor down the stretch, even when the Grizzlies desperately needed a bucket.
  • Chandler Parsons is back on the floor, sure, but he’s clearly not in game shape and also just doesn’t look comfortable with the way his body moves. Sunday night was far earlier than I expected Parsons to return in the first place, given what I’d heard, so having him on the floor at all is a pleasant surprise. Given that it’s been so long since he played competitive basketball, it’s going to be a while before he looks comfortable on the floor with a team he’d never played with at all until last night.
  • The defense—once the point of pride for this team—no longer does anything to contain dribble penetration. Once guards get into the teeth of the defense, they can do whatever—score, kick out, draw fouls. The new defensive scheme is clearly not burned into the brains of the Grizzlies yet, and they’re struggling to keep up with the rotations. And, to boot, CJ McCollum had 37 points on 13-23 shooting last night. No one could guard him at all. And here, I thought the Grizzlies had a fearsome perimeter defense, too.
  • Brandan Wright may have been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with an android facsimile that looks identical when wearing a suit.
  • Rookie point guards Wade Baldwin IV and Andrew Harrison are both less than great. Baldwin drew an inexplicable DNP last night; Fizdale said it was because he was struggling, Grizzlies Twitter was quick to chip in some black-eye-related conspiracy theories (which, if true, would not be the first time a player got a mysterious disciplinary DNP after some sort of behind-the-scenes altercation, but I can’t say much more about that). Either way, Harrison’s defense was pretty solid last night, which is a plus, because he has to be good on defense to make up for his offensive deficiencies. Neither is a reliable backup at this point.
  • Troy Daniels, who they signed this summer to provide outside shooting, was deemed unimportant enough to place on the inactive list to make way for Parsons’ return to the lineup.
  • No one knows whether any of this is sustainable. Conley was already listed as a game time decision with Achilles soreness—you remember, the Achilles tendonitis that cost him the entire last part of last season?—and Gasol has looked great at times and tired at others, and now Parsons is back but not quite moving well. This could all be signs that they’re still on the road to health, or signs that they’re not on that road at all, but another road entirely.

Why I’m Not Worried

Seven games into the Fizdale Era seems too early to make a judgment. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Seven games into the Fizdale Era seems too early to make a judgment.

No one’s ever accused me of being too optimistic. But in spite of all the problems I listed above, I’m really not concerned about where the Grizzlies are right now. I firmly expected there to be issues they’d have to work through—issues with health, issues with learning the new schemes that come along with a new coach from another organization, issues with learning how to play with each other, issues with young guys figuring out how to be professional basketball players. There isn’t really anything that’s happened this year that’s surprised me, other than maybe the sheer brutality and cratered desolation of basketball that was the Pelicans game last week.

“Somewhere around .500” is exactly where the Grizzlies need to be until January or so. The middle of the West pack is not really markedly better or worse than the Grizzlies are, and they probably just have to hang in there and keep contact while they find themselves. When Gasol has looked good, he’s looked really good. Chandler Parsons is just now getting back on the court, and is probably weeks away from being totally right. Baldwin and Harrison (OK, mostly Baldwin, but I’m feeling generous) will probably be fine as they learn the game more.

This is exactly the kind of season I thought the Grizzlies were going to have in the first place, and it’s the right time in the arc of this franchise for it. They need to figure out who they’re going to be for the next 3-5 seasons, and that’s what they’re doing. If they only make it to 7th in the West this year, I don’t think that’s a failure if it helps them to be a better team for the next two years. There are a lot of new things happening, and when you try to do several new things at once, it doesn’t always go smoothly at first. They’ll be fine. It’s all fine, and I’m not even being sarcastic for once. “Keep a cool booty,” as the man says.

Game Haiku #7

Someone guard CJ:
The shots only remind us
He broke Conley’s face


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