5 Areas the Memphis Grizzlies Must Improve for the NBA Playoffs

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIApril 7, 2014

5 Areas the Memphis Grizzlies Must Improve for the NBA Playoffs

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    Ann Heisenfelt

    The Memphis Grizzlies have hit some bumps during their run to a playoff berth. Some of these issues will figure highly in determining the success of a Grizzlies playoff fight.

    The most critical issues are their road performances and their defense.

    They've struggled recently on the road, including dropping most of the games in a crucial western trip. Winning away from home is essential for a low seed's playoff triumph.

    Memphis' trademark has been grinding defense, but recently it hasn't been silencing foes as expected. The San Antonio Spurs drained shots with ease on Sunday in a blowout, and overall the recent road swing saw the Grizz get roughed up defensively.

    If Memphis finds itself pitted against the Spurs, they'll need to hit three-pointers to hang around.

    Follow along to see all of the areas that need retooling ahead of the playoffs.

    Statistics are current through April 6 games. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from Basketball-Reference.com.

Firm Up Defense

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    With Marc Gasol in good condition, the Grizzlies' defense is capable of performing normally. Since Gasol came back, they're among the best in the league defensively at 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions.

    At times, the defense has struggled to stop opponents. In the last four games of the recent western road trip, Memphis allowed 112.4 points per 100 possessions and a 55 percent effective field-goal percentage.

    "There were times when we were ahead of a guy and they just ran past us," head coach Dave Joerger told The Commercial Appeal (subscription required) after the 102-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    The Grizzlies struggled to close out the win against the Denver Nuggets on Friday. In the last 4:15, Denver scored 15 points. 

    On Sunday, Memphis gave up 112 points on 55.8 percent shooting to the San Antonio Spurs.

    Since Jan. 14, sketchy defensive efforts have only been periodic, whereas it was common in the earlier part of the season. In that time, the Grizz have allowed 106 or more points per 100 possessions in 15 of 41 games, compared with 22 in the first 36 games.

    A large part of a Grizzlies playoff run would be tough defense which remains consistent from game to game. Keeping it tight in the last few regular-season games should prepare them to achieve such stability in the postseason.

Hit Three-Pointers

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The Grizzlies have not improved much beyond the three-point line over the course of the season. They're shooting 0.7 percent better than last year at 35.2 percent while rising four places to 20th in the league.

    Memphis may finish above the bottom third in three-point percentage, but Joerger's crew takes the fewest threes in the league, with only three players shooting better than 36 percent from downtown.

    Even their talented three-point shooters have struggled. Mike Conley has made 31.9 percent over the last 11 games. Courtney Lee knocked down his first three threes of April after shooting 29.4 percent the prior two months.

    No matter whether the Grizzlies play the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers, they'll face a team in the first round that possesses a wider array of capable long-range shooters. Memphis' outside shooters must improve their aim so that they can keep pace with opposing shooters.

Connect at the Free-Throw Line

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The Grizz went from being a top-10 free-throw shooting team last year to one of the worst this year. They're 23rd at 74.4 percent. Only four men in the three shades of blue are making 80 percent at the line.

    Memphis has connected on 75 percent of free throws in two of five months this season.

    Marc Gasol is regressing, perhaps since his knee isn't fully healed. He's at 78.3 percent, down 6.5 percent from last year. Since returning from his injury, Gasol has made 74.4 percent.

    Among the many flaws in his game this year, Tayshaun Prince is shooting 55.2 percent from the charity stripe, 20.5 percent off his career mark.

    Memphis rebounded from four straight games of 67 percent or worse from the line by hitting 89.5 percent of a season-high 38 free-throw attempts on Friday against the Nuggets.

    If the Grizzlies are to benefit from their physical, low-scoring brand of ball, they must draw fouls and hit a higher clip at the line.

Regain the Road Swagger

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The Grizzlies have been one of the best road teams this season but are sliding in recent trips. They hold the seventh-best road record but have lost six of their last nine games away from the FedEx Forum.

    Facing the road rigors that come with a low playoff seed, the Grizz need to perform better in their last few road games to prepare for playoff trips.

    They won just two of five games in a recent western swing. In each of those losses, Memphis allowed 100 or more points. For the trip, the Grizzlies shot 45.7 percent from the field, 4.4 percent worse than opponents.

    This season, the Grizzlies are allowing 2.4 fewer points per game on the road than at home.

    The Grizzlies' road success can be a weapon in the playoffs if they rediscover their ability to grind down opponents on their home court.

Control the Pace

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    The Grizzlies have an offensive tempo that fits a postseason run well. Mike Conley runs the league's slowest offense at 89 possessions per 48 minutes, which matches the tendency for slower half-court offense in the playoffs.

    The grinding squad struggled to maintain its slow pace in a few recent games. On March 30, the Portland Trail Blazers ran away from Conley and Company while registering a 90.8 pace. The Minnesota Timberwolves routed the Grizzlies on Wednesday while pushing a 91.5 pace.

    On Friday, Memphis staved off the Nuggets despite running at a 95.4 pace.

    In an ESPN.com TrueHoop article, Chris Herrington stated that "going 1-3 against teams ranked among the league's 10 fastest-paced highlights concerns about how well Joerger, in his first season as an NBA head coach, has deployed the team's improved depth and athleticism."

    All of the Grizzlies' possible first-round opponents are in the top 10 in pace. Ensuring that they don't let the pace get out of hand would help the Grizz stay with whoever they face. Keeping affairs slow may indicate whether Memphis can extend a postseason run.