Posts Tagged ‘Grizzlies’

Tested Thunder Get The Best Of Spurs


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook scores 31 points and the Thunder beat the Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — It’s quite easy to say the home team played without Kawhi Leonard following a dental procedure.

And, well, then they got drilled.

For the Spurs it was like a root canal having the Thunder outshoot them, out-rebound them, outplay them at both ends of the floor.

But no more painful than what OKC went through last spring when Russell Westbrook missed virtually the entire playoffs.

After all, if he brushes after meals and remembers to floss with regularity, Leonard’s pearly white smile and defensive teeth will be back on display for the rest of the season.

When Westbrook’s knee gave out in the second game of the first round against Houston, there was no amount of novocaine or laughing gas that was going to make the Thunder feel better.

So there was a touch of karma or irony or something that on the same night Patrick Beverley broke his hand and was lost to the Rockets, Westbrook was having his best game ever at the AT&T Center and reminding everyone what these so-called measuring stick games in December mean.

Absolutely nothing.

Remember, Westbrook should have returned to San Antonio for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals last June, if all had gone according to the plan. And you know what the fates say about plans.

A year ago, the Spurs were the ones dinged up in almost every regular season meeting with the Thunder. An ailing Manu Ginobili missed the first two encounters. Leonard sat out the second with tendinitis in his quadriceps. Tony Parker missed the third game. Ginobili sat out the fourth on the same night that Parker went down again.

All the while the Thunder were as dependable as an atomic clock with their entire starting lineup intact and playing in no fewer than 78 games through the long regular-season grind, including all 82 by the ironman Westbrook, who at that point had never missed a game in his five-year NBA career.

But then Westbrook limped off after his run-in with Beverley and everything changed for everybody.

OKC was suddenly tested and pushed by Houston and knocked out by Memphis. The door swung open for a San Antonio team that came within those fateful, fitful 28 seconds of claiming a fifth championship.

“We never thought about it,” said Kevin Durant. “It’s out the window. We can’t do nothing it. We can’t look at the past anymore. No matter what we’ve done, we’ve just gotta look forward.

“We haven’t backed down. We’re excited that he’s playing at full strength and we aren’t even going to think about that. Because that was a tough time for us, especially for him not playing a game that he loves.

“We needed to go through that as far our growth and it helped us out a lot. It helped Reggie (Jackson). It helped me out, Serge (Ibaka), everybody. So now we’re just trying to look forward.”

Still you had to wonder if there wasn’t just a peek back at what could have been from the way Westbrook strode onto the court and practically claimed it for his own on Saturday night. It was probably his best game ever against the Spurs. Against a team that had limited him to 32 percent career shooting, he scored 31 points on 13-for-22 from the field, only the fourth time in 26 meetings that he made at least half his shots.

When the Spurs were making a final push late in the fourth quarter and had OKC’s lead down to seven points, Ibaka missed a 3-pointer out of the left corner. Westbrook then shot up out of the crowd to push the rebound out to the top. The Thunder ran through another set that ended with Ibaka making his second-chance 3. The next time down the floor, Westbrook buried a jumper from the key and the Spurs and then pounded on his chest.

It’s a game that won’t mean anything if the Spurs and Thunder get back to that date in the conference finals next spring. Will it matter that their defensive stopper Leonard missed it to have work done on his teeth? That it was Westbrook that made the rest of the Spurs feel like they were the ones in the chair?

So much of this early NBA season has been about the steadiness of the Pacers and their resolute commitment to running down the two-time defending champion Heat or the stunning, impressive start by the Trail Blazers.

You might not blame the Thunder for jerking a thumb toward that league-best 22-4 record and wondering: What about us?
What if Beverley hadn’t happened to the Thunder? What if Westbrook hadn’t limped off toward knee surgery?

“It don’t really matter to me, man,” he said. “I believe we’re the best team in the league, regardless of who says this or who says that. You can predict anything, but you got to go out and play the game.”

And you’ve got to be able to go out and play when it matters. All the rest is just a trip to the dentist’s office.

More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

Z-Bo On Trade Rumors: “There Ain’t No Loyalty Or Love”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph gives a fan his shirt

NEW ORLEANS — The irony is not lost on Zach Randolph.

Just as he is being honored by Kia Motors and the NBA with the November Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, the rumor mill keeps churning out trade talk that the Grizzlies are looking to find him a new home. The latest has him going to the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson.

“Go figure,” Z-Bo said following the Grizzlies shootaround at New Orleans Arena on Friday. “Memphis is a place that I’ve come to love and call home and it’s where I would definitely like to retire. I haven’t made any secret of that. Everybody out there knows how I feel.

“I look at it like this: I understand it’s a business. I really do understand that. This is a small market team and money plays a factor. I understand all that. It’s different now. I don’t know if it’s just changes in (salary cap) rules or just a change in the way of the world. Like I said, it’s a business.

“But yeah, it bothers me. It hurts a little bit. I can’t deny that. But it goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game. It seems like you only get loyalty in certain organizations. You see it in winning organizations like the Spurs, the Lakers, the Heat.

“The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there. Hey, everybody gets traded. It’s part of the league, part of the life. I’ve been traded a bunch of times.”

But after his stints with the Trail Blazers, Knicks and Clippers, it was Randolph’s trade to the Grizzlies in 2009 that allowed him to blossom and become a two-time All-Star. Memphis is also where he earned the big contract that is scheduled to pay him $16.5 million next season unless he chooses to opt out in July.

“I’m not 19 or 20 no more,” Randolph said. “I’m not a young kid coming into the league with my career in front of me, looking to get established and looking to find my place in the NBA. I went through all of that. I feel like I grew up as a player and as a person and I’ve become someone who is valuable.

“I’m 32 now, but I feel like I’ve still got a few good years left in me and I feel like I can be somebody who can contribute to a winning team, be a significant part of team that can contend for a championship. And I think we can do that here. Even more, I feel like I’ve put down some roots in Memphis, helped this team make a name for itself, really become part of the community and to build something that can last. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay. All I can do is make that clear. But it’s a business and it ain’t my call.”

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Kia Motors and the NBA honored Randolph for his continued dedication to helping underprivileged children and families in need. As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and Hamilton High School in Memphis. At both events, select families received tickets from Randolph to attend an upcoming Grizzlies game. Randolph also donated 500 turkeys and 500 spiral hams to be given away to 1,000 people at the Clarence Faulkner Community Center in Marion, Ind. In addition to Thanksgiving meals, he contributed 300 winter coats to students at Memphis’ A.B. Hill Elementary.

“The award is nice, but it’s not the reason that I’m involved,” Randolph said. “I love being with kids, especially those kids who come from a single-parent home. I was one of those kids growing up, so I feel like I can relate. It’s a blessing for me to be able to help someone else, especially in Memphis, a place that has reached out and made me feel at home.”

Prior to Wednesday’s home game against the Thunder, he was presented with the David Robinson Plaque during an on-court ceremony. In addition, Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 on Randolph’s behalf to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Pau Gasol — Not Just The Lakers — Will Have Contract Options


VIDEO: Pau Gasol scores 19 points and grabs seven rebounds in the Lakers’ recent win over the Kings

HANG TIME WEST – There are the assumptions and the speculation that Kobe Bryant‘s extension increases the possibility Bryant favorite Pau Gasol will get an offer to remain a Laker. And, that obviously, Gasol will jump at the chance because him as a free agent, hat in hand, will be a sad sight.

Then there is the reality: Gasol, he made clear to NBA.com, could be the one to decide to break up.

While he is definitely interested in staying and his affection for the organization is obvious, the player about 6 1/2 months away from free agency said his hopes to win another championship will weigh heavily on what he does in July and may weigh greater than than the opportunity to stay in a familiar setting or to make more money. Especially since there may be another familiar setting out there awaiting the 33-year-old power forward.

“There’s different factors you have to take into account,” Gasol said. “The financial factor. That I’ve been with this franchise, for what I’ve been through, the loyalty I have to them. And also the chances of winning a championship. Those three are the most. What percentage I will give or prioritize, we’ll see when the opportunities come along. But I would like to first be in a position to win a championship again and enjoy the last few years of my career and be in a good position to do so.”

If the projections come true and the Lakers are clearly not a contender, would that increase the chances of leaving?

“If there’s possibilities of being in a place that has those type of chances, it’s something I will think about,” he said. “But, again, I’m not in that position yet. I’m here. We’re just kind of guessing here. We’ll see. We’ll cross the bridge when I get there. No rush.”

The only thing Gasol can say with certainty is that he will not consider a return to Europe. Maybe some day, as a full-circle finish to a career that started in his native Spain, but not in the foresseable future.

The other return? Memphis has not been ruled out.

The Grizzlies are a great financial unknown and team unknown, as well. They face a pending Zach Randolph decision about whether to pick up his $16.5-million option for next season or pass that up in hopes of his stated desire to get a longer deal to stay.

But a return to Memphis does have the obvious emotional appeal for Gasol: the presence of brother, Marc. Plus, Memphis was Pau’s first NBA home, for 6 1/2 years before the trade to the Lakers. And, a future with Randolph (in the final season of the current deal or under a new contract), Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen is a positive starting point to a playoff team.

“It’s appealing,” Pau Gasol told NBA.com. “One of the best centers in the NBA, one of the best interior players, is my brother. There’s a lot of attractive factors there. But who knows if that’s even a possibility or if that will ever happen. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on (the Lakers’ opponents) and staying healthy and playing a very successful year so this team and others will have the certainty and the confidence that I am a difference maker, that I am an elite player and I have a lot of years in me.”

Gasol is shooting just 41.7 percent, on early pace for a clear career low and a fifth consecutive season of decline, but is also rebounding at a high rate (9.5 boards per game in just 30.3 minutes, an increase from 2012-13), has a personality that fits in any positive locker-room environment, is a talented passer, and has mountains of playoff experience. Teams will be interested, to where he can’t say whether the Lakers will get a home-town discount on the next contract.

“It depends on the circumstances and the scenarios,” Gasol said. “If I don’t have all the cards, if I only have one, two cards, I can’t really make a decision then. I’ll wait to see what happens. There might be the possibility of an extension that is attractive enough for everyone. That wouldn’t be out of the question. But it’s kind of appealing to be in a position of free choice at the end of the season.”

Injury List Is Filling Up Fast


VIDEO: Marc Gasol leaves game vs. Spurs with knee injury

Everybody knows about the Monday morning blues.

But how about Friday night despair?

Derrick Rose goes down in Portland. Marc Gasol limps off in Memphis. Andre Iguodala feels a “pop” in his hamstring.

It was a painful start to the weekend for at least three contenders in the first month of a season that is already keeping the MRI machines working overtime and coaches and general managers reaching for the aspirin bottle.

Here’s a rundown of the biggest names currently on the injury list:

Derrick Rose, Bulls — Had to be helped off the floor when his right knee buckled while making a back cut Friday night in Portland. Prognosis: Results of MRI pending.

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies — The All-Star center and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year left Friday night’s loss at home to the Spurs with 10:24 left in the second quarter with an injury to his left knee. “Without him, we become a makeshift team,” said Tony Allen. Prognosis: Results of MRI pending.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — The free agent signing who jumped Golden State from interesting team and tough matchup to true championship contender in the West, was sprinting down court in transition defense when he pulled up holding his left hamstring. Prognosis: Officially called a “strain,” Iguodala will have an MRI performed today.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — It was labeled a “mild concussion” when the sharp-shooting guard had his head bounced off the court in a scramble for the ball with Utah’s Marvin Williams, but he has now missed two straight games. Prognosis: Curry is a game-time decision at home tonight against the Trail Blazers (10:30 ET, League Pass).

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — The most famous Achilles’ tendon since, well, Achilles, has had the Black Mamba on the shelf since April, when any hope of the Lakers as a dark horse contender in the 2013 playoffs went up in smoke. Prognosis: He’s back on the court in practice, looking good, according to teammates. Bryant is proceeding cautiously, but now looks like a good bet to beat the consensus pick of Christmas Day for his return to the Lakers lineup.

Tyson Chandler, Knicks — The Knicks center and second-most important player on the roster behind Carmelo Anthony has been sidelined since suffering a broken right fibula in a game at Madison Square Garden against Charlotte on Nov. 5. The Knicks are 2-6 without him in the lineup. Prognosis: The 2012 Defensive Player of the year did not suffer nerve or ligament damage in his leg and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — The All-Star guard has been battling balky knees all season. He’s missed three of Miami’s first dozen games, including the last two against Atlanta and at Orlando. Prognosis: Averaging 16.7 points in 33.2 minutes per game,Wade is expected to return at home tonight against the Magic (7:30 ET, League Pass).

Steve Nash, Lakers — Recurring nerve problems in his back have had the 39-year-old point guard out of the lineup since Nov. 10. Since that time, the former two-time MVP has had to push back at reports that he is considering retirement. Prognosis: Reports out of L.A. say Nash will sit for at least four more games, not returning before December at the earliest.

Deron Williams, Nets — He’s played in just two of the Nets’ last five games, leaving both early after re-injuring a bothersome left ankle. Wednesday night against Charlotte he played 13 minutes, making just 1 of 5 shots. He is having the worst season of his nine-year NBA career, averaging 9.3 points and shooting 40.5 percent. Prognosis: Williams sat out Friday night’s loss at Minnesota and is questionable for Sunday at home vs. the Pistons.

Brook Lopez, Nets — The Brooklyn center sprained his left ankle on Nov. 15 at Phoenix and has missed the last four games, all losses for the Nets. Prognosis: It has not yet been determined whether Lopez will be able to play Sunday night against the Pistons.

Andrei Kirilenko, Nets — The free agent forward signee has missed seven consecutive games with back spasms. The New York Daily News reported that he recently received an epidural injection. Prognosis: Kirilenko hopes to be cleared to return to contact and take part in practice starting on Monday.

Grizzlies Find Success On The Road


VIDEO: Zach Randolph scores 21 as the Grizzlies defeat the Warriors in overtime

OAKLAND – By the time they left Oracle Arena late Wednesday night to head home, finally able to fly east instead of the north-south route playing on a loop, the Grizzlies were different. In the standings, obviously, because four wins in a row can do that. But more in attitude.

Coach Dave Joerger said his veteran team, which has known long playoff runs, did not need a confidence boost. But after the 88-81 victory over the Warriors, there were players saying that the 4-0 California tour – emphasis on “tour” – meant something. Strange for November, stranger still for a roster that returned most of the core that reached the Western Conference finals — but true.

Memphis wasn’t just 3-5 when the trip started. Memphis was 3-5 and coming off a 16-point loss to the Raptors, which came after a 16-point loss to the Pacers, which came not long after a 15-point loss to the Pelicans and a 12-point loss to the Mavericks. The wins were over the Warriors, Celtics and Pistons, and it took overtime to get past Detroit. Enduring suspensions, overcoming two of the biggest threats from the West and handling a 12-point deficit to the Warriors and then overtime at the very end of the trip absolutely means something.

“We found a good flow to our game,” point guard Mike Conley said. “I think we were trying to search for that for a good five, six games there. It was good to get out of Memphis just to concentrate on the team, concentrate on getting better. I thought we handled business this road trip. That’s what we wanted to do.”

“We were going through a lot back in Memphis. Fans were agitated. We were frustrated and losing some games at home. To get on the road and to get away from it all and just focus on the game was huge for us.”

The Grizzlies went to Los Angeles to play the Lakers last Friday, a, 89-86 win.

Next, they went north to Sacramento and beat the Kings 97-86.

Before returning to the same Staples Center and topping the Clippers 106-102.

And then going to Oakland, about 80 miles from Sacramento, as star defender Tony Allen served a suspension for kicking Chris Paul in the face in L.A., erasing a big deficit against a good team, handling overtime in the fourth game in six nights, and leaving with the 88-81 victory as Zach Randolph had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Back and forth. Back closer where they want to be.

“It’s real big,” Randolph said. “We’re a good team. Sometimes coming on the road gets you going and gets our chemistry going and gets our identity going. It’s been good for us. We’ve just got to keep on proving it, coming out, playing hard and giving ourselves a chance to win.”

The four in a row ties the second-longest road win streak in franchise history, done five previous times, and trails only the seven consecutive victories of Feb. 17-March 10, 2010, so this starts to get a little historical as well as important in the moment. The only other time the Grizzlies swept a trip at least four games long was the 4-0 run March 1-7, 2004, a swing also capped by beating the Warriors.

The new challenge is to continue the recovery with games against the Spurs and Rockets next in Memphis. And if those go well, the next three are at Boston and then at home for Brooklyn and Phoenix.

Sound The Early Alarm For These Teams

Despite the anguish that occurs each time LeBron James misses two shots in a row or his team loses back to back, nobody is really worrying about the Heat. The Larry O’Brien Trophy still travels through Miami. We figure the Bulls will get everything sorted out whenever Derrick Rose becomes totally comfortable back out on the floor. Golden State will be entertaining and dangerous as long as Stephen Curry stays healthy. The Spurs will grind on. The Thunder will roar. Those are the stories for the long haul.

Then there are the teams that even two weeks into the season might as well have a fire pole and a Dalmatian inside their home arenas, because the alarm bells are already ringing:

Utah Jazz: It was always going to be a transition year in Utah as the team cleared out Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and made a full commitment to the youth movement. But with Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks finally getting their shot, the transition was not supposed to be a crash all the way into the basement. The Jazz have been missing first-round Draft pick Trey Burke (broken finger) at the point, but that’s hardly an excuse for their rarely even competing. They just completed a winless four-game road trip where they trailed Brooklyn by 26, Boston by 25, Chicago by 29 and Toronto by 38. This is the worst offensive team in the league by any measure — points (86.9), rating (90.4) and shooting percentage (40.1) — and are barely better on defense, ranking fourth from the bottom. They give up layups, dunks and wide-open 3s. It’s the worst start to a season since the Jazz moved to Utah in 1979 and if there aren’t at least signs of this bunch becoming regularly competitive, this always-patient franchise could push coach Tyrone Corbin out the door.


VIDEO: Jazz radio play-by-play man David Locke on Utah’s winless start

New York Knicks: What’s more embarrassing: Losing by 31 points at home to a Spurs team that might as well have been floating on its back while sipping an umbrella drink in the third quarter? Or having team owner James Dolan make a bold guarantee that the Knicks would win their next game over the thoroughly mediocre 3-3 Hawks? Really? We’re at the promising-our-guys-will-show-up-and-remember-to-tie-their-sneakers point in the season already? Look, when you go “all-in” with your pile of old chips last season and once more get only as far as the East semifinals, the talk of being a championship contender is just so much self-deluding smoke. Yes, J.R. Smith is back after missing the first five games of the season due to suspension under the league’s substance abuse policy, but center Tyson Chandler is out four to six weeks with a broken leg. The highest paid player on the roster, Amar’e Stoudemire, can’t help a lick and is more dead weight with another $23 million owed next season. Their best player, Carmelo Anthony, is shooting a career-low 41.3 percent from the field, and calls the Knicks play “embarrassing.” Coach Mike Woodson called the effort against the Spurs “unacceptable.” Get ready for Woodson to pay the price is it doesn’t change quick. Never mind beating out Indiana, Miami, Chicago and Brooklyn for one of the top four seeds in the East. The bigger question is how the Knicks do it after next season and beyond?


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson blasts team’s effort in loss to Spurs

Los Angeles Lakers: After #bearhunt and #blackout, maybe Kobe Bryant’s next hashtag on Twitter should be the not-so-cryptic #lottery. It is one thing to hope — maybe even expect — the ultra-competitive Black Mamba to not only return to the Lakers lineup from Achilles’ tendon surgery sometime in the next month or two, but to do so at All-Star form at 35 years old. But it is more than a bit unrealistic to think he’ll be able to do much more than simply pull this purple and gold limousine out of the ditch. Anybody who’s given just a glance this season already knew the Lakers didn’t play anything resembling defense (as a 47-point first quarter against Minnesota on Sunday night proved). The hobbling Steve Nash (back) is out at least two weeks. Coach Mike D’Antoni is fiddling desperately with lineups and combinations. They got their only road win of the season when old buddy Dwight Howard gift wrapped it by clanking seven missed free throws in the fourth quarter. When Pau Gasol has to body up and play defense for a full game in the middle, it leaves him sapped on offense. Knowing Bryant, he’ll come galloping back in at full speed and do everything he can to keep his team on the periphery of the playoff race. Even if he beats the odds and succeeds, the Lakers are going nowhere next spring. If the intent is to re-sign Kobe going forward, it would be better off to get him fully healthy for the rebuilt roster in 2014-15.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant on his rehab progress, return date plans and more

Brooklyn Nets: Oh, nobody’s saying it’s time to write off owner Mikhail Prokorov’s big, expensive plaything just two months into the season. But this is a team and a whopping payroll that wasn’t assembled to show patience and slow growth. With geezers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce holding down key spots, the Nets have a window of two seasons at most — and maybe even just this one — to make a real Finals bid. The vital cog in the whole machine is point guard Deron Williams, who has been unable to get back to the level where he was one of the league’s top three at his position in his Utah days. His numbers looked good on Saturday night against the Pacers, but down the stretch he committed a big turnover, then a foolish foul on a George Hill 3-pointer. He looks like anything but the strong quarterback this team needs. Brooklyn stumbles late and can’t close games. Garnett is saying that he’s got to take charge of the team and that’s not practical with the limited minutes he’ll play, no matter his Hall of Fame resume. At 2-4, the Nets can’t afford to dig themselves too deep a hole in the race at the top of the East with Indiana, Miami and Chicago and need some urgency to their game.


VIDEO: Nets forward Paul Pierce talks about life in Brooklyn

Memphis Grizzlies: We know former coach Lionel Hollins got to clean out his desk when he left the FedExForum, but couldn’t a security guard or somebody have stopped him from taking the defense? You can talk about Memphis’ need for a consistent perimeter scorer, solid backup guard or anything else. But the reason the Grizzlies are below .500 (3-4) is they’ve lost their claws and their identity, the part that made them the Grizzlies and carried them to the 2013 Western Conference finals. They’ve gone from the second-rated defense in the league last season to 21st. They’ve fallen from among the leagues in steals and forced turnovers to ranking in the bottom third in the league in both categories. They’re simply being outscrapped, outhustled, outworked. That rarely happened under Hollins and it’s becoming too much of an early trait under new coach Dave Joerger. “We have to get it together,” said Grind House founder Tony Allen, “and get it together soon.” The alarm bells are ringing.


VIDEO: Grizzlies put up little fight in road loss to undefeated Pacers

Have Grizzlies Lost Their Bite?

VIDEO: The Grizzlies needed everything they had to get their only win of the year so far

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — “It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra was talking about the left field shadows at the old Yankee Stadium. But he could have been referring to the shadow of former coach Lionel Hollins in Memphis.

Not even a week into the 2013-14 season and there seems to be something missing from the Grizzlies. Teeth and claws.

Or as they call it at the FedEx Forum, “Grit and Grind.”

It’s unwise to read too much into just the first three sips from an 82-game regular season. Otherwise we’d be guzzling the Kool-Aid of the confounding 3-0 Sixers and already making hotel reservations for next June in always sunny Philadelphia.

But there are times when a few early leaks in the bucket could be cause for concern that the bottom might fall out.

The Grizzlies, who advanced to the Western Conference finals a season ago, have carried around a style and reputation as subtle as an anvil in their climb up the ranks of legitimate contenders. Yet the early returns have shown that anvil dropping onto their toes.

Were it not for a couple of timely jumpers by Tayshaun Prince in overtime on Friday that finally put down the Pistons, Memphis would be looking at an 0-3 start that might have some reaching for the panic button. As it is, it might not hurt to at least get a finger loosened up.

After an uninspiring 111-99 loss at Dallas Saturday, the Grizzlies have surrendered more than 100 points three times in three games. While on their way to winning a franchise record 56 times last season, the Grizzlies and their No. 2-rated defense allowed opponents to hit the century mark just 10 times in 82 tries.

That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within the locker room, as noted by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Yes, it is early. But the trend could bring out all of the fears that were left by management’s decision to let Hollins — the best coach in franchise history — walk out the door. While the thought was that rookie coach Dave Joerger would be able to put some juice into the Grizzlies offensive by getting more ball movement and a faster pace, it was not supposed to be at expense of their lockdown defense.

While the Memphis offense that had the slowest pace in the league a year ago has jumped from 17th to 13th through the opening weekend of the season, the defense has fallen from 100.3 (No. 2) to 109 (26th). Opponents’ shooting percentage is up overall, especially from behind the 3-point line. However the interior defense that is supposed to be anchored by the bruising play of Randolph and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, is being exploited regularly.

After after reeling in the Mavs with a stretch of solid defense in the middle of the game, too often the Grizzlies were simply trading baskets, giving up layups or committing interior fouls that produced a parade to the free-throw line.

“We didn’t come out and play with any force,” Joerger said. “They’re at home. You’ve got to come out and set the tone early. We did not do that. We did not defend. We didn’t cut hard.”

These are all the areas that were as much a part of the Grizzlies appearance in games as their jerseys and sneakers under Hollins. If he was often critical, sarcastic and demanding, it was because there was a purpose. If it was Tony Allen who gave their home court the “Grind House” nickname, it was Hollins who laid the foundation and planted the seeds in the front lawn.

When the Spurs eventually exploited Memphis’ lack of offensive firepower in their conference finals blitz, it was clear that an upgrade was needed in order for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Was adding 33-year-old Mike Miller enough? Definitely not if the defensive intensity was going to drop.

In a Western Conference race that has only become more crowded and contentious, the last thing the Grizzlies can afford to lose is their identity.

So with the shadow of Hollins looming, it might not be too early for the grit and grind to heed another old Yogi-ism:

“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”

Let The Season (And The Questions) Begin

There are always questions in the NBA, even with 28.6 seconds left in Game 6 of The Finals, as the Spurs will attest. Here are five of the most interesting for the 2013-14:

No. 1: Can the Heat “three-peat” be beat?

It’s certainly trendy these days to pick against the two-time defending champions due to trades, coaching changes or just sheer boredom. After all, isn’t it far more intriguing to figure out how Doc Rivers is going to upgrade Lob City from sideshow to real contenders, how Kevin Durant is going to climb to the top with a mending Russell Westbrook, how Derrick Rose will restore the Bulls, how Gregg Popovich is going to convince the Spurs that they can spend the next eight months chasing down a redo of those last 28.6 seconds? But sometimes it’s just overreaching and over-thinking things. As long as LeBron James is healthy and engaged, and perhaps because he is just entering what should be the prime of his career, the Heat have the single weapon nobody else can touch. Maybe things will change next summer when the Big Three all enter free agency. Then it will be time to take stock of Dwyane Wade’s health and Chris Bosh’s value as a max-contract player. Until that time, they have something to prove, which can be achieved by a fourth straight trip to The Finals and a third championship. There is no indication that the Heat are satisfied or slipping, only more sure of what they’re doing at crunch time. Count on the “three-peat.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks with David Aldridge about three-peat hopes

No. 2: Who is the first coach fired?

It’s an unusual season since we can eliminate nearly half (13) of the franchises since they’re already working with first-year coaches. But it would seem that there is a trio on the firing line. The Wizards’ Randy Wittman was a bit of a surprise to survive last season’s 4-28 start and definitely is feeling the heat with the return of a healthy John Wall and the recent trade for solid veteran center Marcin Gortat. Washington’s first month is quite tough and could put Wittman’s neck back in the noose if the Wiz stumble out of the gate. Everybody will be watching the every inhale and exhale of the Lakers every time they step out onto the court or any kind of appearance in public. It would seem hard to evaluate Mike D’Antoni at all until Kobe Bryant returns to the lineup and shows whether he is close to defying the odds at 35 and returning to his old form. But these are the Lakers, the league’s highest-profile franchise. They dumped Mike Brown after five games last season and if the product is horrible early on again, D’Antoni will be under pressure. Especially if Doc Rivers and the new-look Clippers are flying high and doing more than just covering up Lakers banners at Staples Center. But with all of those difficulties in Washington and L.A., the first move could be made in New York. Just a season ago, the Knicks were peddling (and fooling) themselves as true contenders. But after another somewhat early playoff flameout, they are an afterthought in the East. They’re not even the best team in the five boroughs and the tabloid heat applied by the New York media could burn down the Mike Woodson era. Carmelo Anthony has announced that he’ll entertain free agency and we all remember what a ridiculous distraction “Melo-drama I” became in Denver. Woodson will pay the price.


VIDEO: Bob Ryan on NBA’s coaching carousel

No. 3: Who makes first big trade?

Danny Granger will open the season on the shelf in Indiana, but is likely to finish on another team’s roster by the February trade deadline. At 30, with reduced role and a future price that will be too steep for the small-market Pacers, he’s prime for moving. If the Sixers want to continue their move to do everything except hijack the Andrew Wiggins lottery, they’ll ship out their best player, Thaddeus Young. He’ll be too old to be a factor by the time Philly’s long-term rebuilding project is complete. But when it comes to finding the first square peg that no longer fits, it will probably be Houston’s Omer Asik. A season ago he got his chance as a starter and averaged a double-double for the Rockets. Coach Kevin McHale is determined to try to make a twin towers combination work with Dwight Howard. But it is hard to see this making anyone happy for the long term. The Rockets will have trouble guarding power forwards and the pair of big men will choke off the space James Harden needs to operate in the lane. At this point, Asik is more valuable to the Rockets as a trade chip than as a misfit piece to the puzzle.


VIDEO:
Will the Dwight Howard-Omer Asik combo work?

No. 4: Who is the Comeback King?

The candidates are everywhere, a slate lead by players who’ve become permanent fixtures in the All-Star Game. Kobe Bryant is at the top of the list because of his status and what he means to the Lakers. He’s tough, determined, unwilling to give in even to age and nature, but it’s hard to see him approaching his former self until at least Christmas (and more likely, the All-Star Game). The Thunder need Russell Westbrook to get back into the lineup and begin launching himself into space again as soon as possible. But it is hard to see any return being more successful and more complete than Derrick Rose‘s. He not only brings his explosiveness back to the lineup, but also the leadership skills and sheer desire that will likely make Chicago once again the top challenger to Indiana in the Central Division and Miami in the East.


VIDEO: A slow-mo look at Derrick Rose’s season debut vs. Miami

No. 5: Who crashes and burns?

The Nets have the most money on the line as owner Mikhail Prokorov is on pace to spend $80 million in luxury-tax payments alone on his star-studded lineup. While Brooklyn will likely be the best team in the New York area and keep the pressure on the crosstown rival Knicks, it is hard to see a geezer-laden lineup that relies so heavily on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leapfrogging Indiana and Chicago. In Denver, the Nuggets have to account for the losses of coach George Karl and do-it-all forward Andre Iguodala to follow up a 57-win season. However, the team that could take the biggest tumble is in Memphis. The Grizzlies not only let coach Lionel Hollins, who carved out their rugged identity, walk out the door, but they still can’t find any kind of an outside shooting game to offset Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph‘s play. If Tayshaun Prince doesn’t bump up his offense considerably, even the return of local favorite Mike Miller won’t be enough to let the Grizzlies make a return to the Western Conference finals. In a worst-case scenario, they could miss the playoffs entirely.


VIDEO:
NBA TV previews the Grizzlies’ season

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.