The Memphis Grizzlies have slipped lately, dropping six of 12 games after winning 12 of the first 14. Four of those losses have come against Western Conference teams. This is not a good point for this small-market team as it tries to raise its status in the crowded West.
Before long, the Grizzlies will need to regain their edge against conference foes. The formula isn't complicated. In large part, the "grit 'n' grind" must get down to the fundamentals on defense. Forcing turnovers, the core element of the team's defense, is a must.
At the same time, the Grizz need to play efficient offense. Committing 15 or more turnovers, as they've done in 10 of the last 12 games, is unacceptable.
Follow along to see what the Grizzlies need to do against every Western Conference opponent to take them down. These teams will come into tight focus soon, as the Grizzlies play nine straight games against Western Conference teams from Jan. 2 to 18.
Statistics are current through Dec. 26 games.
The essence to beating the Dallas Mavericks is taking away perimeter shots. Two of the top three Dallas scorers, O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter, rely on the perimeter game.
Mayo is highly proficient from the outside. He knocks down 47 percent from three-point range.
Carter relies heavily on three-point shooting. He takes 5.1 of his 10.1 shots per game from behind the arc.
Forcing Mayo to turn it over will not be too hard. He averages three turnovers per game.
As for Carter, they will have to pressure him into giving up the ball or staying within 23 feet.
This will not be a difficult exercise for Mike Conley and Tony Allen. They kept Mayo to 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting on Dec. 21.
The Grizzlies need to attain the advantage inside to beat the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have capable big men in Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. All three can bang it inside. Faried and Koufos can be fairly effective defensively.
One occasion when Koufos and Faried stood tall defensively was Dec. 14 against the Grizzlies. They held Marc Gasol to shooting just 2-of-10 from the field en route to 10 points. Zach Randolph shot 5-of-12 on his way to 10 points.
Faried and Koufos both allowed 96 points per 100 possessions that game. Koufos blocked four shots. Also, McGee allowed 94 points per 100 possessions.
Rob Mahoney commented on SI.com, "Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos did a marvelous job of marginalizing the Grizzlies' normally potent post play."
In this post-Monta Ellis era, much of the Golden State Warriors offense comes from the perimeter. Stephen Curry leads the way with 20.3 points per game while taking 6.8 of his 16.5 shots per game from long range. He hits 43.9 percent of his threes.
Klay Thompson shoots 37.6 percent from three-point range and takes almost half of his shots from beyond the arc.
The Grizzlies will have to lock down on Curry and Thompson to take away outside shots.
Also, they’ll have to force Curry to turn it over. The Davidson product hasn’t been very efficient this season. He has turned it over three times per game and has a modest assist-to-turnover rate of 2.14.
The Warriors’ game starts from the outside. By keeping it off balance, the Grizz will keep the entire team off its game.
Since much of the action in the Houston Rockets offense comes from the two guys at the top, the Grizzlies need to key in on James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
First, Tony Allen needs to cut off passing lanes leading to Harden. That will take away some of the shot opportunities for the former Oklahoma City Thunder matchstick. When Harden has the ball, Allen needs to step the pressure up.
Mike Conley needs to get inside Lin’s head. If he puts pressure on the affable point man, turnovers will come and Lin will struggle to get shots off. Also, Lin will be rendered incapable of funneling the ball to players who don’t create their own shots, like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson.
With the two starting guards shut down, the Grizz will be at ease building a substantial lead against the No. 28 team in scoring defense.
Forcing Paul to commit turnovers is the first order. He is an extraordinarily efficient point man, holding a 4.43 assist-to-turnover ratio and giving up the ball on just 13.7 percent of possessions.
The Grizzlies have had some success getting Paul to cough it up. They pushed him into 3.6 turnovers per game in the first-round playoff series last season.
Also, Mike Conley and Tony Allen need to force Paul into bad shots. CP3 is a very effective shooter, knocking down 47.9 percent from the field. He has shot worse than 40 percent just four times, and the Clippers have lost two of those games.
Keeping Paul contained will enable Memphis to assert itself against this aggressive scoring team.
Under the guidance of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash, the Los Angeles Lakers have been an unwieldy high-scoring team.
The first order of business against this Lake Show is disrupting Nash. Nash is prone to committing turnovers. Nash has a 21 percent turnover rate through five games this season and coughed it up on 27.1 percent of possessions last year.
Mike Conley, who is one of the most effective defenders at swiping the ball away, can easily take Nash out of his element.
If he does, the Lakers will be riding off the tracks.
In order to stay on top of this high-flying circus, the Grizzlies need to attack underneath. Dwight Howard has been human defending the basket this season. Rudy Gay needs to drive the baseline for a few jams to exploit the holes that Howard leaves open.
Howard and Pau Gasol have generally lacked enthusiasm on defense. Gasol is allowing 106 points per 100 possessions, his worst figure since 2007-08. Howard is allowing a disappointing 101 points per 100 possessions.
Zach Randolph can easily impose his will on Pau. Marc Gasol is capable of working his way around Howard.
The key to beating the Minnesota Timberwolves is a glassy one. Truly, if the Grizz are to defeat the T’Wolves, they must beat them on the boards. Minnesota is No. 1 in defensive rebounding percentage (76 percent) and No. 3 in offensive rebounding percentage (31.3 percent).
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph need to neutralize Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic on the glass. Love and Pekovic combine for 22 rebounds per game, with Love pulling down 13.8 per game and Pekovic 8.2 per game.
Randolph must beat Love on the inside on the Grizzlies’ end. Love averages a startling 10.3 defensive rebounds per game. The most important thing is for Randolph to gain better positioning for rebounds. Both he and Love rely on positioning.
With a positioning advantage, Randolph can easily go for the board and keep the ball in the hands of the three shades of blue.
For Gasol, it will be a battle of strength. He’ll have to fight the supremely physical Pekovic to keep him from asserting himself. Pekovic, who averages 3.6 offensive boards per game, mainly needs to be stopped on the Minnesota end.
Gasol needs to keep him occupied and avoid trying to block shots unnecessarily if he is risking leaving Pekovic on his own underneath.
Minnesota’s second unit is fortified by two effective rebounders, Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams. Cunningham, the former Grizzly, averages five rebounds per game and Williams grabs 4.4 per game. Marreese Speights needs to use his strength to offset his old teammate’s length.
The New Orleans Hornets have struggled to overcome their inexperience this season. Greivis Vasquez has sputtered in his first full season running the point. He’s shooting 42 percent from the field and while he’s putting up 8.6 assists per game, he’s committing a disgusting 3.4 turnovers per game.
Austin Rivers was cause for much excitement after being drafted No. 9 overall, but he is averaging just 7.7 points per game on a mere 34.9 percent shooting.
The Grizzlies have no problem shutting down this anemic offensive squad. They held New Orleans to 89 points in the first meeting on Dec. 7.
Beating the Thunder comes down to being the more efficient team. The Grizzlies need to repeat their Nov. 15 performance when they achieved a decisive lead by halftime by committing just two turnovers in the first half.
By ensuring that the Grizzlies controlled the ball well, Mike Conley assured that they had the game under control.
Conley has not always been clean handling the ball. He averages 2.9 turnovers per game. He’ll have to stay under control in order to keep Oklahoma City from taking advantage and scoring off turnovers.
Besides, any weakness shown by the Grizzlies on offense only empowers sky blue scorers like Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook.
Meanwhile, Conley and Tony Allen need to cut off action up top and force turnovers. Durant is nearly impossible to contain. Thus, they will need to focus on Martin and Westbrook. Martin is particularly manageable.
The Phoenix Suns are not a difficult team to beat, but the Grizzlies have strangely had problems with them, even in the post-Steve Nash era. Memphis is 18-47 all-time against Phoenix.
To beat the Suns, the Grizz simply need to play efficiently. Memphis only put up 98 points per 100 possessions in an 82-80 loss to the Suns. This gave Phoenix (a No. 26-ranked team in defensive rating) too much credit in their ability to stop scorers.
Key Grizzlies ball-handlers need to hang on to the ball. Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless each turned it over four times.
If they hang on to the ball and keep the scoring going smoothly, the Grizzlies can handle the Suns easily.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a highly capable starting unit, with four players averaging 15 points or more per game.
To stop this potent group, the first objective is shutting down LaMarcus Aldridge. Even though Zach Randolph is having his best defensive season ever, he will have to step back and let Marc Gasol defend Aldridge. At 7’0”, Gasol matches up much better against the 6’11” Aldgridge in terms of size.
Opponents have stifled Aldridge by forcing him to take bad shots. He’s shooting a decent, albeit subpar 49.5 percent in Portland’s wins and just 42.7 percent in the team’s losses. He has taken an outsized number of jumpers, on which he is 40.2 percent shooting.
If Gasol can force Aldridge to drop back for tougher jumpers, he’ll silence him.
To take out the backcourt threats, the Grizz need to force Damian Lillard and Nic Batum to turn it over. The rookie Lilliard is coughing it up three times per game, leaving him as a guy to attack. Batum is also struggling to keep his mitts on the ball, turning it over 2.8 times per game.
Simply by asserting their defensive toughness, the Grizzlies can put away the Trail Blazers.
The Sacramento Kings do only one thing well—run and gun.
The Grizzlies simply need to slow the Kings down and force turnovers to take them down. If Marc Gasol can simply frustrate DeMarcus Cousins a little, he will be able to take the 22-year-old out of his element. Forcing Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas to turn it over will slow the Kings offense greatly.
Hitting the Sacramento defense hard will help. The Kings are No. 28 in defensive rating (109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and No. 21 in field-goal percentage allowed. With the number of turnovers forced, the Grizz will fly in transition.
The Grizzlies have just what it takes to stop the Spurs—a voracious appetitie for steals. The Spurs are No. 21 in turnover rate at 14.4 percent. Manu Ginobili averages 3.1 turnovers per 36 minutes. Boris Diaw coughs it up on 21.8 percent of possessions. Tiago Splitter averages four turnovers per 36 minutes.
This is an opportunity for the No. 2 team in opponent’s turnover rate.
But the Grizz, which stand No. 19 in turnover rate, also need to keep their turnover figures down.
In the Dec. 1 meeting, Memphis forced San Antonio to turn it over 16 times, but lost the turnover battle by three. The Grizzlies turned it over six times in overtime, compared to just two for the Spurs.
Maintaining the upper hand is key against a Spurs team that excels on both offense and defense.
Beating the Utah Jazz is all about winning the inside battle. The Jazz find their foundation in the frontcourt with big men like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors.
Marc Gasol will need to leverage his strength to beat Jefferson on the boards. Also, Gasol will need to keep his hands in Jefferson’s face to reduce the veteran’s threat on the perimeter.
Randolph needs to work with the perimeter players to stop Millsap from draining shots from the outside. Also, he can take Favors and Enes Kanter out of the game if he can simply draw fouls from them.
Backcourt players Gordon Hayward and Mo Williams are not threats on their own. Thus, simply by beating the big men, the Grizz can take down the Jazz.