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The thing most likely to derail the Memphis Grizzlies this season may be buying into their own hype. They started this season playing so well that it would be hard for any outcome, save for winning 70 games, to be a shock.
But their recent slowdown makes you question whether or not they believed the whole year would be as easy as the first month seemed. They seem to have thus eased off from the relentless interior attack that makes them such a difficult matchup.
The first bit of evidence is the Grizzlies' shot selection.
Despite going 6-4 in December, more of their shot attempts have come from outside of five feet compared to November, according to NBA.com, as the team increasingly settles for long twos. Perhaps even more detrimental to the offense is that a larger percentage of the team's made field goals have been unassisted, which is indicative of more isolation plays.
As a result, the team's shooting has plummeted. After shooting 45.0 percent and winning 12 of 13 games in November, the team-wide accuracy has fallen to just 42.6 percent this month. Much of this has been due to its errant long-range shooting, which has fallen from a sniper-like 39.3 percent to 34.9 percent in December.
Mike Conley and Rudy Gay have been the main culprits.
They have shot 36.5 percent and 40.8 percent from the field, respectively, on 10.7 and 16.9 shots per game in December. Gay's 22.6 percent shooting from behind the arc has been especially atrocious this month. Worst of all is that it is coming on 3.4 three-point attempts per night, compared to just 3.3 free-throw attempts a game.
This is representative of a recent team-wide indifference to getting to the line.
Gay is down from 4.4 free-throw attempts per game in November to that 3.4 number in December. Zach Randolph's attempts have fallen from 4.4 to 3.8. Marc Gasol has been the worst offender of all, dropping from 5.7 to 3.3.
In all, the Grizzlies have gone from shooting 23.9 free throws per game to just 19.2.
Put all these numbers together, and this is a team that is much less discerning about how it plays offense than it was at the start of the season. It is a team that is going through the motions more than asserting its physical will on the opponent.
And that's just not going to do.
The Grizzlies must get back to attacking the paint and using their physicality to their advantage if they want to be the rare starless team that makes the NBA Finals.