Posts Tagged ‘Ed Davis’

No mystery Z-Bo’s heart’s in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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Zach Randolph, who turns 33 July 16, averaged 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – There’s more to Memphis than dry-rub ribs. For 260-pound Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, there’s stability, familiarity and comfortability.

All of which runs counter to the chaos and upheaval within the franchise that started a year ago when the first-year front office team swept out coach Lionel Hollins following a Western Conference finals appearance in favor of his younger assistant Dave Joerger. Just last month, Joerger nearly walked to Minnesota after Grizzlies owner Robert Pera dismissed the front office team that had promoted him.

The re-insertion, at least temporarily, of general manager Chris Wallace, the man who traded for Randolph in 2009 and awarded him with a whopping extension, has again bolstered Randolph’s stock within the franchise. If it’s signing either an extension before free agency starts or negotiating a new, long-term contract (if Randolph opts out of his final year at $16.9 million by June 30), Z-Bo keeps making known his commitment to the Grizzlies.

And Memphis is eager to return the favor — Randolph’s five-year run has coincided with the franchise’s best-ever five-year period — by bringing him back on a multiyear deal. This mutual admiration society is a feel-good story, particularly in today’s NBA where players covet their freedom to choose.

“It’s going forward,” Grizzlies interim general manager Chris Wallace told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last week of an extension for Randolph. “We’re very excited about what Zach’s done in the past and hope to have him here in the future. This has really been a terrific boon for both sides. He’s obviously meant a great deal to us on and off the court. And Memphis has worked for him. This has been, by far, the best stop for him since he’s been in the NBA. So we’re working towards that goal.”

But it can also be risky business.

Z-Bo, who fans identify, along with Tony Allen, as the backbone of these modern-day, blue-collar Grizzlies, turns 33 on July 16, and locking big money into a player on the backside of his career can become counterproductive. His value could drop off precipitously in a couple years, and the committed dollars can handcuff a front office’s ability to spend during the offseason on needed roster reinforcements.

For instance, the Grizzlies, unlikely to ever spend into the luxury tax, are in dire need of perimeter shooters. Randolph’s decision to either sign an extension, which would kick in after the coming season and keep his 2014-15 salary at $16.9 million, or to opt out and agree to a lower annual dollar (debatably $10-$12 million) figure over a longer period beginning this season, will play a significant role in Memphis’ free-agent spending ability.

A year ago after losing to the Spurs in the West finals, Randolph was moved to tears when talking about his love for the team and the city. At the time, he was uncertain if the franchise might prefer to try to move the more than $30 million he had remaining on the final two years of his deal.

With point guard Mike Conley creeping ever closer to All-Star status with each season, and center Marc Gasol entering the final year of his contract, the Grizzlies, by committing to Randolph, are committing to their grit-n-grind identity, and to their slow-down, double-post offense while refusing to give into the rest of the speed-infused, drive-and-kick West.

Joerger tried to pick up the pace at the start of last season, but it was quickly dumped after it was determined by the players that they were built to play a certain way.

Randolph completed a fine season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and a career-best 2.5 assists, up from 1.4 the previous season, although his defense and offensive rebounding continued to trend downward. During the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City, Randolph’s 18.3, 8.7 and 2.3 averages helped push the Thunder to a seventh game. Only he wouldn’t play in it, suspended for throwing a punch to the neck of OKC rookie center Steven Adams in Game 6, and Memphis couldn’t recover.

“I think he’s had one of the better [seasons] of his career,” Conley told NBA.com in March. “He’s not just doing his thing with double-doubles and all the things he’s accustomed to doing, but he’s sacrificed a lot for other players, he’s been unselfish. He’s making plays for other people, doing things he’s grown into and realizes that if he does the little things we’re going to be that much better of a team.”

Randolph, headed for his 14th season and became a two-time All-Star in Memphis, has been traded three times. Now that he finally has the power to explore other opportunities, he expresses his desire to only play in the small market on the banks of the Mississippi.

Whether Randolph’s new deal will ultimately be as mutually beneficial as the last one is a question that will have to wait for the answer.

Grizzlies showing their playoff teeth

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies storm back in Salt Lake City to topple the Jazz

This is the way you always expect Grizzlies to look. Big and scary with sharp teeth and claws.

Dangerous, too.

Pity the poor team in the upper half of the contentious Western Conference bracket that wakes up on the eve of the playoffs to find Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph lumbering hungrily into their campsite.

At just the right time, in just the right way, the Memphis blues have given way to a more ominous sound. Think more of Darth Vader‘s “Imperial March”.

That should frighten everyone from San Antonio to Oklahoma City to Los Angeles to Houston.

“Oh, you really don’t want to run into Memphis in the first round of the playoffs,” said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. “Not with the style they play that is so different from most other teams these days, grinding it out and beating you up. Not with Randolph and Gasol on their games. They’re a bear.”

OK, pun appreciated.

It was, of course, no joke when the Grizzlies opened the season looking like they were in competition with the Lakers in a nose-dive competition to the bottom. Not with Gasol and eventually Tony Allen hobbled. Not when everyone in the locker room and on the court was trying to get adjusted to the coaching change and the style tweaks from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger. There were rumors that Randolph was on the trading block.

Back then, the Grizzlies dug themselves a hole in the standings as deep as the No. 12 spot, yet now are at No. 7 and quite possibly climbing higher. They are just one game behind No. 6 Golden State and 1 1/2 games behind No. 5 Portland.

After last night’s 91-87 win at Utah, the Grizzlies have the best record (28-9) in the NBA since Jan. 10 and are positioning themselves maybe even make a return trip to the West finals.

Salt Lake City was the first stop on a critical five-game road trip that will also go through Golden State, Portland, Denver and Minnesota and go a long way toward determining where the Grizzlies wind up in the playoff chase.

“It’s the biggest trip of the year,” point guard Mike Conley told Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “It’s going to test us a lot mentally and physically. We don’t overlook anybody. We just have to play our basketball and worry about making the plays we make, and not adjusting to what other teams do. We’re going to be ready for battle.”

Playing the Grizzlies of recent vintage has always been like a fight, with the scratch marks, bruises and scars left behind as proof. With Gasol now healthy and back in the middle to offer serious rim protection, the Grizzlies boast the No. 2-rated defense in the league since his return on Jan. 14. With Allen back and scrapping out on the wing, they are Grizzlies who can take a game — and an opponent — in their paws and squeeze the life out of them.

Memphis has won 11 of last 14 games with the only losses coming on the road at Miami, Brooklyn and Toronto. The Grizzlies have been taking care of business at home in the “Grind House,” defeating the teams they’re supposed to and outright devouring the awful ones.

“It shows our focus is at an all-time high,” Conley said. “Playing against good teams over the last few weeks has got our minds in a playoff mode and our sense of urgency back. We’re playing with a higher standard.”

While the return of Gasol has been credited the most for turning the season around and getting them back to their old snarling defensive ways, the Grizzlies are also are somewhat different and better on the offensive end. Memphis still ranks dead last in 3-point shots attempted and made, but the Grizzlies’ success rate from behind the arc (35.6) has crept closer to the middle of the pack (18th). Their overall field goal percentage (46.3) ranks eighth, making offense less of the teeth-gnashing affair it has been. The additions of Mike Miller, Courtney Lee and Jon Leuer have provided much needed outside shooting and given Conley more options to direct the ball. Miller hit three key jumpers, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the comeback at Utah.

And then there is Conley, who continues to get overlooked among a crowded Western Conference crop of point guards when the spots on the All-Star teams are handed out. He’s upped his scoring to a career-best 17.1 points as he continues to hand out an average half dozen assists each game. His PER (20.1) is just outside the top 25 in the league. He’s grown steadily through seven NBA seasons to become a veteran leader of an offense and concentrating less on making steals to play solid team defense at the other end.

Toss in a bench that also has Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos and the Grizzlies have a deeper, more balanced roster than even the team that went on the long playoff run a year ago.

For a season that could have gone over the edge, the Grizzlies have pulled themselves back up to the level of real threat in the playoffs to one of the so-called elite teams at the top.

“This is a crucial stretch of the season,” said Randolph at the start of the trip. “These five games can determine where we end up.”

And which team in the West gets a big and unexpected headache in the first round.


VIDEO: Inside Stuff’s crew talks about the Grizzlies’ comeback in the standings

Gasol, Lee Put Grizzlies Back In Race


VIDEO: Grizzlies sweep back-to-back games over Rockets

In a pair of back-to-back games over the weekend, Dwight Howard got the message. With a couple of pushes, some shoves, an elbow or two in the small of his back, even a try at a wrestling takedown.

Marc Gasol is back. And so, it seems, are the Grizzlies as a factor in the Western Conference playoff race.

While there is still plenty of ground for Gasol to cover to get back to form after missing 1 1/2 months and 23 games with a sprained MCL, things are finally getting into shape in Memphis.

With consecutive wins over Howard and the Rockets, the Grizzlies are now just two games out of the No. 8 spot in the playoff race as they start a quick three-game road trip tonight in Portland (10 ET, League Pass) and continues through Sacramento and Minnesota.

Since the start of 2014, the Grizzlies have won nine of 12 games, are 5-1 since Gasol returned to the lineup on Jan. 14 and 7-2 since they acquired Courtney Lee from Boston.

Gasol, of course, gives the Grizzlies back their physicality and ruggedness on the interior by teaming with Zach Randolph. He and Z-Bo are able to protect the rim as effectively as any tandem of bigs in the league and score in the low post. In addition, Gasol’s role of traffic cop and his passing ability opens things up on the perimeter.

That’s an area where Lee has helped. Though Memphis still ranks at the bottom of the league in 3-pointers taken and made, shooting guard Lee has provided another option on the wing and has been effective.

“I’ve been super comfortable from day one,” he said. “When I came in the coaches told me to play my game and shots have been falling. Everybody that’s playing is on the same page of playing the right way.”

Lee is shooting 55.6 from the field since joining the Grizzlies and sunk his teeth in on defense. In the back-to-back set against the Rockets, he kept James Harden in check.

“Courtney’s been a big addition for us,” said point guard Mike Conley. “He adds some scoring, he adds some defense, athleticism. He has a high basketball IQ and he’s been able to pick up things fairly quickly. I think that’s what’s helped us these last couple of weeks.

“Courtney was a huge, huge piece. People overlook him. But it’s key that he’s able to stretch the court for us. With me, him, Mike Miller out there, it gives Zach and Marc more space. Having a lot of guys that could space the court, we didn’t have that going on before. And he can definitely lock up defensively.”

Even through their struggles this season, the Grizzlies have been able to make the most of road trips. Before Gasol injured his knee, they swept a four-game November swing against the Lakers, Kings, Clippers and Warriors. Then with Gasol out, they began turning things around at the start of the new year by taking two out of three at Phoenix, Denver and Detroit.

That’s when Ed Davis and James Johnson became part of the rotation and significant contributors with Gasol, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter sidelined by injury. Pondexter (broken bone in foot) is lost for the season and Allen (ligament damage hand) is getting closer to returning.

The question for coach Dave Joerger is what he’ll do with the starting lineup when Allen is ready. There is no question that the Grizzlies would like to have his grinding defense back, but Lee has been a big addition. The solution might be to let Allen come off the bench until he’s fully back in game shape, then slide him into the 3-spot to replace Tayshaun Prince, keeping Lee’s offense on the floor.

“Our confidence is high,” Lee said. “We feel good about what’s going on and how we’re playing. It seems like time will only make us better.”

Currently sitting at 22-20, the task that might have looked a bit daunting a month ago now seems within reach. To reach the 45-win level it took to grab the No. 8 seed in the West a year ago, Memphis would have to finish up 23-17 and neither the No. 7 seed Suns or No. 8 Mavericks seem capable of putting up an insurmountable roadblock. So if a healthy bunch of Grizzlies can claw in at the bottom, it could mean somebody in the upper half of the contentious playoff bracket is in for a bruising first-round fight against a team that advanced to the conference finals last season.

“It definitely is there for us to take advantage,” Conley said. “We still have a lot of the season left. We understood once Marc got hurt, if we could just keep this thing afloat, keep us close and somewhat in the picture, then we he got back we would be able to make a run. Now we’re in position. We have a long way to go, but I’d say we’re happy now with where we’re at.”

Another Look: The 2010 Draft Do-Over!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Once you’ve acknowledged the NBA Draft for the inexact science that it has been, is and forever will be, it makes looking back at past Drafts much easier.

You won’t be nearly as upset with the president or general manager of your favorite team when you glance back at a Draft and recognize just how many more misses there are than hits. Many guys pegged as future stars are barely holding on to starting spots just three or four seasons into their careers.

The hit-or-miss rate in the lottery is pretty staggering from year to year, especially when you consider the amount of financial and human resources teams spend on their Draft preparation. For every LeBron James or Derrick Rose as No. 1 overall picks and future MVPs, there is a Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani to balance the scales — guys who for whatever reason simply are not able to live up to where they were drafted. And it goes on and on like that down each Draft board.

Most players only get two or three seasons to prove they are going to be a player to be reckoned with. Rookie deals are shorter these days, so the only way to curb the uncertainty is for a player to produce immediately. Three seasons of work is a quality sample in most cases.

Take the 2010 Draft class as Exhibit A. As of this morning, only two members of the class have extensions of their rookie deals: Washington’s John Wall and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders are set. Indiana All-Star Paul George is a sure bet to get something worked out before the Halloween deadline and the Sacramento Kings would be wise to figure out their future with DeMarcus Cousins. But beyond those names, it’s unclear if anyone else in this class will be smiling when trick-or-treat season rolls around.

In the meantime, we’re going to examine the lottery selections from 2010 and unveil our the first in a series of our Hang Time Draft Do-Overs (lottery picks only), based on what we know now. Too bad the teams who made the original selections couldn’t do it this way.

Hang Time’s 2010 Draft Do-Over

Pick, Player, Position, College (where they were originally picked in 2010 Draft)

1. Paul George, SF, Fresno State (No. 10 by Indiana)

One of the brightest young stars in the league, George made his case for the top spot with a mercurial rise in his first three seasons that culminated with an All-Star nod last season and by battling LeBron James inch-for-inch in an epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals last season. It was a remarkable star turn for a player casual fans had barely heard of on Draft night.

2. John Wall, PG, Kentucky (No. 1 by Washington)

Plagued by uncertainty and a somewhat suspect supporting cast early on, Wall came on in the second half of the 2012-13 season. He shook off the after effects of knee surgery and played at an All-Star level in the Wizards’ final 49 games. He was the first member of the class to cash in with a five-year, $80 million extension earlier this month.

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3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky (No. 5 by Sacramento)

Cousins has had more than his share of issues, on and off the court, but his raw talent remains undeniable. Whether or not he has the desire and work ethic to become the All-Star big man his talent suggests, however, also remains in question. Being dominant in flashes is not a sufficient existence for a player with his talent.

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4. Larry Sanders, PF, Virginia Commonwealth (No. 15 by Milwaukee)

Sanders was undervalued on Draft night, but you couldn’t tell by his first two underwhelming seasons with the Bucks. But he came alive last season, turning in a season worthy of the Defensive Player of the Year consideration he received and finally becoming the consistent force his abilities suggested he should be. The Bucks rewarded him with that $44 million extension.

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5. Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown (No. 7 by Detroit)

Monroe isn’t as physically dominant as either Cousins, Sanders or Derrick Favors, but there’s a good chance he could end up being the most polished and productive big man in this class. He quickly developed into a low-post anchor for the Pistons and will now get the chance to work alongside Josh Smith and Andre Drummond as the franchise moves back into the playoff picture.

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6. Avery Bradley, SG, Texas (No. 19 by Boston)

Undersized as a shooting guard at the NBA level, Bradley saw his stock dip on Draft night. It was a foolish assessment by many, because Bradley has evolved into one an absolute lock-down defender at his position and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve under coach Brad Stevens the way he did under coach Doc Rivers.

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7.  Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech (No. 3 by New Jersey)

Favors had to play behind veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap after being traded to Utah. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, too. Now that those veteran bigs have moved on via free agency, Favors will become the low-post anchor for the Jazz. He’ll become the walking double-double he should be now that he’ll have an expanded role.

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8. Gordon Hayward, SG, Butler (No. 9 by Utah)

Hayward has improved as much as anyone in the class between Draft night and this summer. He stood out among the young stars assembled in Las Vegas last month for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s mini-camp. A young Jazz team in need of leadership will get a solid boost in that department, and others, from Hayward.

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9. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky (No. 18 by Oklahoma City)

John Calipari was operating with an absolute embarrassment of point guard riches with Wall and Bledsoe on the roster at Kentucky together. Bledsoe had limited opportunities in 38 starts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. Traded to Phoenix this summer, he should thrive now that he won’t be overshadowed by Chris Paul.

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10. Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland (No. 28 by Memphis)

A solid back up in Memphis, Vasquez proved himself to be a capable starter in two years in New Orleans and will try to do the same in Sacramento this season. With his size, savvy and fearlessness in the clutch, it’s hard to see how many teams missed on the former ACC star on Draft night.

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11. Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State (No. 2 by Philadelphia)

Turner has been a solid pro in his first three seasons, but the No. 2 pick in any Draft needs to be much more than solid. The Big Ten Player of the Year in college, Turner struggled to find his fit early on with the Sixers. But he blossomed in his third season playing alongside All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded away this summer.

12. Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina (No. 13 by Toronto) 

It was understood that Davis was going to be a project, a guy with fantastic long-term potential that might not be realized until his fourth or fifth season in the league. So he’s right on target heading into his fourth season, his first full season in Memphis. Davis is still coming into his own physically and just needs more time.

13. Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington (No. 26 by Oklahoma City)

A quality role player from the moment he set foot in the league, Pondexter carved out a nice spot for himself in the Grizzlies’ rotation over the past two seasons. While he’s not necessarily a future star, Pondexter is one of those players who should spend the next decade or so playing a significant role for whatever team(s) he’s on.

14. Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati (No. 40 by Indiana)

Stephenson had a lottery grade coming out of high school but saw his stick drop dramatically after one season at Cincinnati. He’s still wildly inconsistent and was a flat-out liability at times against the Heat during the Eastern Conference finals. But Larry Bird saw something in him on Draft night and continues to believe in his ability to contribute on a championship-caliber Pacers team.

Small Markets Scrap For Success

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When a couple small-market Western Conference teams battled for seven grueling games in the semifinals of the playoffs two years ago, who could have foreseen that they would meet again this postseason — after each was forced to deal with the inescapable repercussions of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Rudy Gay was injured and out of that postseason two years ago. But at only 24 and locked into a lucrative contract, the No. 8 pick of the 2006 NBA Draft was a central figure for the fast-rising Memphis Grizzlies. Yet on Jan. 30, 2013, Gay, the team’s leading scorer, was traded to Toronto.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder were coming off a loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals when, days before this season began, Thunder general manager Sam Presti dealt former No. 3 pick James Harden, just 23 and an integral part of the team’s success, to Houston.

In a postseason marked by a surprising domination of small-market teams — all four teams remaining in the playoffs are in the bottom half of the league in market size — the second-round showdown between the Grizzlies and Thunder (won by the Grizzlies in five games) demonstrated just what many teams have to do to thrive in the era of the still-new CBA.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” said Jason Levien, the first-year CEO of the Grizzlies under a new ownership group led by one of the world’s youngest tech billionaires, Robert Pera. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team, how you build a roster, and you’ve got to keep the cap and the tax in mind.”

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Avoiding the taxes

Cap and tax are at the forefront of the strategy the Oklahoma City management team is using under the ownership of billionaire energy mogul Clay Bennett. Presti, who has managed to re-sign superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus emerging power forward Serge Ibaka, to long-term deals that fit within the team’s cap structure, chose to hold firm to a policy of not commenting on matters related to the CBA.

In Memphis, where the Grizzlies will look to start digging out of a 2-0 hole against the San Antonio Spurs in Saturday’s Game 3 of the West finals (9 p.m., ESPN), Levien has defended the trade of Gay (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and youngsters Ed Davis and Austin Daye) as being made to improve the team.

While that might be true — Memphis won a franchise-best 56 games after a strong start with Gay — the Grizzlies also got out of the $37.2 million owed to Gay over the next two seasons. Memphis will pay Prince, Davis and Daye a combined $26 million over that span ($22 million if Daye is not retained beyond next season). With Zach RandolphMarc Gasol and Mike Conley owed a combined $40.9 million next season, keeping Gay and a payroll under the tax line (this season it was $70.3 million) would have been a near-impossibility. (more…)

Grizz Must Get Hands Dirty On Boards

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LOS ANGELES –
 How poor was the Memphis Grizzlies’ rebounding in Saturday night’s Game 1?

So poor that Lamar Odom’s seven boards in 18 minutes were one more than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to bring down in 66 total minutes.

“Very surprised,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said when asked about the Los Angeles Clippers’ 47-23 overall margin on the boards and 14-4 on the offensive glass. “But I’ve been saying when we played them before, they’ve gotten more boards than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds.”

Hollins then noted after his team’s 112-91 loss the seemingly impossible with what can only be described as stunned exasperation: Randolph managed four rebounds in 25 foul-plagued minutes and Gasol got just two rebounds — one defensive board in the first quarter and another in the third — in 41 minutes.

And just look at those offensive rebounds that Hollins is talking about for the Clippers. Of their 14, the starters had five — center DeAndre Jordan (three), Caron Butler (one) and Blake Griffin (one), who, like Randolph, was taken out of the flow of the game by fouls — some seemingly very ticky-tack both ways — and played less than 26 minutes.

The bench, led by Odom’s three offensive rebounds, accounted for nine, and remarkably equaled Memphis’ overall 23 rebounds. Even little-used Ronny Turiaf, getting nine minutes of in place of Ryan Hollins late in the third and early in the fourth, outrebounded Gasol, 3-2, including an offensive board and a put-back.

Nothing in Saturday’s Game 1 held to form for either club other than the Clippers’ bench playing outstanding basketball. The rebounding aspect went haywire. During the regular saeason, Memphis ranked third in allowing the fewest offensive rebounds per game (10.3), was tied for third in accumulating offensive rebounds (12.9). It was also third in rebounding differential (plus-3.6).

The Clippers are big up front and are a good rebounding team, having finished sixth in differential (plus-2.5). But to have a plus-24 advantage in Game 1 and to be outscored 25-5 on second-chance points, it was all about outhustling the burly Grizzlies.

“We got beat at our game. We got to give them credit,” said Gasol, a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate. “Once we got a stop, they kept running and getting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. The way we played for 36-40 minutes, I think we played good basketball. Even though we weren’t fully feeling like ourselves, they were doing a good job of trying to get us away from what we’re trying to do.”

For Memphis fans who were screaming at Lionel Hollins through their television sets to see more of Ed Davis, who was first off the bench when Randolph got in foul trouble and started fast with six points and three rebounds in the first quarter (he finished with six and six in 12 minutes), the coach made it clear why he Davis saw just five minutes of action after the first quarter.

“We’ve got to stop people, too,” Hollins said. “That sounds good and I know that everyone’s chirping at that (playing Davis more), but there’s a lot more to this game than just one step.”

Like rebounding.

Prince: Grizz’s 2011 Playoff Run Without Gay Aided Transition

DALLAS – Want to know why teammates respect and admire Tayshaun Prince? Traded from the Detroit Pistons, the franchise he loyally clung to through the lean, post-championship years, he’s now just days away from beginning his first postseason since 2009 with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Is he excited to be back in the playoffs?

“I am excited,” Prince said after scoring a dozen points in the Grizzlies’ 103-97 win Monday against the Mavericks. “I’m more excited for Ed Davis, and I’m more excited for Austin Daye. Austin’s been with me for four years now. He was with me in the tough days in Detroit. I’m excited for those guys.”

For the third-year Davis and the fourth-year Daye, it will be their first forays beyond the regular season.

Prince, 33, an integral member of the 2004 champion Pistons, is one of the league’s most unassuming, thoughtful and grounded players. He goes to work and gives all he has to give, then does it again the next day and the next day. His 10-year run in Detroit ended in late January with a three-way trade. Memphis dealt the still quite youthful Rudy Gay to Toronto and Davis landed in Memphis along with the veteran Prince and his Pistons teammate Daye.

“I’m one of the last guys in this league that would let something affect me if somebody said why would they trade for an old, veteran guy and this and that,” said Prince, who acknowledged that the deal did take him by surprise. “I don’t care what people say about me. I have fun with it, I roll with it, it doesn’t bother me. At the end of the day, we’ve got some good pieces.”

From a personality standpoint, the old veteran and his new, rather old-fashioned, grind-it-out team have been a near-perfect match with their blue collars raised proudly.

“I love Tayshaun,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. “I love the way he plays, I love what he brings to the team, I love his leadership and the way he approaches the game of basketball.”

And Grizzlies fans have to be relieved and pleased with what they’ve seen after initial apprehension to Memphis’ new ownership group breaking up the long-held core of Gay, Gasol, Zach RandolphMike Conley and Tony Allen before they could make a playoff run as a fully healthy unit.

Last year, Randolph was gimpy into the playoffs following a knee injury, and reserve forward Darrell Arthur missed the entire season. The Grizzlies blew Games 1 and 7 on their home floor and bowed out to the Clippers in the first round. The year before, Gay missed the playoffs with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Without him, the Grizzlies upset top-seeded San Antonio in the first round and took Oklahoma City to seven games in the second round.

Prince suggested that the 2011 run has actually helped boost this team’s confidence as they’ve meshed since the trade. They’ve reeled off 26 wins in 37 games and at 55-26, the Grizzlies have won the most games in a season in the franchise’s history.

“If you really look at it, that’s what made them the team they are. They found out they can play without him,” Prince said, referring to Gay’s playoff absence. “They found out that, ‘Hey, we can still compete at a high level because of the toughness, the team, the camaraderie.’

“So when they traded for me, I believe they were down when the trade first happened because they played with Rudy for so long and they were familiar with him. But I think after a few games, they were like, ‘You know what, we had a while where we didn’t play with Rudy and things were working out well for us. This may not be a bad idea; hey, this might work.’ At the end of the day, it’s all about competing and having fun. These guys are really tough-minded guys.

“Hopefully we’ll have a good chance at doing something special.”

Q & A With Grizzlies VP John Hollinger

BOSTON – The seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being held Friday and Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

The conference brings together folks from several different sports and continues to grow every year. This year’s panelists and speakers include R.C. Buford, Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Adam Silver, Nate Silver and Stan Van Gundy.

Co-chaired by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Sloan Conference has a huge NBA presence. This year, 29 of the 30 teams (the Los Angeles Lakers being the only exception) were in attendance.

Like the conference, the role of analytics in the NBA continues to grow. And when owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the Grizzlies in the fall, they knew they needed an analytical mind to help them make their basketball decisions.

They turned to ESPN writer John Hollinger, naming him vice president of basketball operations in early December.

Hollinger was thrown right into the fire, as the team looked to restructure it’s payroll and regain some flexibility under the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. In late January, the Grizzlies made two trades involving three other teams and nine total players. At the trade deadline, they made one more minor deal.

Most notably, the Grizzlies traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto, breaking up a starting lineup that had enjoyed a decent amount of success over the last few seasons. They replaced Gay with Tayshaun Prince and also added Ed Davis to a bench that had taken a hit when they traded three players (and a first round pick) to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.

The Grizzlies are 9-4 since the Gay trade and had won eight straight games before falling in Miami on Friday. They continue to be an excellent defensive team, but are still looking for some answers offensively.

NBA.com exchanged e-mails with Hollinger this week to discuss his new job and how the Grizzlies are moving forward…

NBA.com: How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?

John Hollinger: The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose.

NBA.com: How has your team changed with the trades you made?

Hollinger: Well, hopefully we’re better. More seriously, I think we’ve diversified our offense a little, not just in terms of Tayshaun’s versatility, but also with adding guys like Austin and Ed that come off the bench and give you a major boost.

Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.

And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals.

NBA.com: I think we all understand the basic reasoning for the Rudy Gay trade and that you have more flexibility going forward. But can you explain the reasoning behind the Cleveland trade in the context of the trade that followed?

Hollinger: One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the Rudy trade we made, because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4 million and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6 million. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.

Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this.

As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that [Marreese] Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost. I suppose it’s possible he opts out of his deal now that he’s in Cleveland and getting minutes and playing well, but if he had stayed here and been our fifth big I’d say those odds were pretty minimal.

And going forward, if we’d had him on our books it would have been almost impossible to keep Tony Allen and stay under the tax. Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.

While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5 million chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline.

NBA.com: How much interaction have you had with players and coaches about numbers that can make you a better team? Does Tayshaun Prince understand the value of a mid-range shot vs. a three?

Hollinger: This is where coming in partway through a season probably limited what we could accomplish somewhat. We’ve had some discussions about it, but we’ll probably be able to have a lot more impact once we’ve had a full offseason together. And obviously time is a factor here two, just in terms of getting to know each other and develop a trust and rapport.

As for Tayshaun, you’re right that it’s probably not ideal to have just 11 percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, given that he shoots it fairly well from out there. We’ve talked about it some internally and with the coaches, but this is another example of an area where we’d be more likely to have an impact in the offseason.

NBA.com: Where are NBA analytics most valuable? (Coaching strategies, lineup combinations, evaluating your own personnel, opponent personnel, draft, etc.)

Hollinger: I think the greatest value is still in personnel, and especially in the personnel that you don’t see everyday. The whole thing about numbers and analytics is that they summarize all the games you can’t see, which is great because you can’t possibly watch every team play every game.

With the Grizzlies obviously analytics helps too, but because we’re seeing all the games there’s a lot of times where we already know the answers and the data just confirms it — not all the time, but a lot. As you might expect, the analytics are probably most valuable at the NBA level, because there is a lot less to translate than there is when players are jumping from college, Europe or the D-League.

That said, the answer to this question may be in flux, especially as the use of video explodes. I wouldn’t be shocked if in five years the answer to this question is “coaching.” And I’ll also contradict myself by saying that the translation of going from lower levels to the pros, while harder, also potentially offers more advantages for those who can break the code.

Marc Gasol Holds Open Door To St. Jude

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This week, The V Foundation for Cancer Research and ESPN are teaming up with the NBA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the fight against pediatric cancer by raising awareness and funds to support lifesaving work for children.

Continuing through March 4, the NBA family – led by Hoops for St. Jude ambassadors – will engage fans through this unique relationship, designed to advance cancer research and patient care benefitting children and families battling pediatric cancer.  One hundred percent of donations to The V Foundation from this campaign will go directly toward cancer research benefitting St. Jude patients. Together they form a powerful force in pediatric cancer research.

March 4 marks the 20th anniversary of The V Foundation, which was founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary N.C. State basketball coach and ESPN commentator, the late Jim Valvano.  As a cancer patient, Valvano worked to eradicate the disease by championing investment in promising young cancer researchers. To date, The V Foundation has helped carry his dream forward by awarding more than $100-million in cancer research grants.  This new endeavor will allow the organizations to work together to help make the shared vision of a world free of pediatric cancer a reality.

St. Jude treats some of the toughest cases of children battling cancer and no family ever pays St. Jude for anything.

Center Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies has been a strong supporter of St. Jude since his arrival in Memphis in 2008 and this year has become an official St. Jude Ambassador along with NBA players and coaches Pau Gasol, David Lee, Kevin Love, Lionel Hollins, and George Karl.

After a recent visit to St. Jude, Marc Gasol shared his thoughts on the program:

Question: What made you want to get involved and become a St. Jude Ambassador?

Answer: That’s easy. The kids. To be able to walk through those doors, be able to spend time with them and play with them is one of the best parts of my life. I think I’m very lucky to live here in Memphis where I can get to St. Jude often. It’s a place where you maybe think at first that you’re going to cheer them up by playing with them. But what I find is that they play with me and it makes me happy. One day we might read a book or do drawings. Another day it’s making cupcakes with different toppings. We even have tea parties and, yeah, I get right down there at the those little tables. Sometimes I get to hear the older kids tell their stories. All the time I spend with them is very special.

Q: Has there been an influence from your family?

A: My Mom is a doctor. My father was a nurse administrator in Spain. Pau went to medical school before he focused on a career in basketball. So there has always been a tie to the medical community and an awareness that there was work to be done and opportunities for everyone to do their part. I believe our parents gave Pau and me a great education and a sense of how the real world is. They have never pushed us to do anything, whether it was basketball or our studies. But if we chose something, they have always encouraged us to make a full commitment. Sure, our family has been touched by cancer, like most families. My grandfather and my aunt both passed away from cancer. But that is not the reason for my interest or involvement. I just like to like to be with the kids and to help them and get the message across the world. Any research or discoveries at St. Jude are spread to hospitals everywhere. We have similar research hospitals in Spain and they all share information, discoveries, treatments. I also like to stress that once a child and their family comes through the doors of St. Jude they do not have to worry about money. No one ever pays. It’s only about taking care of the kids. When you see what that means to families who come here, you understand how special this is to so many people.

Q: What was your first visit to St. Jude like and how have the visits affected you personally?

A: I was only about 17 or 18 the first time that I came out with Pau. I can’t say that I have a specific memory of one thing or one person, but what stays with me is that the first time you come through those doors you get a sense of hope and happiness. Of course, when anyone moves to Memphis I think your awareness goes up and it becomes a bigger part of you. You learn and you find out what makes St. Jude different. It’s not a hospital. At least, not the way that you usually think of a hospital. You come here and you see happiness and colors and kids playing and learning and teaching each other. You see a place that is filled with smiles and hope. It’s a place of fun.

Q: What is the reaction of your teammates and fellow NBA players to what you do for St. Jude?

A: I’m not pushy. I don’t try to convince people. I’ll recruit if I have to. But I think once players do come, you don’t have to convince anyone. I tell them how they can help, what they can do. I just had a visit with some of the new guys on our team — Austin Daye, Ed Davis, Dexter Pittman, Jon Leuer – and it always has an effect.

Q: Do you have favorite memories of your St. Jude experiences?

A: I have a lot of memories. I been here living in Memphis now five years. Sadly, some of those memories are of kids who are not here anymore, times when there are not happy endings. But I’ve had those relationships with them and the relationships and experiences will never go away. I’ve had so many experiences of watching kids get better. A lot of them are basketball fans and they love to watch our games and give us their opinions on how we do. We played in Brooklyn the other night and won and a lot of them watched on TV. We had a halftime segment with Coach Hollins that we did at St. Jude. They loved that. They loved seeing themselves. It’s just great to see them so excited, so happy.

Q: What is the message you want to get out from this campaign?

A: The message should be St. Jude. It’s a place of hope. Anything is possible and we need your help. You and your entire family. For the kids.

Visit www.stjude.org/hoops or www.jimmyv.org/nba or text HOPE to 50333 or JIMMYV to 80888 to make a $10 donation today and help create a world free of pediatric cancer.

Hollins Next To Walk Out Of Memphis?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Lionel Hollins starred at Arizona State. I wonder how he’d enjoy coaching down the road in Phoenix (not that I’m trying to push out interim coach Lindsey Hunter).

Or maybe Hollins would enjoy taking his coaching chops to Brooklyn — he’s certainly tough enough for the borough (not that I’m wishing interim coach P.J. Carlesimo be shoved out either). Carlesimo has saved the most critical season in Nets franchise history as far as I’m concerned.

But, look, there are going to be multiple coaching openings this summer. Given the current (disappointing) direction in Memphis, the lame-duck Hollins seems to be greasing the path for his own departure. Hey, it ain’t easy having champagne taste on a beer budget — and, really, who would want to?

It isn’t easy watching your team’s championship dreams be dismantled mid-season. Debate all you want about the Grizzlies’ title odds as previously constructed, but minus leading scorer Rudy Gay and key reserves Wayne Ellington and Marresse Speights, those odds have plummeted while frustration within the locker room is on the rise.

With Tayshaun PrinceEd Davis and others now in the fold, the remaining Grizzlies are begrudgingly hitting the reset button on their season. That much showed in Tuesday’s 96-90 home loss to Hunter’s Suns, Memphis’ second loss in three games since the Gay trade. It’s a small sample size and there’s plenty of games to get it right, but there has to be concern.

“It’s a real frustrating loss,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “I feel like we should have won the game. We had the chance to win and we didn’t get the win. It takes time to get acclimated and get all of the plays. It’s a variety of things. It’s a tough loss, a disappointing loss.”

Memphis wasn’t an offensive juggernaut before the trade, but in the three games after it, scoring has dropped by nearly six points to 88.0 ppg (the first of the three games was played without Prince). They’ve also committed 36 turnovers in the last two games and were fortunate to get a home win against Washington a couple nights earlier. Four turnovers in the final three minutes Tuesday doomed them against the lottery-bound Suns, who entered the game with a West-worst four road wins.

“We had every chance to win the game, but we had too many turnovers in the fourth and didn’t get any opportunities,” guard Mike Conley said. “It’s a work in progress. We have to find plays everyone is familiar and comfortable with. We just have some times where we have miscommunication with new guys and older guys who have been here. We just have to do a better job finding  plays that work for everyone.”

Defense has also taken hit with Memphis allowing 92.7 ppg after the trade, up more than three points a game. The Grizz (30-17) are hanging onto the No. 4 seed by their fingernails.

And so we get back to Hollins, the franchise’s most successful coach, who has lobbed some subtle firebombs — depending on your interpretation — at the front office since it started shaking up the roster for financial reasons.

With Marc Gasol in foul trouble Tuesday and the 6-foot-10 Speights now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hollins lamented his inability to match up when the Suns went big.

“We didn’t have any big guys to put in the game,” said Hollins, 170-146 in now his fifth season in Memphis. “That was a big thing down the stretch. They went at Jermaine O’Neal and we didn’t have a big guy to play him because we didn’t have a big guy to put in the game.”

Hollins never wanted to break up the team — and neither did a team that wanted one more postseason shot together. A few weeks ago, Tony Allen said about this season: “This is the year.”

He didn’t mean it would be the year of cost-cutting trades and Hollins ultimately leaving Memphis.