The Memphis Grizzlies are in a good position to begin their February schedule, considering that they're without Zach Randolph. They're 11-10 and sit two games behind the Dallas Mavericks in the Southwest Division. Since Randolph went down with a partial MCL tear on January 1, the Grizzlies have gone 10-7.
Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol have stepped up. Hopefully, they continue to play at a high level.
The Grizzlies have a favorable February schedule. Nine of their 14 games this month are at home. They have eight days between games around the All-Star Break.
Meanwhile, their schedule heats up as they play 11 games with winning records this February.
Read along to see what the Grizzlies need to do to succeed this month.
The Grizzlies are fortunate to have only five games this month on the road. That's considering that they're 4-7 on the road and having lost all six road games against teams with winning records. Their February schedule starts with three road games in four days. They'll face the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics to start the month.
On December 28, the Thunder inundated the Grizzlies by making 10 three-point shots en route to a 98-95 win. Kevin Durant hit two free throws with four seconds left to seal the deal.
Hopefully, the Grizzlies can capitalize on the Celtics' weaknesses. The Celtics lost four in a row earlier in January, but have won six of seven to reach a winning record. Boston is 25th in the NBA in scoring average (90.3 points per game) Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are still performing at a high level, but Kevin Garnett is a shell of his old self.
After playing the Celtics, the Grizzlies have only two more road games the rest of February. They'll play the Nets on February 15, and then the Houston Rockets on February 20. On December 30, the Grizzlies won their first meeting with the Rockets 113-93, with Zach Randolph scoring 23 points and pulling down nine rebounds.
Coming out with two wins in the three-game road trip this week would be good. The Grizzlies should come out with at least three road wins this month. That would mean pulling off one or two wins against teams with winning records. To escape February without a win against a winning team would put a damper on their ability to compete for the playoffs.
The Grizzlies will surely benefit from playing most of their games at home this month. The Grizzlies are 7-3 at home this season. Marc Gasol, in particular, will benefit among all Grizzlies players. On his career, Gasol shoots five percent better at home than on the road. This season, Gasol has shot 6.9 percent better at home than on the road.
The Grizzlies score in bunches (102.1 points per game) and dominate the boards (5.5 rebounds per game advantage) at home. They hold opponents to 93 points per game at home.
The Grizzlies have nine games in 11 at home this month. The Grizzlies will face a bit of a challenge as seven of those nine home games will be against teams with winning records.
The Grizzlies will need to continue to be strong at home to stay above water. They'll need to show the kind of effort displayed on Tuesday when they came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win in overtime, not the lack of effort seen on Monday in the loss to the San Antonio Spurs, which Lionel Hollins described as "lollygagging on the court."
Neither game saw the Grizzlies shooting well. They shot worse than 40 percent in both games.
Whether the Grizzlies are competitive in the second half entering the second half of the season depends on whether they succeed at home. Good shooting at home, as well as characteristically tough defense, will be essential to carrying them through the month.
Image courtesy of USA Today
Marreese Spieghts had been doing well to start his tenure in Memphis. He averaged 9.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his first eight games in the Grizzlies rotation. In that time, Speights scored in double figures five times and had two double-doubles. He shot 44.7 percent from the field, not pretty for a big man, but better than his recent clip.
SInce then, Spieghts has been ineffective. He's averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the last six games, while shooting 36.1 percent from the field. He's scored in double figures only once in the last six games and hasn't grabbed seven or more rebounds in a game since January 21.
The Grizzlies need Speights to be the big man who can pick up the scoring when Marc Gasol is off. Some games, like last Tuesday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers when Gasol went 2-of-7 and Speights went 1-of-6, Speights doesn't respond to the call. He must be able to step up when the time calls for him.
Rudy Gay had a great month of January. After struggling in the debacle against the Chicago Bullson January 1, Gay averaged 19 points per game and shot 47.1 percent from the field. Gay shot 41 percent from three-point range in January, including 50 percent in the last 12 games. Also, he picked up 1.7 steals per game that month.
Gay has come on as the key part of the Grizzlies offense. Lionel Hollins praised Gay in how he's helped the Grizzlies turn things around without Zach Randolph. Hollins told Yahoo! Sports, "When Zach went out, [Gay] knew he had to be the leader and make these guys better."
Gay needs to continue to lead the Grizzlies through a month that, while forgiving in the fact that they play most of their games at home, is challenging as they face winning teams in most games. Gay may be able to work the transition game in some games. However, against the Celtics and Spurs, two old, yet tough defensive teams, that might not work.
He'll have to get creative to find scoring opportunities. Sometimes he'll have to simply outlast opposing players the way he did against Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls on January 16.
Further, he'll have to continue to show the kind of leadership he has showed thus far. He'll have to play steadily on offense, avoiding turnovers and stretching opposing defenses. Gay needs to play like a motivating force for the Grizzlies against tough opponents to help spark the fire in tough games coming up.
The Grizzlies might be succeeding without Zach Randolph, but Randolph is still missed. The Grizzlies play a style without Randolph that tends towards more turnovers. Also, as mentioned earlier, Marreese Speights hasn't always picked up the slack when Marc Gasol isn't hitting his shots.
Randolph was originally projected to miss six to eight weeks. His MRI on January 16 was promising, showing that he wouldn't need surgery, according to The Commercial Appeal. He was scheduled to have another MRI on Tuesday, but has yet to do it since he's been sick recently, as Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer tweeted.
Hopefully, Randolph's upcoming MRI shows promise. Lionel Hollins doesn't feel optimistic about Randolph. In the Yahoo! Sports column mentioned in the previous slide, Hollins said he doesn't think Randolph will return this season.
That could be a significant blow to the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies might not be able to run their free-wheeling offense this effectively down the stretch. Teams might adapt to the Grizzlies and limit their opportunities to spread the floor. Also, Grizzlies players, as young as they may be, could tire since they're playing a style of offense they didn't prepare to play before the season.
Having Randolph back after the All-Star break for the February 29 game against the Dallas Mavericks would be great. Getting him back at that time would mean getting him practicing with the team when the team is preparing for the latter part of the season. The Grizzlies would be stronger and smoother with him.
Moreover, a timely return by Randolph would make a successful February even happier.