For a writer like me, more of an “alt-weekly basketball critic” than anything else, games like the one last night, in which the Grizzlies beat the under-manned Cleveland Cavaliers 93-85 one night after the Cavs did the same to an equally rest-weakened Grizzlies squad in Cleveland, present a bit of a challenge. There’s a term for these games, even: the “schedule loss,” a game in which the tyranny of the overloaded NBA schedule determines that one team just isn’t going to be up to snuff for whatever reason.
The Sports Industrial Complex would like for you to pretend that these games don’t happen, that every one is a hard-fought waypoint on a team’s Journey of Destiny, and for people like me to keep churning out previews and recaps and player grades and social media content like there was any way this home-and-home between teams from different conferences in mid-December was going to have any other outcome. In an industry that thrives on (1) narrative and (2) endless analysis of the games and other peoples’ analysis thereof, it can be a little crazy to sit in the media section wondering whether to watch the game or read this cool blog post about Stanley Elkin, because only one of those things was actually worth paying attention to last night.
Back-to-backs are stupid, and everyone knows they’re stupid, and the only reason the NBA plays them is because it was originally created in the Forties to fill hockey arenas on off nights, and there are a lot of off nights. No one (except maybe former players, who seem to hate any deviation from The Way We’ve Always Done Things) actually thinks the NBA should have them—but if you take the season down to 65 games, teams lose money on gate revenue, and there are fewer Units of Sports Content for ESPN and TNT to show on their cable networks, so TV revenue probably falls too. And so they remain, and probably always will, even as the league looks for a way to make the season run ten months of the year to avoid them instead of the “obvious” solution (to someone not concerned with the bottom line) of just chopping some games off the schedule.
So there I was, caught between a review of Elkin’s Pieces of Soap and a basketball game that was barely worth playing because the Cavs’ three best players stayed in Ohio. Not that I judge them for that; rest is the right policy in this situation, especially given that Marc Gasol stayed home from the Memphis trip to Cleveland the night before. But it does make you wonder: why do we do this to ourselves, other than money? Wouldn’t it have been the same outcome if the Grizzlies had just forfeited the game in Cleveland and the Cavs reciprocated by forfeiting the Memphis game, coming out even, sparing Deyonta Davis from his apparent plantar fasciitis flare-up, and saving everyone on jet fuel and resting thirty players instead of four or five?
Instead, I found little things to talk about, because if I’m not Generating Premium Sports Content, I have failed the system entirely, which requires that each of us microanalyze games that are shown to be meaningless by the fact that the best player(s) on each team weren’t even in the same state when it happened.
★ It’s not often that Tony Allen takes 17 shots in a game. It’s probably even less likely in a game that the Grizzlies actually won. As David Fizdale pointed out after last night’s win, if Allen had made all of the layups and point-blank looks he got last night, he probably would’ve scored 25 points. Allen always steps up his offense when the team is depleted. He was great on both ends of the floor in the Warriors game Saturday night. Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated, even as he gambles even more on defense. Marc Gasol is playing at an MVP level right now and can cover for him.
★ Wade Baldwin can’t get on the floor in blowouts. I’m not sure if Fizdale is a little over-reliant on Toney Douglas because he desperately needs wins while Conley is out or if Baldwin, who has just been flat-out bad for a few weeks now, is such a liability that he can’t stay on the floor long enough. I hope it’s the former, and that Baldwin will see some floor time soon, before it stunts his development in true Grizzlies form. But if he’s really that bad, well, that’s not a good sign.
★ Bad Andrew Harrison was really bad Speaking of rookies playing badly, Andrew Harrison was terrible at just about every possible opportunity last night. He managed to be -12 in a blowout win. Everything he did was the wrong thing. Rookies have those kinds of nights sometimes, but it was excruciating to watch Harrison slowly maneuver himself into terrible situations last night. Be better, my dude.
Friday night should be fun. This game may have been over before it even started, but Friday night Dave Joerger returns to town with his discombobulated Kings squad and I would bet more than one Grizzly has a mind to set a career scoring mark against them. I mostly hope Gasol goes 15 of 16 from three. The Kings are a team that the Grizzlies should beat, even given their injury situation. And maybe let’s go back to vehemently disliking Matt Barnes, okay, Grizzlies fans?