Memphis Grizzlies: 7 Keys to a Successful Rest of January
One might have wanted to chuckle after seeing the Grizzlies at No. 11 in the Western Conference power rankings by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland (No. 22 overall in the print edition) this weekend, but the debacle against the Chicago Bulls provided no reason to laugh for Grizzlies fans.
Grizzlies fans might be starting to cover their eyes after the discouraging start. Besides the losses, the Grizzlies suffered injuries to Mike Conley and Zach Randolph.
Things could be on the rise before too long for the Grizzlies. Besides, they started 4-9 last season.
Following are some keys for the Grizzlies to come out of the month of January successful.
Forget the New Year's Day Loss to the Bulls
One can safely say that the Grizzlies' loss on Sunday to the Bulls was a disaster. The Grizzlies totaled only 64 points, two more than the franchise low. They scored only 28 in the first half.
The Grizzlies shot 31 percent from the field and 1-for-9 from three-point range. No one scored more than 10 points. The starting five (Randolph, Rudy Gay, Jeremy Pargo, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen) combined for 10-for-41 (24.3 percent) field-goal shooting.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins described the game as "embarrassing and humiliating," as quoted by The Commercial Appeal.
Sunday was the eighth in Grizzlies' history by 40 points or more.
By the way, Randolph suffered what seems to be an MCL bruise in the first quarter when O.J. Mayo collided with him while missing a layup.
A bad loss coupled with such a disappointing injury made the night even more depressing.
The Grizzlies have numerous tough games ahead of them. Getting past the loss on Sunday to the Bulls is vital.
Force More Turnovers
"The Grindhouse," as Tony Allen would sometimes call the Grizzlies defense, isn't grinding out the product some might expect. The Grizzlies haven't been successful forcing turnovers thus far this season. In the first four games, the Grizzlies averaged 14.8 turnovers forced per game, 18th in the NBA. Last season, the Grizzlies led the league in turnovers forced, averaged 16.7 per game.
Steals haven't made the Grizzlies stand out. The Grizzlies picked up 36 steals in the first four games, 18th in the NBA. Last season, the Grizzlies averaged 9.4 per game to lead the NBA.
Fortunately, Allen himself is setting a nice standard, grabbing seven steals in the first four games, just about at his 1.8 steals per game average from last season.
The Grizzlies' turnover differential during the first four games wasn't anything to be happy about—particularly with the Grizzlies turning the ball over 17.8 times per game. The give the ball up three times than their opponent on average. Last season, the Grizzlies forced 2.7 more turnovers per game than they committed.
To be more successful as the month wears on, the Grizzlies will need to be more disciplined on both ends of the floor to shift the differential in their favor.
Rudy Gay Needs to Pick Up the Slack
Rudy Gay is particularly slow to start the season for the Grizzlies. Gay averaged only 13.3 points per game and shot a mere 36.4 percent from the field. Gay shot only 2-for-12 against the Bulls.
Gay struggled at the line in the first few games. He hit only six of 10 attempts at the line. That's not a promising bit of rhythm.
At this juncture, those 40-plus point performances in exhibitions during the lockout that Gay put up don't matter any more. If he keeps up this shooting clip, some might suspect whether he has regained form since recovering from his elbow injury.
Gay needs to find his shooting stroke in order to put the Grizzles back on the right track, especially with Randolph out. Gay may need to shoulder a larger brunt of the field goal attempts with Randolph out.
Start Games Better
The Grizzlies have struggled at the beginning of games thus far this season. In the first four games, the Grizzlies averaged 21 points per game in the first quarter.
The Grizzlies shot poorly to start each game they lost. Against the Bulls, the Grizzlies started 4-for-17. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies hit only one of their first 14 shots. In their opening game at San Antonio, the Grizzlies hit four of their first 11 shots.
Strangely, the injuries to both Mike Conley and Zach Randolph occurred in the first quarter of games. Conley went out in the first 20 seconds of the game against the Thunder. Randolph went down in the next to last minute of the first period against the Bulls.
While injuries can't always be prevented, the Grizzlies could do better to start games. Better shooting rhythm early on would help a great deal.
The injury bug is biting the Grizzlies hard. Before the season had tipped off, the Grizzlies lost Xavier Henry to a fractured ankle and Darrell Arthur to an Achilles tear.
While Henry wasn't a key player, the Arthur injury sent the Grizzlies scrambling since he was their only big backup man at the time. They had to trade for Quincy Pondexter and sign Dante Cunningham to plug the hole.
The trouble up front compounded when Randolph went down. With Randolph out, Cunningham looks to be starting against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. Now, with The Commercial Appeal reporting that Randolph will require rehab, the Grizzlies could be without him for longer. On Tuesday, he'll have an MRI to see if it might be more than a bruise.
Hopefully, the injury isn't that bad and the Grizzlies won't lose him for long. That would leave Hamed Haddadi as the only backup big man (Quincy Pondexter is a 6'6" small forward). This is would be a significant problem. Haddadi doesn't have very good stamina. Also, Gasol and Cunningham could end up seeing close to 40 minutes per game with Randolph out long.
Conley looks to be taking it slow. He wanted to come back against the Kings, but the trainers are looking to hold him out to ensure that he comes back at full strength. Pargo might hold up against the Kings, but most Western Conference teams would be unforgiving to such a green point guard.
The Grizzlies need to get healthy soon. Communication would likely be better with Conley at point guard than with Pargo. Also, the team is entirely different on the inside with Randolph out. Randolph is a voracious scorer on the inside and a terrific rebounder on both ends of the floor. Scoring could be slow if Randolph is out for an extended period of time.
Take Advantage of Mid-January Home Stretch
The Grizzlies would do well to take advantage of the forgiving stretch that lies ahead after Wednesday. From Friday, January 6 to January 20, the Grizzlies play eight games in 15 games, their softest span of games in a 15-day span this season. That stretch includes six home games and a four-game home stand.
The Grizzlies can avenge their close loss against the Thunder when they host the Thunder on the 10th. Two days later come the New York Knicks. The Grizzlies lost both games against the Knicks last season. However, Gay is particularly strong against the Knicks, averaging 20.3 points per game in eight career games against the Knicks.
On January 14, the Grizzlies take on the New Orleans Hornets. That will be the breath mint of the home stand. The Grizzlies split the season series last season with the Hornets, and could do better this year with Chris Paul gone.
Then, the Grizzlies face the Bulls again. Anything would be better than what happened on Sunday.
With this nice stretch ahead, the Grizzlies have a good chance to mend things. With the relatively cushy spread of action, the Grizzlies have a chance to get healthy. Also, the Grizzlies can gain some assurance by playing at home. Perhaps the Grizzlies can regain form against good teams like the Thunder, Bulls and Knicks at home.
Succeed in the Late January Western Road Swing
The Grizzlies will need to find some success in the western road swing in order to come out of the month in good shape. The Grizzlies play four road games in six days in late January out west, starting with the Golden State Warriors on January 23. Last season, the Grizzlies won two of three games against the Warriors.
The next day, the Grizzlies take on, the Portland Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies were 1-2 against the Grizzlies last season. On January 26, the Grizzlies will play the new-look Los Angeles Clippers, with whom the Grizzlies split the season series. If the Grizzlies aren't careful, they could do worse against the Clippers, which are now led by Chris Paul.
In his career, Paul has shot only 45.6 percent against the Grizzlies and averages a bit less than average (18.4 points per game) against them.
The Grizzlies finish the road trip on January 28 against the Phoenix Suns, against whom the Grizzlies went 2-1 last season.
Gay has been successful against the Suns, Clippers and Trail Blazers in his career. He has scored more against the Warriors than any other team (21.6 points per game) and shoots best against the Clippers on his career (52.6 percent). Also, Gay averages 20.7 points per game in 18 games against the Suns.
One would like to see Gay come up big against these teams.
Seeing the Grizzlies split the four-game road trip would be reasonable. To see them come out winning three of four would be optimal.
What Would a Successful January Look Like for the Grizzlies?
The Grizzlies would be in good shape if they split the 18-game January schedule. That would leave the Grizzlies one game below .500. One would be wise to hedge bets for now on the Grizzlies with the tenuous status of Conley and Randolph. Conley could be back later this week. Meanwhile, the outlook on Randolph is unclear until some time Tuesday.
Also, the Grizzlies would look good if the defense looks good. The Grizzlies need to get steals and force turnovers. Tony Allen is setting a good example. Gay is doing nicely with a steal in each game. Moreover, the Grizzlies need to be more disciplined on defense. That would help them create turnovers and stay in the game.
Better scoring would help. Hopefully, Gay will step up. While Gasol is a solid shooter, it's hard to tell what it would look like if he were to take 15 shots per game. Nevertheless, scoring will have to come from someone besides Gay with Randolph out.