Posts Tagged ‘Mike Miller’

Grizzlies showing their playoff teeth

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


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

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

Dangerous, too.

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

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

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

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

OK, pun appreciated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook bangs knee; Durant scores 51 | Gasol leaves in walking boot | Knicks make it eight straight | Nash dishes 11 dimes | Bynum out indefinitely


VIDEO: Closer look at Durant’s 51-point performance

No. 1: Westbrook gets scare, Durant scores 51 — In a wild game at Toronto, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook left in the third quarter after banging knees with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. It was Westbrook’s right knee, the one he’s had three surgeries on since initially tearing the meniscus in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He immediately reacted to the pain and slammed his palm on the floor. He was assisted off the floor as the Thunder held their breath. More will be known as Westbrook is re-evaluated in Oklahoma City today. The Thunder won the game in dramatic fashion, 119-118, in double overtime. Kevin Durant capped a remarkable night with his seventh 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go, giving him 51 points. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details:

The official word is a right knee sprain, and the plan is to re-evaluate him Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Although Westbrook didn’t return to the Thunder’s thrilling 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Raptors, he was in great spirits after the game and said he doesn’t expect to miss any time. He left the Air Canada Centre walking just fine, without crutches or even a knee brace, just a routine black sleeve hidden under his pants.

And judging by Westbrook’s demeanor and that of his teammates and coach Scott Brooks, the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I feel good, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m pain-free. I’m just going to, (Saturday), get it looked at and go from there.”

The injury occurred with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Westbrook made a slight jab-step beyond the 3-point line on the left wing. As Westbrook held his left foot in place as his pivot, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry inadvertently bumped into Westbrook’s right knee while closing out.

Westbrook’s knee bent inward, and he immediately called a timeout, slamming the ball to the court upon doing so.

“You’ve been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did,” Westbrook said of his reaction.

After briefly attempting to walk off whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He remained in the dressing room for the duration of the game as the Thunder battled back from an eight-point deficit inside the final minute of double overtime.

Kevin Durant hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer from 31 feet with 1.7 seconds remaining. He then forced Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan into contested fadeaway from the right baseline. It fell short as the clock hit zero.

Durant finished with a game-high 51 points, his second 50-point game this season, and added 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“We couldn’t go another overtime,” Durant said. “So I had to live with whatever happened.”

***


VIDEO: Gasol injured in Grizzlies’ loss in Miami

No. 2: Gasol sprains left ankle — Midway through the third quarter, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol hobbled off the floor with a sprained left ankle and left the American Airlines Arena floor in a walking boot. It was a double whammy for the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since Jan. 1. Not only must they wait and wonder about the health of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, they lost a lead they had held for most of the game as the Heat pulled out the victory. More will be known on the severity of Gasol’s injury, but one thing is certain — Memphis needs its big man in the final month of the regular season to ensure it makes the playoffs, let alone have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:

Memphis’ bigger issue seemed to be executing without Gasol.

The 7-footer left with 6:34 left in the third period. He was hurt earlier on a non-contact play. Gasol appeared to roll his ankle as he turned to run. Gasol left the arena wearing a walking boot and he’ll be re-evaluated Saturday before the Griz face the Indiana Pacers for the second game of a back-to-back.

“It made it tough, but we tried to play small and stretch them out,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it to Zach. He had a heck of a game.”

Gasol had been a force, too, and not just because of his 14 points and six rebounds.

“We were using him to make the second and third pass,” [Mike] Conley said. “He was playing point forward. The whole scheme went through him.”

The game was knotted at 68 entering the fourth quarter after both teams exchanged large scoring runs in the third. Memphis allowed a 12-point advantage to disappear in the final few minutes of the third.

***

No. 3: Knicks keep playoff push alive — The Knicks handed the Philadelphia 76ers their 23rd consecutive loss, but the bigger news was that New York kept its playoff hopes alive despite already having 40 losses as the calendar turns to spring. But that’s the beauty of the Eastern Conference, folks. And with the Atlanta Hawks losing, the Knicks moved within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot. And guess what? New York’s upcoming schedule offers even more hope with games against the hobbled Cavaliers and Lakers followed by the Kings. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has the story:

With new team president Phil Jackson returning to his California home following his triumphant Garden return two nights earlier, the bench nearly coughed up a 17-point lead in a game the Knicks had controlled with five minutes left. But [Mike] Woodson turned back to his first unit in the final 30 seconds, and the Knicks just barely did what they had to do to survive and advance Friday night against a team that now has dropped 23 straight games, holding on for their season-best eighth straight win, 93-92, over the dreadful Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

“We didn’t have no choice at that point. I felt like we had a very comfortable lead. It happened. Them guys never quit,” [Carmelo] Anthony said about having to return to the game after it looked like his night was finished. “You could just see the lead dwindling, possession by possession. You go from up (17) and you look up and we’re only up two with a couple of seconds on the clock, so hopefully we didn’t have to come up with a prayer.”

***

No. 4: Nash shines in return — Maybe 40-year-old Steve Nash has something left after all. Fighting injuries all season, the two-time MVP made yet another return Friday night just a week after being declared done for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers still lost to the Washington Wizards, but the aging wizard for L.A. put on quite a show, dishing out a season-high 11 assists to go with five points, four rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time since March 9, 2000 with Dallas, snapping a stretch of 975 consecutive starts, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Just to feel good and feel like you can make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely,” Nash said. “It’s why I love this game and that’s why I’ve kept fighting and trying to work in case I got another opportunity.”

Nash said he came out of the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his back but remained hopeful he could play Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Lakers guard Xavier Henry also hurt his left wrist and said he would have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays were negative.

Nash made his first appearance since Feb. 11, when he suffered a recurrence of the nerve irritation in his back that has limited him to 11 games this season. There was concern in that Nash might never play another NBA game.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters March 13 that Nash would not return this season because it didn’t make sense for him to push his 40-year-old body with so few games left.

Then Jordan Farmar strained his right groin in practice Monday, opening the door for Nash.
After entering the game to warm applause late in the first quarter, Nash quickly found Hill for a jump hook and made a couple of behind-the-back passes on the way to collecting five assists in his first six minutes.

D’Antoni said Nash probably would continue to come off the bench unless he “gets to a certain point and gets that good” because of limited practice time and the Lakers wanting to be cautious with his body.

Nash has one more season and $9.7 million left on his contract but could be waived by Sept. 1, allowing the Lakers to spread out his salary over three seasons.

He would prefer to prove over the next month that he’s ready to play one more.

***

No. 5:  Swelling puts Bynum on ice — If the Indiana Pacers truly signed big man Andrew Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, well the Heat’s training staff will probably be sending a thank-you card. Experiencing continued swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. Bynum signed with the Pacers on Feb. 1, but has played in just two games. On a strange note, although not so much when it comes to Bynum, he reportedly got his hair cut at halftime of Friday’s game against Chicago. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on Bynum’s injury status:

Bynum has played in two games with the Pacers, averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Though the Pacers expected to play Bynum in short spurts, last Saturday he reached 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Bynum has been on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, Bynum, who did not participate in practice, said after the session that his swollen right knee needed to be drained.

“This one is a lot more concerning for me because it caused me a lot more fluid,” Bynum said.

Now days later, Pacers coach Frank Vogel answered “no” when asked if there had been any progress with Bynum’s knee since the return from Detroit.

“There’s still swelling,” Vogel said on Friday. “I really don’t have anything new. Other than it’s swollen right now, we’ll give you an update when we’re ready to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat present Mike Miller his 2013 championship ring as Grizzlies visit Miami … Tony Parker says he will play five or six more years with Spurs then play for French team he owns … Andre Miller says Nuggets made him out to be the bad guyKevin Garnett is unsure of return from back spasms … Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to improve arena.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players only meeting works for Kings | Conley at crunch time in Memphis | Teletovic pokes LeBron | Blazers not one of the Bynum 8

No. 1: Kings players-only meeting works wonders – Three straight wins in most places isn’t worth going crazy over, not during the marathon that is an 82-game NBA season. In Sacramento, however, it’s definitely going to raise eyebrows. A players-only meeting has worked wonders for the Kings, who routed Cleveland Sunday to polish off their season-best win streak. Is this potentially a turning point for a Kings team that has dealt with adversity and distractions for months now? Time will tell. But as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee notes, an epic beatdown of the Cavaliers is a good place to start:

The victory margin equaled a 44-point win over Denver on Dec. 12, 1992, and trailed only a 56-point win over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993 and a 58-point victory over Dallas on Dec. 29, 1992.

The Kings led by 46 points, their biggest advantage of the season, and tallied season highs in points, 3-pointers (15) and blocked shots (eight).

Defensively, the Kings (13-22) held Cleveland to 11 points in the third quarter and 30 points in the second half, both season lows by a Sacramento opponent. The 80 points were also a season low, bettering the 83 the Kings gave up against Orlando on Friday.

In the third quarter, the Cavaliers (13-24) made only four shots and shot 20 percent, both season lows for a Kings opponent.

“This young team is growing and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Rudy Gay said. “We can become a really good team. It takes hard work and we’re working hard, and coach has been great. As long as we keep going on that same path, we should be a good team.”

The defensive numbers are what pleased coach Michael Malone. After allowing 32 points in the first quarter, the Kings began to defend better, leading to the dominant second half.

“Consistency is a word we’ve used a lot,” Malone said. “It’s something we haven’t shown we can (accomplish) most of the season, but in our last three games I think the defense has been consistent, the communication has been consistent, the effort’s been there. We had breakdowns without a doubt, but our breakdowns are happening less often at the moment, and that’s a step in the right direction.”



VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas wins his duel with Kyrie Irving and his Kings get the win

***

No. 2: Conley is the man at crunch time for Grizzlies – Whether you realize it or not, Mike Conley has become a stabilizing force for the a Memphis Grizzlies team that sorely needed one. Even with the likes of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on the roster, the young point guard emerged from a humbling start to his career to evolve into the sort of floor leader that pushes the pile the way he did against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night.  Conley is on a tear right now that suggests he might be ready for even bigger and better things, writes Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal:

Conley continued arguably the most productive week of his NBA career in leading the Griz with 21 points, 13 assists and four steals. He posted 30 or more points in each of the two previous games.

The Griz blew a 13-point lead with Conley on the bench. The Hawks began connecting on 3-pointers and used a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to wrestle away the momentum and take an 80-77 lead.

The game was tied at 77 when Conley returned to replace rookie reserve Nick Calathes with 10:38 left. About 20 seconds later, Conley whipped a pass to James Johnson out of a pick-and-roll and Johnson finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk. The basket was the start of a 16-4 run that allowed the Griz to regain the lead for good.

Conley set up Courtney Lee and Mike Miller for 3-pointers, Zach Randolph for a point-blank shot, and created his own scoring opportunities by zipping past defenders and into the paint.

“Once (the Hawks) started making a little bit of a run, from the bench, I noticed that we weren’t getting to the paint,” said Conley, who had eight points and six and six assists in the final period. “We weren’t getting to the rim, to the free throw line or making plays at the rim. It shows our aggressiveness when we are going in-and-out of the paint. We got just little bit too lax in that stage of the game. I just wanted to come in and act on that.”

Conley is averaging 27.3 points in his last three games, which have resulted in an overtime loss to San Antonio and wins over Phoenix and Atlanta.

“He has really taken responsibility, not for running the team but really as a leader for the team and defining whether we are successful or not,” [Grizzlies coach Dave] Joerger said. “He has taken the steps to say, ‘I’m going to be up front, and not pushing from within. I’m not going to be facilitating. I’m going to be out front and be a leader and those who follow will follow and those who don’t will get left behind.’ He is so much more assertive in his approach and our guys feed off of that.”

***

No. 3: Teletovic pokes the LeBron bearIn the event that the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets meet in the postseason (yes, still months away but work with us here), Mirza Teletovic might want to be careful with his poking of LeBron James. He’s still having a little fun at LeBron’s expense in the aftermath of their dust-up during the Nets win over the Heat last weeek in that TNT showdown. His good hard foul on LeBron, when he went around the neck to prevent an uninterrupted layup attempt, prompted plenty of bickering and back and forth about not only the foul and LeBron’s immediate reaction. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald went so far as to suggest that LeBron’s long-term response will have an impact in the playoffs:

Teletovic went high around James’ neck, yes, but it appeared on replay that Teletovic was only trying to prevent James from completing a three-point play. Teletovic didn’t grab James, but James took exception and lunged at Teletovic following the play. Michael Beasley and others restrained James while Nets players rushed in to hold back Teletovic, who reacted to the sequence by flashing a smile.

“Not a basketball play” was James’ constant complaint during the 2013 playoffs, especially during the series against the Chicago Bulls. Bulls center Nazr Mohammed was ejected during Game 3 for shoving James to the ground during a fast break.

For years, the postseason scouting report on James has called for opponents to rough up the MVP in the hopes of knocking him off his game.

Although hard fouls are nothing new for James, Teletovic defended himself after the game and then had a little fun with the incident on Twitter.

“It was just a foul,” Teletovic said. “I just tried to make a foul, and he was coming down the court. He shouldn’t be reacting like that. It’s just basketball.”

Teletovic then did something he might come to regret. The European needled James on Twitter when he posted a screen shot of the scuffle and wrote, “Five in a row…Go @BrooklynNets :) lol ;)” Teletovic then changed the background of his Twitter page to a large picture of the incident.

https://twitter.com/Teletovic33/status/421920903006789632


VIDEO: Mirza Teletovic and LeBron James scuffle

***

No. 4: Count the Trail Blazers out of the Andrew Bynum sweepstakes – The Andrew Bynum 8 — the reported eight teams interested in pursuing the big man’s services for the remainder of this season — does not include that surprise outfit in Portland. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that the Trail Blazers, true contenders this season in a loaded Western Conference playoff chase, have not registered any legitimate interest in Bynum:

The Portland Trail Blazers could use an extra big man on their bench, but if they did decide to make a play for one between now and the trade deadline, it won’t be for center Andrew Bynum.

CSNNW.com was informed by a well-placed league source that Portland is not one of the reported eight teams interested in Bynum. Another source backed it up saying, “Portland has not inquired” about the services of the 7-foot free agent Bynum.

This revelation isn’t much of a surprise.

There are a couple of reasons why Portland opted not to take such a risk: the concern regarding Bynum’s character and how he would fit inside a locker room that has gelled seamlessly, had to have been a huge road block. Bynum has had his share of knee problems, a road Portland is reluctant to travel down.

The other obstacle is Portland is already carrying 15, the maximum amount of players allowed on a roster. If they were thinking of adding a player such as Bynum, someone would have to be released.

And being that every Trail Blazer on the roster has a guaranteed contract for this season, if Portland did decided to waive a player to make room for a free agent, they would have to eat the contract of that released player.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner claims there might be film of Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game … Deron Williams will not make the trip to London with the Brooklyn Nets … Lakers on the verge of getting injured shooting guard (Xavier Henry not Kobe Bryant) back this week … Speaking of the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak says “taking” is never discussed in Lakerland.

ICYMI of The Night: Who, you ask, is Jeff Ayres? He would be the former Jeff Pendergraph of the San Antonio Spurs, the same man you here getting his Dunk of the Night on in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:


VIDEO: Ayres throws it down over the Timberwolves

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.”

One Team, One Stat: Grizz Win With D, But Must Find More Shooting

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Memphis Grizzlies, who are looking to build on a trip to the Western Conference finals.

The basics
MEM Rank
W-L 56-26 t-5
Pace 91.1 29
OffRtg 101.7 18
DefRtg 97.4 2
NetRtg +4.2 8

The stat

94.3 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Grizzlies’ defense with Tony Allen on the floor.

The context

That’s the lowest on-court DefRtg of 263 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season. There’s no doubt that Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Whether he’s the most important defender on his team is another question.

As the anchor of the Grizzlies’ No. 2 defense (and a great one at that), Marc Gasol was more important. The defense suffered a hair more when Gasol stepped off the floor than it did when Allen stepped off, and Gasol played about 700 more minutes than Allen did last season.

Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince and even Zach Randolph played their roles in the Grizzlies’ defense too. When the post-trade starting lineup was on the floor, Memphis allowed a paltry 89.1 points per 100 possessions. Only one lineup — the Spurs’ starters — that played at least 200 minutes together was better defensively.

The lineup was particularly good at forcing turnovers. Overall, *the Grizzlies ranked second, forcing 16.9 turnovers per 100 possessions. With Allen and Conley on the floor together, they forced 18.4.

*The Clippers ranked first, forcing 17.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, but forced just 11.3 out of the Grizzlies in the playoffs.

Here some clips from a December game in which the Grizz forced the Mavericks — who had the third lowest turnover rate in the league — to cough it up 19 times in less than 34 minutes with Conley and Allen on the floor…


.

Offense, of course, is another story. The Grizz ranked 18th offensively in the regular season and scored just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in getting swept by the Spurs in the conference finals.

Gasol and Randolph are maybe the best high-low combination in the league and Conley is a water bug who can get to the basket, but Memphis has lacked the 3-point shooting needed for a top-10 offense. They ranked 24th in 3-point percentage and dead last in 3-pointers made last season.

Allen, who shot 56-for-193 (29 percent) from outside the paint last season, can be left alone on the perimeter. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Grizzlies were better offensively with Conley and Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt, but it’s amazing how much better they were offensively…

Grizzlies efficiency with Allen, Bayless and Conley

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
All three 172 112.5 91.7 +20.7 +55
Only Allen & Conley 1,594 101.6 92.7 +8.9 +238
Only Bayless & Conley 472 109.4 103.5 +5.9 +95
Only Allen & Bayless 265 90.0 102.8 -12.8 -75

Of course the defense took a big step back in those minutes. And that’s why the Grizzlies couldn’t let Allen walk as a free agent this summer. He’s a huge part of their success and their grit-n-grind identity.

If the Grizz are to be a better team this season, they will have to find the right balance between more perimeter offense (from Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter) and the defense that made them who they are.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Healthy Wade Key To Heat’s Three-Peat





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The NBA calendar waits for no man, not even one of the game’s all-time greats.

You are either ready for the grind when the curtain comes up on the 2013-14 NBA season or you are not. The 82-game gauntlet that awaits has no mercy.

That’s why it should be comforting news to Miami Heat fans that Dwyane Wade made his way back to the gym this weekend after a two-month layoff to rest the sore knees that have come to define this stage of his stellar career. Wade hasn’t been on the floor since the Heat’s Game 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs in The Finals.

Wade opted for OssaTron Shock treatments for the tendinitis in both knees rather than undergo major surgery, a move that Wade and the Heat have to believe was the best move for a player nearing his 32nd birthday and with a decade’s worth of wear and tear on his body. As important as LeBron James is to the Heat’s bottom line and as invaluable as Chris Bosh might be to what goes on in Miami, a healthy Wade is the key to the Heat’s three-peat hopes.

They won last season with Wade turning in a career-low 15.9 points per game in the postseason. He came alive when the Heat needed him most during the The Finals. But for long stretches throughout the postseason, starting in the first round against Milwaukee, he just didn’t look like himself. The burst and above-the-rim ability that had become his trademark vanished as he battled bone bruises in both knees.

He missed just one game in the postseason, but he was missing in action during plenty of others. Wade isn’t the first superstar to hit his 30s and find his body playing tricks on him. Kobe Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of knee issues, a problem he handled by opting for a blood-spinning procedure in Germany that saw other stars in the NBA and other sports follow after seeing Bryant’s physical resurgence post-procedure.

Wade made a public promise at his fantasy camp Friday to be ready to go when the Heat start training camp.

“I’ll be coming in prepared and ready, but I won’t be ready for opening night,” Wade told reporters. “I’ll be ready for opening night when opening night gets here. I have a good amount of time.”

Time is of the essence for the Heat. Their championship clock is far from over, but it’s ticking towards what could be a crossroads of sorts in the free-agent summer of 2014. Say Wade doesn’t make it through the 2013-14 campaign healthy and the Heat are unable to complete that Three-Peat, things could change dramatically with James, Bosh, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and several other high-profile starts all swimming in those free-agent waters.

But if Wade’s shock treatments work and he has the good fortune of avoiding all of the bumps and bruises that have slowed him down recently, the Heat will no doubt ride through the regular season as the favorites to win it all again. And a third straight title and fourth straight Finals appearance will make it tough for anyone to walk away from.

“The challengers are lining up,” said an Eastern Conference executive from a team outside of that group of contenders. “We all know how hard it is to get back on that horse and ride it to The Finals for  third straight year. Everybody understands what kind of toll that takes on the guys who are the true superstars in those situations. If DWade is right and healthy, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off the top of that mountain. It’s not impossible by any stretch, because Indiana was right there last season. But it is a tall order and nearly impossible with LeBron and healthy Wade doing what they do.”

Wade acknowledged the clear and present danger teams like the Pacers, Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets present to the Heat’s three-peat plans. It doesn’t take a pair of BluBlockers to see that the rest of the East is working tirelessly to catch up to the Heat. And that doesn’t even bring the Western Conference challengers into the equation, as he pointed out to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com’s Heat Index:

“The East obviously has gotten stronger,” Wade said. “Brooklyn has done something unprecedented — to put five All-Star players on the floor at one time. Not that many people have pulled it off, especially with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. When you think of them, you think of Boston. To be able to take them from there and bring them to their team and bring something to their team that they were missing, in the sense of winning and that toughness.”

Wade said that on paper this might be the most competition he’s ever faced in the Eastern Conference.

“This is going to be a tough year for us,” Wade said about the Heat’s pursuit of a three-peat. “We’re walking into uncharted waters. Right now, we’re the standard team because we’ve been the champions the last two years, so other teams are putting teams together to stop that.”

Wade is right, it’s going to be an extremely difficult task trying to three-peat, even if they get all of the injury breaks they didn’t get last season.

The Heat’s mix has changed a bit, too. Mike Miller is gone. Greg Oden has joined them. Ray Allen and Chris “Birdman” Andersen came back. Bosh will no doubt come back with something to prove after taking his share of lumps on the court and from those of us who observe and report on these things.

What hasn’t changed is the formula the Heat need to achieve their goals. The dynamic duo of LeBron and Wade, when healthy, remains the most powerful force in basketball.

And nothing, not even the NBA calendar, can change that!



Blogtable: Teams On The Downfall




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which team is set up for the biggest fall next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: However many victories people expect the Denver Nuggets to cough back from their total of 57 last season, I think it will be more. Matching last year’s ensemble-driven performance was going to be tough enough with their core of Andre Iguodala on the court, George Karl on the bench and Masai Ujiri in the front office. That Musketeers stuff is hard in a star-driven league. Now, with a rookie head coach (Brian Shaw), a personnel dip defensively (losing Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos), Danilo Gallinari‘s recovery and mercenary/journeyman summer additions (Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye), I think the Nuggets’ slide well into the lottery.

Rookie head coach Brian Shaw has a lot of work to do in Denver.

Brian Shaw will have a lot of work to do in Denver.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Oh, let’s take a 57-win team and blow it up.  Mission accomplished by Nuggets ownership. The expected slippage with the departure of Karl, Ujiri and Iguodala could turn into an avalanche of defeat and disappointment.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Grizzlies keep coming back to me as a team that could easily slip, a team that let go of the coach that built the program, a team that still hasn’t addressed its glaring need for shooting, although signing an injury-prone Mike Miller and being in talks with Mo Williams is progress. However, the team I can’t help believe will ride the biggest, most disappointing slide is the New York Knicks. The brains on the floor, Jason Kidd, is coaching in Brooklyn. Aging, injury-prone players abound. The No. 2 seed last season couldn’t get past Indiana in the second round and the Pacers, along with the Bulls and Nets (heck, maybe even Atlanta with a new coach and key personnel changes) will all be improved. At best the Knicks are a No. 5 seed in the top-heavy East and any championship talk that wafted through Madison Square Garden last season will likely heat up again just a short subway ride away.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Utah. As much as it pains me as a long-time Jazz proponent, this season could be a harder fall than a fall from playoff contention. They are much thinner than before and now need Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks to play big.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Don’t be shocked if Denver goes from the 3 seed to the lottery. It’s difficult to predict exactly what they’ll do, because Shaw will be a very different coach than Karl, but their defense (which ranked 11th last season) will certainly take a big step backward with the departure of Iguodala. Kosta Koufos was more important to that team than most people realize, and they’ll miss Gallinari’s shooting as he recovers from ACL surgery.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers don’t even have a coach yet. They should be the runaway winners here, especially when you consider the fact that there isn’t a tougher crowd to deal with anywhere than Philadelphia sports fans. Most of the pessimists believe they are headed for an awfully tough season with this latest rebuilding adventure. It could be even worse that any of us imagined if they don’t find the right coach to lead this mismatched bunch. New general manager Sam Hinkie has stripped the roster down and is going full-blown rebuild without the one player (All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded to New Orleans) who gave this crew a little spark last season. As my main man Bubba Sparxxx said years ago, this could get UGLY!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI think Denver could be in for a fall. They’ve lost the Coach of the Year in Karl, Iguodala made a play for the Bay, and they also traded away their starting center, Kosta Koufos. I know Shaw will be a good NBA coach for a long time, and Denver still has some pieces (Andre Miller, Ty Lawson), but they’re in that dangerous middle ground between being a contender and a pretender. And it doesn’t take much to slide back down that hill.

Memphis had claim on Miller’s NBA soul

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It’s only a matter of time before someone connects the dots between Mike Miller‘s decision to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies and LeBron James‘ prospects for heading back some day to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Miller, after all, didn’t make his post-amnesty decision in a vacuum. The other teams said to be interested in him – Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver – could offer various combinations of competitiveness, attractive locales, star teammates to do the heavy lifting and other factors to sway Miller’s choice. Money really wasn’t the issue, with the Miami Heat on the hook – per amnesty provisions of the collective bargaining agreement – for an estimated $12.9 million over the next two seasons.

So what clinched it for the Grizzlies over Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the potential of the Thunder? What nudged aside the excitement offered by the Rockets, with Dwight Howard to collapse defenses down from Miller’s preferred “let it fly” zones and James Harden to slice and kick?

Memphis was home. Or at least the closest thing to it, until Mitchell, S.D., lands an NBA franchise.

Sources close to Miller had said in the days before he made up his mind that the Grizzlies were the heavy favorites because he and his family so enjoyed living there during his stint from February 2003 to June 2008. He was traded there by Orlando on his 23rd birthday, stayed until he was 28 and essentially grew up in Memphis as an NBA professional and deep-threat brand name.

Miller was the league’s top rookie in 2001 for Orlando. He had a couple of knockaround seasons in Minnesota and Washington. He had a prime seat on the Heatles’ tour bus from the start, thanks to his five-year, $29 million deal to provide outside scoring over James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But Miller never contributed as much to, or felt as big a part of, a team as he did with the Grizzlies. He was a integral part of the first real success in franchise history, their run of playoff berths in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In the second of those, no Memphis player scored more points (1,022). In the third, Miller was a runaway winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man award.

In 2006-07, the Grizzlies fell to 22-60 but Miller had his most productive season, posting career highs pretty much across the board, including scoring (18.5 ppg), assists (4.3) and 3-pointers made (202). He still holds the franchise marks for points in a game (45) and a half (27), and goes back ready to add to his 717 3-pointers for the Grizz on 1,778 attempts (a franchise-best 41.4 percent).

Guard Mike Conley was a rookie in Miller’s last Memphis season and he played alongside Marc Gasol‘s brother Pau. Apparently, he doesn’t blame the franchise for trading him on draft night in 2008 in the Kevin Love/O.J. Mayo deal, because it put him in motion to land in and win rings with Miami.

The player Memphis is getting isn’t the same guy who left. That one was healthier and, in an odd way, determined to prove to the Timberwolves and the Wizards that he was more than just a pretty 3-point specialist; he averaged career lows of 3.4 3FGAs per 36 minutes, though his assists bumped up while setting up inferior shooters. The past three seasons, Miller has been a limping, wincing M*A*S*H unit with a variety of ailments, missing 91 games.

Still, the winning, the rings and the notoriety send him back to the Grizzlies as a rejuvenated player. And a man in demand. Memphis ranked last in the NBA in 3-point attempts (1,107, 158 fewer than Chicago and 278 fewer than No. 28 Utah). It was 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.5 percent), which explains the reluctance to launch. Only 14.9 percent of Memphis’ points came on 3-pointers, which put too much burden on its No. 1-ranked defense while allowing its opponents to pack inside vs. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

So what does all this have to do with Miller’s former teammate, the MVP machine in Miami? Miller’s headed back to the place where he established himself, where he felt most at home. He has rings, so that particular pressure is off. There’s a chance to be part of something fresh with the Grizzlies that’s even bigger than what he knew in his first go-round there.

Plug James, the Cavaliers and Cleveland (or Akron, as far as the home base) into the above paragraph and a similar move in 2014 or thereafter, on a grander scale, starts to make sense.

‘Amnesty THAT!’ An Amnesty Find Is Rare

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The two-word tweet Kobe Bryant directed at Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after he grilled Cuban’s team for 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a game last season was priceless. Earlier that week, Cuban suggested that the Lakers should consider amnestying Bryant this offseason as a means for Los Angeles to shrink the enormous luxury-tax bill coming after next season.

The notion was resurrected after Bryant, due to make $30.45 million in 2013-14, tore his Achilles tendon in the third-to-last game of the regular season because of the assumed probability that he will miss a chunk of next season. Of course, the Lakers had no intention to amnesty Bryant by Tuesday’s deadline.

Had they, making him available to a team for dirt cheap, Bryant would have become the first superstar cut loose via the amnesty provision that took effect at the conclusion of the 2011 lockout as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Twenty players in all have been waived via the amnesty provision. Three got the news Tuesday, bringing this summer’s amnesty total to five.

The wisdom of the provision is to allow each team the one-time ability to remove a contract from its books. The team must still pay the player’s remaining salary, but it no longer counts against the salary cap or luxury tax.

The amnestied player (who must have been under contract prior to the new CBA) goes through a waiver process with teams under the salary cap granted first crack to acquire the player through a bidding process. The highest bidder wins and signs the player at the bid price with the former team responsible for the balance.

It could provide a cheap way for a team to fill a hole with a serviceable rotation player set free by a team needing financial relief – which was the Miami Heat’s purpose Tuesday in amnestying popular sharpshooter Mike Miller. More often than not, however, teams, naturally, have utilized the amnesty provision to eradicate expensive mistakes or free themselves of players no longer worth their lucrative deals such as waiving disappointing, non-productive players (Darko Milicic, Travis Outlaw), older/high-mileage players (James Posey, Elton Brand) or headcases (Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche).

Of the 15 players amnestied in 2011 and 2012, four (Posey, Charlie Bell, Ryan Gomes and Milicic) were never signed by another team and eight (Arenas, Bell, Josh Childress, Baron Davis, Gomes, Milicic, Posey, Brandon Roy) are currently out of the league. Only five players remain with the teams that signed them through or after the amnesty waiver process, and of those just three — Luis Scola (Phoenix), Blatche (Brooklyn) and Chris “Birdman” Andersen — played significant roles last season.

Of the five players amnestied this summer, the underwhelming Tyrus Thomas has yet to be signed. Drew Gooden, Linas Kleiza and Miller are in the midst of the 48-hour waiver bidding process. Metta World Peace, amnestied by the Lakers, signed a two-year deal with his hometown New York Knicks.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche and the Brooklyn Nets are hands-down the feel-good story of the amnesty provision. Just 26, Blatche’s talent is immense, but so was his penchant for doing dumb things with the dysfunctional Wizards. Fed up, Washington gave up on him. Few teams bit until the Nets figured they had nothing to lose, signing Blatche to a one-year deal for less than $1 million while the Wizards were on the hook for more than $7 million. Blatche emerged as an integral part of the Nets’ return to the playoffs, averaging 10.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg off the bench. Last week Blatche re-signed for a reported two years and $2.9 million.

But Blatche is clearly the exception. The Mavericks hoped to get a steal with their winning bid of $2.1 million for the amnestied Brand, who was due to make $18 million last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brand, while well-liked in Dallas, posted his worst statistical season of his career, averaging 7.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He recently signed a free-agent deal with Atlanta.

Chauncey Billups, amnestied in 2011 by the Knicks to make room to sign Tyson Chandler, played just 42 total games the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, and recently signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons. Center Brendan Haywood was nonexistent in Charlotte last season after being amnestied by the Mavs.

And remember the potential Childress had? Amnestied by the Phoenix Suns in 2012, he’s one of the eight players no longer working in the NBA. The amnesty bust list goes on and on.

So who are the 10 teams yet to play their amnesty card, and which players are eligible? Here they are: Atlanta (Al Horford), Boston (Rajon Rondo), Chicago (Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah), Detroit (none), Memphis (Mike Conley, Zach Randolph), New Orleans (none), Oklahoma City (Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison), Sacramento Kings (John Salmons), San Antonio (Tony Parker) and Utah (none).

But that is now speculation for next summer.

Luxury Tax Reality: Heat Amnesty Miller





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat are not immune to the harsh economic realities facing the league’s biggest spenders under the new collective bargaining agreement.

The waiving of veteran shooter and surprise 2012 Finals hero Mike Miller via the amnesty provision this afternoon is proof. Miller joins Metta World Peace, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers and now a member of the New York Knicks, as the most prominent players to be amnestied this summer. The Charlotte Bobcats also used the amnesty provision on Tyrus Thomas last week.

(You can see all of the players who have suffered the same fate on NBA.com’s Amnesty Tracker.)

The move came as something of a surprise after Heat boss Pat Riley addressed the possibility of this happening by saying there would be no need for the Heat to use this one-time measure to clear salary cap space.

“After many discussions internally and a sincere effort to explore the trade market, we made a very difficult decision to use our Amnesty provision on Mike Miller,” Riley said in a statement. “Mike had an incredible impact on the Miami Heat; helping us to three finals appearances and winning back-to-back world championships. This was a very difficult decision for me personally, the Arison family, Erik and the entire Miami Heat organization. Mike was one of the best we have ever had here, and will be sorely missed. We wish Mike, his wife Jennifer and their family nothing but the best.”

This was a purely economical move for the Heat, who could save $30 million in luxury tax payments over the nest two seasons simply by removing Miller’s $12.8 million in salary from the books for the 2013-14 season and the 2014-15 season. The Heat still will have to pay Miller the salary he is owed but it won’t impact their own salary cap bottom line.

Miller, whose penchant for knocking down big shots at big moments in both of the Heat’s title runs, was clearly wounded  by the move.

“I understand the business side of basketball,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s a combination of being very, very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had, but it hurts that we had a chance to do something very, very special and I’d love to have been a part of it.”

This is the strictly business portion of the program for veterans like Miller and World Peace, guys who helped their now former franchises to championships.

“I know I can be very, very productive for a couple years for sure,” Miller said. “But at the same time, it would be very difficult to go into a situation where you’re not competing for a title. So I’m going to have to weigh those things, and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Miller’s time in Miami was well spent. He leaves having been an integral part of a Heat crew led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that made three straight trips to The Finals and walked off with Larry O’Brien trophies in back-to-back years.

Heat fans will surely never forget some of his most memorable moments from the title runs, and that includes his shoeless 3-pointer from Game 6 of last month’s Finals and certainly the seven 3-pointers he made in the title-clinching Game 5 win over Oklahoma City in 2012.

“I love Mike. We all love Mike,” Wade told The Associated Press. “It’s tough to lose one of our brothers. But I think we all understand it’s not personal. It’s a business decision.”

It’s strictly business these days for the NBA’s biggest spenders.