Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Hollins’

Grizzlies deserve praise for grit, grind and playoff perseverance

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Grizzlies scratch out a crucial win against the Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You’ll have to forgive the Memphis Grizzlies for scoffing at the idea of a short NBA regular season.

For a team that suffered through a tumultuous 15-19 start to 2013-14 after making the 2013 Western Conference finals, the Grizzlies 34-14 finish (which includes Monday night’s playoff-clinching win over the Phoenix Suns) is a testament to the power of the grit-and-grind movement the that has been cultivated in Memphis the past few seasons.

We counted them out early, there’s no shame in admitting it now.

But they persevered, kept the playoffs in their sights and battled their way through for that final playoff spot. The Suns are being praised for fighting their way into the playoff mix in a season that most of us assumed would end exactly where it did … in the lottery. It’s the way the Suns went about their business, though, that captivated the basketball-loving public.

This season, they were surprising, exciting and as entertaining to watch as any team in the league. Even though it goes against everything I believe in, this is one of those rare times where I would advocate a change to the traditional playoff structure, if only to watch the Suns play four or five more games.

Jeff Hornacek will get the love he deserves in the Coach of the Year balloting, just as Goran Dragic and Gerald Green will get their due during awards season. Their accomplishments will be appreciated in the end.


VIDEO: Zach Randolph talks after the Grizz top the Suns in Phoenix

The Grizzlies, whose style isn’t nearly as pleasing to the flash-and-dash crowd, are just as worthy of our attention. So while it’s fine to bemoan the Suns just narrowly missing out on the postseason, we should spend just as much time heading into the postseason appreciating the fine work of new coach Dave Joerger as well as Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony AllenCourtney Lee, Mike Miller and the rest of Memphis’ relentless crew.

“This is a culmination of not just this week or not just March or April, this is a culmination of everything we’ve been through since December,” Joerger said after the clinching win over the Suns. “For these guys, it’s a happy locker room, a relieved locker room and just a bunch of very proud guys with great chemistry.”

A Grizzlies front office that was second-guessed repeatedly (here and beyond) throughout the course of this season for replacing Lionel Hollins with Joerger (and other decisions) should be feeling good that their calculated risks paid off.

In a business notorious for the what-have-you-done-lately belief to determine a franchise’s success, the Grizzlies’ brass went against the grain and proved the haters wrong. They beat back every theory that said they shouldn’t finish the season with a playoff bid, and that includes the in-house data model constructed by vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger 

The folks who should be really worried about the Grizzlies grinding their way into the postseason live in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Spurs and Thunder are the ones who’ll have to deal with Randolph, Gasol, Allen and Conley by the weekend. They’ll be someone else’s headache in a few days and that’s an issue that every other team in the Western Conference playoff mix would admit to not wanting to deal with.

“No one wants to play Memphis in the first round,” an assistant coach for a Western Conference team told me weeks ago, long before the final spot was locked up. “With Z-Bo and Gasol you’re going to get your big men beat up right away. That’s not a good look for anybody. They’re attacking you in the middle and with that physical style. You have to survive them in a playoff series.”

The Grizzlies have added weapons this year in Miller and Lee, guys who can stretch the floor in ways the Grizzlies have not been able to in the recent past. Had Gasol not missed 22 games with injury, there’s no telling how high the Grizzlies might have finished in the standings.

With everyone healthy and the Grizzlies’ collective playoff experience, there isn’t a more dangerous team in the entire postseason landscape. They might not be the darlings that the Suns were all season, but the Grizzlies are certainly the sort of team anyone should be able to appreciate this time of year.


VIDEO: Zach Randolph scores 32 in the playoff-clinching win over the Suns

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

***

No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

***

No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

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.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 140) Featuring Brevin Knight And Terry Stotts

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games. That’s all it took for the first true sign of panic to show in Brooklyn. Nets coach Jason Kidd “reassigned” Lawrence Frank from his position as his top assistant and now we move on to Phase 2 of whatever this science project that things have turned into for one half of the league’s New York component.

The Knicks, enduring monumental struggles of their own, could be next. They’ve lost nine straight games and there are rumors swirling about Mike Woodson‘s job security. Beat Brooklyn Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT) or else …

We’re only a little over a month into the 2013-14 season and already there are alarms going off in the Eastern Conference, where the peace sign represents the numbers of teams (Indiana and Miami) clear and free of the .500 mark on the young season. And that’s exactly where we come in on Episode 140 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Before catching up with Brevin Knight about the Memphis Grizzlies and Terry Stotts (culled from the Dec. 2 episode of The Beat on NBA TV) about the Portland Trail Blazers, Western Conference teams that are thriving here of late, we spend some time trying to figure out how these teams have gotten into the respective messes they currently inhabit. What does any of this have to do with Kobe Bryant‘s looming comeback (as early Friday night in Sacramento potentially)?

Let’s just say it’s all a bit complicated!

So go ahead and check out all we have to offer — Sounds of the Game, this week’s installment of Braggin’ Rights (did someone say undefeated?), Rick Fox‘s spirited cover of Michael Jackson‘s “Man In The Mirror” and so much more — on Episode 140 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Brevin Knight and Terry Stotts:

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks continue to struggle | Report: Rockets want 2 first-rounders for Asik | Hollins wants another NBA coaching gig | D’Antoni pushing Young for Sixth Man honors | Beasley finding a role in Miami

No. 1: Arguments mark Knicks’ latest loss — At 3-13 and with nine straight losses to their name, the New York Knicks are the coldest team in the Eastern Conference and sit tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the conference’s worst record. In short, it’s not pretty for New York right now and things were particularly unpleasant last night at the Garden, when in the course of losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, Knicks guard Iman Shumpert got into on-court arguments with both rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. Marc Berman of the New York Post details that tiff, while in another report, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley has some telling words from Anthony and coach Mike Woodson on New  York’s slump:

A shouting match with Carmelo Anthony and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.’s breakout game may have pushed Iman Shumpert closer to the door.

Hardaway is fighting for playing time with Shumpert, who got into a heated rant with Anthony on the Knicks bench during a third-quarter timeout. Anthony didn’t look at him as Shumpert raved. Shumpert, who was then benched for the fourth quarter of the 103-99 loss to the Pelicans, called his tiff with Anthony “a miscommunication’’ on defense.

“Of course I wanted to play,’’ Shumpert said. “Tim was making shots. J.R. [Smith] had it rolling. We were just trying to get a win.’’

Anthony declined to talk about Shumpert, who has been on the trading block since the middle of last month. Trades usually pick up Dec. 15, because free agents signed over the summer and draft picks can be dealt.

Anthony and Woodson both think the Knicks have been playing ‘not to lose’ of late and that the losing streak has affected New York in several ways:

Shortly after the New York Knicks dropped their ninth-straight game, star forward Carmelo Anthony said the team is “playing to lose” and appears “a little tense” as the losses pile up.

“I think we’re playing to lose rather than playing to win right now,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-99 loss to New Orleans on Sunday. “When you lose games the way we’ve been losing them at home, on the road, you start thinking a lot. You start playing a little tense, you start playing on your heels.”

“We just can’t seem to get it together,” Anthony said after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds. “We can’t seem to figure it out.”

The Knicks’ last home win was Oct. 30 against Milwaukee in the season opener.

Head coach Mike Woodson admitted the obvious when he said the losing streak is weighing on his players.

“I thought coming down the stretch, we played on our heels. The [eight-game losing streak] we were looking at here was staring at us in the face [and] instead of relaxing and just playing, we just didn’t make one play,” Woodson said.

The Knicks have held two closed-door meetings in the past three weeks to try to turn things around. Anthony isn’t sure if another one will help.

“I don’t know what we have to do as far as coming together as a group,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if we’ve got to sit here for hours and talk and get it all out, but we’ve got to do something.”

Anthony said earlier this week that he worried about his team going into a “dark place.” He doesn’t think the Knicks are there yet.

“Anytime you’re fighting an uphill battle, you feel like you’re in a dark place. But we can’t go to that place,” he said. “I’ve never been to that place. I don’t plan on getting to that place.”

Firings and trades aside, Anthony believes the bigger issue for the Knicks right now is a lack of identity.

“Last year around this time we had our identity as who we were as a team,” he said. “This year we’re still searching who we are as a team and who we’re going to be as a team.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses New York’s loss to the Pelicans, nine-game slump

***

No. 2: Report: Rockets want two first-rounders in Asik tradesOmer Asik has worked his way back into Houston’s playing rotation, logging 20 minutes in the Rockets’ thrilling win over the Spurs on Saturday night. However, Asik continues to be a popular name on the trading block and seems all-but certain to be dealt at some point this season. What the Rockets are apparently asking for Asik, though, might make the kind of deal they want hard to come by. Alan Hahn of MSG Networks explains and provides a bit of Knicks slant on any possible deal, too:

The name that is dominating the early rumors is Omer Asik of the Rockets. The disgruntled center can be had, but Houston isn’t just giving him away.

In fact, the Rockets are setting the market high for Asik, with a demand of two first round picks in any deal.

That eliminates the Knicks, who have given away enough first rounders over the last few years. They can’t move one until 2018.

Even if they did, Asik’s luxury tax hit next season is the same as Jeremy Lin‘s ($15 million), which would make it an expensive transaction.

It’s more likely the Knicks will target more of an “energy” big, if they can land one. Kenneth Faried, a recently rumored name, certainly would fit that mold, but the Nuggets have shown no interest in making a deal.

The Knicks, like many teams in the league, could use an upgrade at the point guard position but that’s like shopping for a BMW with a Kia budget.

And the competitive market for point guards has gone up even more now that the Bulls are shopping hastily for one in the wake of Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury.

***

No. 3: Hollins turned down chance to be assistant in Detroit — After being fired by the Memphis Grizzlies following a 56-win season and a berth in the 2013 Western Conference finals, coach Lionel Hollins has spent his down time playing golf, putting in some work for NBA TV and watching his son, Austin, play at the University of Minnesota. In an extended, insightful interview with ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne, Hollins talks about his desire to coach again in the NBA and how he passed on a chance to be an assistant in Detroit this season:

Nice as the time off has been, however, Hollins is ready to return to the NBA.

“I believe I’ve established myself as a head coach and I’d like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn’t a fluke,” Hollins said. “I feel like I’ve proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I’ve done by what I did in the last five years in Memphis.”

Hollins was let go by the Grizzlies despite winning a franchise-record 56 games and leading Memphis to its first Western Conference Finals appearance last season. The reasons were philosophical in nature, after a season in which Hollins didn’t always publicly embrace the moves or direction set by the Grizzlies’ new ownership and front office.

“We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room … who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be,” Grizzlies president Jason Levien said in a radio interview with WHBQ after Hollins was let go. “We want to really dig in and get messy when we’re in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we’re going to proceed.”

Hollins, who still makes his home in Memphis, declined to comment about his exit from the Grizzlies. He said that he has tried to keep a distance from his former players as well, out of respect for new coach Dave Joerger, who was an assistant for him last season. He occasionally runs into Tony Allen, whose wife is close with Hollins’ wife. He also sent a text message to center Marc Gasol recently, after he suffered a knee injury.

But mostly, he said he’s tried to move on with his life and career.

“I think Marc [Gasol] said it best, ‘It was odd knowing — from his perspective — that I wasn’t going to be there,’ ” Hollins said. “And from my perspective, it was odd knowing that we weren’t going to add a few pieces and build on what we’d already established. We were at a level where we needed to add the right pieces in order for us to take another leap. So it was just odd not being there and planning and going through the whole process that we normally do every summer with our young players, starting with the draft and then summer league and then the workouts that we have all summer, with players coming in and out. You get away from that routine. …

“I was antsy when training camp started. But once they started playing, I was comfortable not being there. I get to watch a lot of basketball on TV. And now I’ve gotten to re-evaluate what I like to do and what I want to do.”

Over the summer, Hollins said he had an opportunity to join Maurice Cheeks‘ staff with the Detroit Pistons as an assistant coach but declined.

“I had done it [serve as an assistant coach] for a long time before I was given the opportunity to be a head coach,” Hollins said. “But my thought process was, ‘I’ve established myself as a head coach. I’d like to stay in that state at the moment.’ But if it didn’t work out, yeah, I’d go back and be an assistant coach. I’d go to college and be a head coach there, if I had the opportunity. But my thought process is to be a professional head coach.”

***

No. 4: D’Antoni hyping Young for Sixth Man of Year honors — Swingman Nick Young is averaging 14.2 ppg this season, only .1 ppg behind team leader Pau Gasol for the No. 1 spot on the Lakers. But while Gasol has started all 18 games for the Lakers this season, Young has notched just six starts, doing most of his damage off the bench. That big scoring punch and his vital role in L.A.’s offense has coach Mike D’Antoni starting some early buzz for Young in the Sixth Man of the Year campaign, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Within a two-month span, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has viewed Nick Young as a a streaky shooter and inconsistent defender to a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

“He should. If we can get our record [good],” D’Antoni said. “That’s going to be the product of the team. He’s playing well enough. But if we surprise people, get in the playoffs and do really well, yeah, he’ll have a really good chance at it.”

Ever since D’Antoni demoted him as a starting small forward to a reserve, Young has jokingly touted himself as a sixth man of the year candidate. Young has backed up those words said in jest with his play. Young has averaged 16.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting in 27.1 minutes through 11 games as a reserve.

“I’m loving it with his concentration and ability not to take a play off,” D’Antoni said. “We have a few guys who have home run trots and were not engaged. But for the most part, most guys have gotten that out of their game. They’re engaged. A lot of that is due to the chemistry of the team and how they feel about themselves. We can keep getting better. He’s playing both ends of the floor. He’s playing phenomenally.”

So much that Young has slightly altered his nickname.

“As he says, he’s changed his name to ‘Swaggy D,’” D’Antoni said with a smile. “We’ll see how that holds up.”

***

No. 5: Heat finding steady role for Beasley — In the offseason, the Heat more or less took a flyer on their former No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley, after the Suns terminated his contact. Early in the season, Beasley’s role was that of mostly mop-up duty in blowouts with some sporadic minutes during games when the decision was not in doubt. That has changed of late as Beasley is averaging 19.5 mpg over his last four games and had a solid night against Charlotte last night (four points, seven rebounds) as Miami rallied for a win. After the game, coach Erik Spoelstra explained to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel how he and the Heat have started to find an appropriate role for Beasley in Miami’s stacked lineup:

If it looks only now like Erik Spoelstra is developing a role for Michael Beasley, you’re not too far off.

The Miami Heat coach acknowledged Sunday that it wasn’t until after training camp that he began formulating a plan for the Heat 2008 first-round draft choice. Before that, he said it was just about creating a fit with the versatile forward who had split the previous three seasons between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

“With Michael,” Spoelstra said, “it was more about, initially, we felt he was part of our family. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time with him, not only during those two regular seasons, but during the offseasons and we just wanted to open up our arms back into our family.  “That was our initial thought when we talked to him. I didn’t even talk role. I didn’t even talk specifics about anything. I didn’t talk about, ‘Hey, you’re going to learn from these guys.’ It was, ‘Hey, come back to the family,’ and just get back into the routine and we’ll take it from there. After training camp, that’s about the first time I really started to talk about a possible role with him.”

Spoelstra said it was more about allowing the Heat’s locker-room culture to envelop Beasley, who returned on a one-year, non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum contract.

“Our whole locker room is important for anybody we bring in now, that there’s a world-class professionalism we expect from everybody, and our guys live and breathe it,” Spoelstra said. “They take pride in it. There’s a culture and discipline and structure to how we do things. And so when we’re recruiting players, we always have that in mind, whether a guy will fit in. We love it that guys will get inspired by each others’ professionalism and work ethic.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Davis is out indefinitely after breaking his hand in last night’s game against the KnicksWesley Matthews says the Blazers aren’t a ‘cool’ team, but rather, a pack of ‘dogs’ … The Wolves were selling tickets that give fans the right to high-five the Heat as they come out of the tunnel when they visit Minnesota …

ICYMI Of The Night: All you have to do is watch what Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did last night in Sacramento to understand why they’re called the Splash Bros. …


VIDEO: Steph Curry & Klay Thompson run wild against Kings

Huge NBA Opening Week; And You Wanted To Wait Till Christmas?

VIDEO: The top plays from the NBA’s opening week

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six nights. That’s all it took to remind yet again why we play the games, all 82, and why any claim of less being more is pure folly.

Why not November? I say.

As the 2011 lockout ushered in a reduced schedule of 66 games starting on Christmas Day and firing off a fan-pleasing crush of games nightly, a spark ignited into a full-blown media/Internet forest fire: Why not start every NBA season on Dec. 25?

Heck, no one’s paying attention in November, let alone a pre-Halloween slate. With the NFL and college football beast roaring, who’s got the attention span to cram in hoops, too?

So congratulations to the NBA for a wholly unpredictable and fascinating opening week that featured scintillating individual performances and take-that victories by teams who’ve been told they stink. And so the games are played. Yes, even in November.

There isn’t a more outrageous narrative than Philly’s 3-0 start that includes takedowns of the Heat and Bulls led by The Kid, Michael Carter-Williams. Our own John Schuhmann couldn’t help but unprecedentedly vault the Sixers from 29th to No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

While all will likely right itself before too long, one week in and we’ve got upside-down standings. The trifecta tankers — Philly, Phoenix and Orlando — are 7-2. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are 5-8.

Along with some fascinating upsets and  fast starts, we’ve seen a bevy of fantastic individual scoring and rebounding frenzies.

Here’s a quick look at some of the opening week’s wildly unpredictable highlights:

*  Carter-Williams has to sweep the Player of the Week honors for rookies and everybody else. In his season debut against Miami, he nearly notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. A fluke? A few nights later against the Bulls and the comeback kid Derrick  Rose, he dropped 26 points and 10 assists. Golden State, in Philly tonight (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), has been warned.

* You can probably name more traded Suns than current Suns, but they’re 2-1 and on Sunday pushed Oklahoma City to the brink in their home opener even with Russell Westbrook supercharging the evening with his unexpected return. By the way, he looked super-fast.

* Let’s not forget the Magic’s supposed bid for massive ping-pong-ball accumulation. Rookie Victor Oladipo has other plans. The Magic aren’t disappearing after two rousing victories over the improved Pelicans and (title-contending?) Nets by a combined 41 points to even their record at 2-2.

* The no-name Lakers bench crushed the star-studded Clippers’ starters in the fourth quarter in both teams’ opener.

* Chris Paul has stat lines of 42 points and 15 assists and 26 points and 10 assists.

* Kevin Love is all the way back, averaging 29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 3.7 apg to help Minnesota start 3-0. He already has games of 31 and 17, and 34 and 15.

* The 2-1 Pistons’ front line is living up to expectations. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are walking double-doubles. Monroe has a 24 and 16 game under his belt and Drummond already has 15-and-12 and 12-and-16 games.

* Second-year Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson went off for 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting in 31 minutes.

*Kings center DeMarcus Cousins notched 31 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets.

* In the same game, Knicks center Tyson Chandler pulled down 19 rebounds and Bulls center Joakim Noah grabbed 15.

* In a battle of point guards, Steph Curry and CP3 combined for 80 points, 11 3-pointers, 24 assists and 17 turnovers.

* Also in the same game, Mavs forward Shawn Marion and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph posted matching stat lines of 21 points and 14 boards.

* Greg Oden dunked on his first offensive possession since Dec. 5, 2009.

* Dwight Howard is averaging 15.0 ppg and 17.0 rpg in three games. His 51 rebounds nearly double his free 26 throw attempts, of which he’s made half.

* Pelicans second-year center/forward Anthony Davis is taking this breakthrough stuff seriously, averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 4.0 bpg. He has games of 25 points and six blocks, 26 points and 17 rebounds and 20 points and 12 boards.

There are even more big games to get to from Kevin Durant to Paul George to Monta Ellis to Nicolas Batum‘s apologetic triple-double, but in the interest of fair time, we must also get to the surprising (or in some instances the not-so-surprising, but still noteworthy) developments at the other end of the spectrum:

* The Nuggets, 0-2, and center JaVale McGee are not off to inspiring starts. This is supposed to be McGee’s big moment, but the 7-footer has averaged just 11.5 mpg and 5.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg despite starting both games.

* Raptors forward Rudy Gay again has a nice-looking scoring average (17.0 ppg), but just think what it might be if not for shooting 32.7 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

* Rookie Nets head coach Jason Kidd served a two-game suspension stemming from his DUI situation and then got hammered by 21 points in his debut at Orlando.

* Memphis is in transition after the promotion of Dave Joerger following Lionel Hollins being shown the door. Joerger is credited as the architect of the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, yet even with a virtually unchanged roster, the defense is being picked apart, allowing more than 106 ppg.

* Detroit’s active big guys, Monroe and Drummond, are pushing high-dollar free-agent signee Josh Smith out to the perimeter. Smith likes to shoot the long ball, but averaging 7.3 attempts from back there is a bit much, especially when he’s making just 27.0 percent.

And you wanted to wait until Christmas? Bah!

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.”

Blogtable: One Tough Team To Read

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

This week, we borrow three questions from The Starters season preview podcasts.


Toughest team to read | Asik’s future in Houston | Pick a Wildcat to build around


Which team is the most difficult to forecast?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMemphis. A team like Milwaukee might wind up cusp of the playoffs or it could plunge well into the lottery because of its mix of role players, inexperience and possible mediocrity. But to me, the Grizzlies are a bigger mystery because they’ve been a contender, but one generating wildly mixed predictions this fall. They underwent a coaching change from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger, and it’s unclear if Mike Miller brings enough shooting help to materially change the Grizz offense. I still like this team but, boy, the preseason pickers have them all over the West standings from about fifth to ninth.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’ve seen the Lakers picked to finish anywhere from fifth to 12th in the Western Conference. The opening night win over the Clippers notwithstanding, there are so many questions. Of course, the most importance is when and how Kobe Bryant will return from his torn Achilles tendon. Can Pau Gasol stay healthy all year to hold things down in the middle? Can an aging Steve Nash hold up at all?  Do they have enough offensive firepower to survive in a loaded Western Conference? It all seems one big roll of the dice.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There are a few out there. What will Denver do? How will the Lakers jell without and then with Kobe? Will Andrew Bynum play for the Cavs ? All are solid candidates, but the Dallas Mavericks are one giant question mark. They’ve got nine new players around the veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are your starting backcourt. Samuel Dalembert, who averaged 16 minutes a game last season with Milwaukee, is your starting center. They’re loaded with guards and light on muscle. Some think the offense will light it up and the defense will stink. Some think they’ll make the playoffs, others think they won’t get close. It should be interesting.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Thunder. When will Russell Westbrook return and at what level? Can Jeremy Lamb go from a successful D-League season to contributing in the big leagues to help replenish the depth? Will Reggie Jackson turn promising signs into reality and become a dependable Westbrook replacement and eventually a big factor off the bench? The organization that prides itself as a model of stability is suddenly facing a lot of variables.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comA lot of them are difficult and Atlanta is at the top of the list. The Hawks have a very good big-man rotation with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. They have good shooting at every position and a quick and developing point guard — Jeff Teague — who  can create openings for his teammates. But they have a new coach, are a prime candidate for a midseason trade, and have a very suspect bench, especially until Lou Williams returns.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After that opening night performance from their unheralded bench, I’d think the Los Angeles Lakers would be the slam dunk pick in this category. They were already going to be extremely difficult to evaluate because of their reliance on Kobe Bryant and the fact that no one knows exactly when they’ll get him back and what sort of shape his game will be in when he does return. But when we wake up to Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Jordan Hill highlights on NBA.com and NBA TV, we’ve officially entered the basketball version of the Twilight Zone. Sure, it’s just one game. And the Los Angeles Clippers clearly are not now what we expect them to be. The Lakers, however, offer up all sorts of strange possibilities. They are playing loose this season, even after Kobe returns, and Mike D’Antoni is not operating under the same sort of pressure he did last season. They could get on an inspired roll to start this season and make some noise in the Western Conference … or opening night might have just been one of those nights and they’ll be a speed bump for the true contenders in the West this season. You just never know in a situation like this one.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogTo me it has to be the Lakers. Will Kobe be back to anything approaching his very best form? When will Kobe even be back? With Dwight Howard gone, will Mike D’Antoni be able to play an even more uptempo style of play? Will Pau Gasol go back to dominating the interior? Will Steve Nash stay healthy? Will Chris Kaman find a freezer large enough for the cow he purchased? Will Nick Young crash any more toboggans? There are just so many questions that have yet to be answered in Hollywood.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Deutschland: Probably the Cleveland Cavaliers. They want to make the playoffs, and looking at the roster they sure could. But there are a lot of question marks also. How much is Bynum going to play? How many games will Anderson Varejao last. Can Kyrie Irving stay healthy and, more importantly, take the next step and be more committed on defense? I’m also curious to see how Mike Brown will set up this offense. They have the potential to land at 5 or 6 in the East, but falling to 9 or 10 isn’t impossible.

Hanson Guan, NBA.com China: The Thunder. Because Russell Westbrook will miss more time than expected, and even if he returns ahead of schedule, his healthy status remains up in the air. The Thunder are my favorite to take the West, but without Westbrook the whole season, I really don’t know how far they can go.

Rudy Gay: All-Star Or Analytics Nightmare?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — No player is caught in the cross hairs of the NBA’s analytics revolution quite like Rudy Gay. The 6-foot-8 slashing small forward is the enemy of the computer.

It doesn’t value his game and it makes no apologies. Gay doesn’t shoot enough 3-pointers or shoot them particularly well, and worse, he takes alarmingly too few from the high-percentage corners. He doesn’t get to the free-throw line frequently enough. When he’s not slashing to the rim, the majority of his scoring chances come from analytical no-man’s land — the mid-range. Combine it all with his low shooting percentages last season and the advanced stats — Effective Shooting Percentage (eFG%), True Shooting Percentage (TS%) and Offensive  Rating (offRtg) – offer a less flattering assessment than his conventional 18.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 2.7 apg.

“Honestly, how I view it, a computer can’t tell talent, it just can’t,” Gay told NBA.com during a phone interview Wednesday from the Toronto Raptors locker room following a workout with teammate DeMar DeRozan. “When it comes down to it, it’s all about winning, and however you get the win. According to analytics, you either [have] to shoot a 3 or get to the foul line, and it’s not good for people like me that live in that mid-range area.”

By more conventional measures, Gay can be deemed a super-athletic wing, a valuable weapon with size, a good handle and the ability to create his own shot — at times bandied as a borderline All-Star. Analytic computations conversely box in Gaya top-six usage player among small forwards in the league, as a highly inefficient player, an offensive black hole who impedes ball movement, is ultimately detrimental to the team concept and is lucky to be in the league.

“It’s tough,” Gay said. “Obviously, according to analytics, some of my opponents wouldn’t value me as much as they do. So, a computer can say what it wants, but as long as I get respect from my peers, that’s all that matters.”

The debate reached a fervor in the build-up to the three-way, midseason trade in which the Memphis Grizzlies sent the seven-year pro to the Raptors. Factions were split. Some, including then-Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, wanted the team’s core to remain intact to make a postseason run. The Grizzlies were 29-13 at the time of the trade and Gay, even with lugging career-low shooting percentages, was averaging 36.7 mpg and a team-best 17.2 ppg. He was viewed as essential for a team with few other perimeter or playmaking options.

The advanced stats crowd — rapidly expanding into nearly every NBA front office (with Memphis’ new management group being a leader) and rising as an integral tool for talent evaluation and valuation — bid Gay good riddance. They vowed Memphis would be better off without him, pointing to the franchise’s previous deepest playoff run in 2011, a seven-game, second-round defeat to Oklahoma City with Gay out with an injury. Eliminating the ball-stopper in the Grizzlies’ methodical, double-post offense, after all, would mean better flow and increased opportunities for high-shooting-percentage big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

“You can’t name one team in the league that has two dominant post men and a wing that can slash,” Gay said. “Obviously, slashing to the basket is hard to do when you have two people down there posting up. It’s basic basketball. I don’t know what team, what great player at the wing position has that. You got [Carmelo Anthony], he even plays the 4 sometimes, [Kevin Durant] — all these guys asked to play the 3-4 position are actually allowed to have the room to get to the basket and do our thing. It was tough. It was tough being there and taking criticism, but we won, so that’s all that matters.”

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