Posts Tagged ‘Quincy Pondexter’

Gasol, Lee Put Grizzlies Back In Race


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

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

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.

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…


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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

A Challenge For Z-Bo; Motivation From Hollins

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Two weeks ago Zach Randolph carried the Memphis Grizzlies out of the second round for the first time in franchise history, averaging 18.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg. Two weeks prior he bludgeoned Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers with nearly 57-percent shooting to rally his team from an 0-2 hole.

T-shirts being sold on downtown’s Main St. read “Fear the Beast,” surrounding a face that is part Grizzly mascot and part Z-Bo. Just as the bandwagon had swelled to capacity in honor of Randolph’s four-year reclamation in Memphis, this headbanded beast can’t even buy a free throw in this quickly-slipping-away Western Conference finals.

The Spurs, with Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, have done what Griffin and Serge Ibaka could not. They have sedated the beast by suffocation.

“I mean, I’m a decoy, it’s respect. I got the whole team focused on me, two or three guys,” Randolph said after Memphis’ Monday morning shootaround in preparation for tonight’s do-or-die Game 4 at FedExForum (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). “I’ve got to make plays and be a decoy.

“I’m all about winning. If it opens up for me, fine. But if we can win and knock shots down I’ll be happy with that. I’ve just got to do the best I can in picking my spots because the attention is on me. I’ve got a guy in front of me, a guy behind me; [they're] leaving the guys in the corner and we’ve got to knock down shots. So it’s just about winning with me.”

Sounds like Z-Bo has a lot on his mind. Either that or the Spurs’ defensive strategy is inside it and kicking things around.

Surrounded by defenders virtually each time the ball comes to him on the block, Randolph is missing shots from distances he typically drops with ease. Instead he’s made just 11 of his last 32 field-goal attempts after his ominous 1-for-8, two-point start to the series. Equally if not more disturbing for the career-76.5-percent foul shooter is that he can’t bail himself out at the line, going 7-for-16, including in the last two overtime losses including critical late-game misses.

“What we’ve done is the best job we can,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re just trying to make the bigs work for what they get. They’re very talented, very active. It’s impossible to stop them but we’re going to do the best job we can to limit them.”

The other half of “them” Popovich refers is 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol, who hasn’t been able to make the Spurs pay for saddling Randolph. Gasol is 18-for-46 from the floor.

After a slow scoring start to the Clippers series, although he shot a high percentage, Randolph averaged 20.8 ppg. Oklahoma City block machine Ibaka made life tough for Randolph, whose shooting percentage dipped to 44.6, but he was highly effective, going for 51 points and 26 rebounds in the final two games of that series.

The Spurs are simply being far more effective than OKC harassing Randolph. They’re packing the paint and welcoming the few Grizz shooters on the roster to fire up jumpers. Quincy Pondexter, 9-for-19 from beyond the arc in the series is on his own. Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless are a combined 6-for-25.

If all that makes for a bleak Memphis outlook, consider that no team has ever won a series after falling behind 3-0. Demoralization can hit swiftly in a Game 4 as the emotional and mental stresses become overwhelming against such steep odds.

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whose team has improved each season under his guidance, had a message for each of his players as they take the floor tonight.

“The motivation is just to go out and have pride and do whatever you can do,” Hollins said. “If they’re better than you, they’re better than you. But don’t quit and don’t go out there with a quitter’s attitude and just go through the motions; and the game is fairly close and you can walk away and say ‘this happened and that happened, that’s why we didn’t win.’ But if you just tie up your boot straps and reach down inside of you and be who you are and give all you have, and give a little more that you didn’t think you had, then possibilities are out there.

“That’s what it’s about. It’s about the big picture. Because if you give up now in an adverse situation, you’ll give up on life in an adverse situation. You’re trying to prove your character, your integrity and your self-worth. This is how you prove it. You go out and earn it.”

Are Grizzlies In Need of Lineup Change?

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Locations change. Games change. Series change. Nobody knows that better than the Spurs and the Grizzlies.

This time a year ago, the Spurs were in precisely the same spot with a 2-0 lead and halfway home in the Western Conference finals. Then the Thunder reeled off four straight wins and suddenly it was summer in San Antonio.

Barely a month ago, the Grizzlies fell behind 0-2 in the first round of the playoffs to the Clippers. Then Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and the NBA’s best defense ripped off four in a row and began their deepest playoff run in franchise history.

Lineups change.

That could be what it will take now for the Grizzlies to get up off the floor and keep moving forward.

There’s little doubt that for the Grizzlies to win four out of five games against San Antonio, they’re going to need an effective Z-Bo in the middle of their offense, throwing around his bulk and wreaking havoc in the low post.

But, while Randolph did miss more than a few easy shots at the AT&T Center (“tightest rims in the league,” he said), there has also been the matter of a Spurs defense that blatantly collapses and doubles on Z-Bo because the Memphis perimeter shooting has been so horrid.

For all of his high energy and ability to make something out of nothing at times, Randolph does need room to operate with the way the Grizzles are misfiring so bad from the outside, he’s apt to continue getting smothered by the Spurs.

The Grizzlies‘ starting pair of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince has made just 8 of their 24 shots from the field in the first two games. Prince has been especially woeful at 3-for-10, and it could be time for coach Lionel Hollins to put Quincy Pondexter into the starting lineup at small forward for Prince — and even consider getting Jerryd Bayless onto the floor much earlier in games.

It was the combination of Conley, Pondexter and Bayless playing with the Randolph and Gasol that enabled the Grizzlies to find an offensive rhythm for the first time in the series during the second half of Game 2.

Prince has had production go steadily downhill since the first round of the playoffs, and it’s gotten to the point where he is also a liability on defense. It be too early to say where this is just a bad match and bad series or whether the 33-year-old former defensive stopper is showing his age. But there’s no mistaking that his opposite number, the 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard, is winning the matchup easily. Leonard has size, strength, quickness and energy to run the floor, get rebounds, chase down loose ball and make shots against Prince.

It was always going to be difficult for Memphis to keep up with a Spurs offense that likes to play at a faster tempo and has more weapons and more ways to score. But the Grizzlies can’t afford to dig themselves a deeper hole by employing a lineup that is only 3/5 of a threat to score, even if they should get a bounce from being at home in the Grindhouse for Games 3-4.

History says that in the history of the NBA playoffs have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series and come back to win. Of course, both of these teams have experience with that history, although from opposite sides.

“We’re in a great spot, but if you look at it, it’s the same spot we were last year,” said the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. “It doesn’t mean at all that we’re going to make it just because we won the first two. We have to go there and try to win one.

“If it’s the third [game], it’s better. We’ve been here. We know that it’s not over until you win the fourth. So we just have to stay humble, keep working hard, definitely try to get one [in] Memphis.”

Locations change. Games change. Series sometimes change.

But sometimes it takes a lineup change to make it happen.

TEAMS THAT HAVE RALLIED FROM 0-2 IN A BEST-OF-SEVEN PLAYOFF SERIES

–Celtics vs Lakers 1969 NBA Finals
–Lakers vs. Warriors 1969 Western Division semifinals
–Bullets vs. Knicks 1971 Eastern Conference finals
–Trail Blazers vs. 76ers 1977 NBA Finals
–Bulls vs Knicks 1993 Eastern Conference finals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1994 Western Conference semifinals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1995 Western Conference semifinals
–Lakers vs. Spurs 2004 Western Conference semifinals
–Mavericks vs. Rockets 2005 Western Conference first round
–Wizards vs. Bulls 2005 Eastern Conference first round
–Heat vs. Mavericks 2006 NBA Finals
–Jazz vs. Rockets 2007 Western Conference first round
–Cavaliers vs. Pistons 2007 Eastern Conference finals
–Spurs vs. Hornets 2008 Western Conference semifinals
–Thunder vs. Spurs 2012 Western Conference finals
–Grizzlies vs. Cippers 2013 Western Conference first round

Grizzlies GM Envisioned A Future With Marc Gasol As A League Laughed

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.

“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”

Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western  Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.

Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.

The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.

The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.

Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.

“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”

Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.

“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.

“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”

Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.

“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”

Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.

“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”

Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.

Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.

Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.

“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”

So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins – a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.

Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.

“I hope to be able to stay here,” Wallace said.

Durant Keeps The Faith As Game 5 Nears

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Asked about the mood of the Thunder these last 36 hours or so after the Game 4 overtime loss that put them in a 3-1 hole, Kevin Durant said everyone should know one thing.

“It wasn’t like we were going to a funeral,” Oklahoma City’s superstar said.

Durant is averaging 31.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 6.3 apg this postseason, yet he has struggled to score late in the last three games, all Memphis Grizzlies victories, all by six points. He was 2-for-13 in the fourth quarter and OT in Game 4.

“Everybody came through except for me and that’s the toughest thing about it, that’s a tough feeling,” Durant said. “Tonight we’ll try to get that taste out of mouths and try to get a W.”

Durant looked like a heavyweight fighter who had just gone the distance only to lose on a split decision. He was fatigued and seemingly out of answers. The Thunder returned to OKC in the early-morning hours Tuesday. Coach Scott Brooks didn’t put his team through a practice after they finally got some sleep, content to allow his players to get treatment and focus on tonight’s do-or-die Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“We’re a team that’s always been resilient, always perseveres through things and always just fights it to the end,” Durant said. “We’re going to continue to keep fighting. We’ve got a great opportunity on our home floor and, you know, you either win or you go home.”

Durant said the team is drawing on other adverse times such as losing the first two games to the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s West finals, only to storm back to win four in a row. But, obviously, that team had All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook at the helm. That Westbrook’s new Brand Jordan/Champs Sports commercial was revealed Wednesday — one full of pre-knee-injury dunks — surely makes Thunder fans wistful.

Westbrook’s absence has allowed the Grizzlies to focus on Durant. They’ve given him doses of Tayshaun Prince and then Quincy Pondexter with sporadic looks at Tony Allen for the first three quarters. The fourth quarter has largely been all Allen with teammates swarming Durant from every angle.

Since his Game 1 heroics that had Durant being praised as the game’s most clutch player, his shots have mostly clanged in the final two minutes of these games, each one a two-point margin with two minutes to go.

“I just got to get it done either way,” Durant said. “I got to try to force my way into the lane and maybe that draws even more guys and I kick it out to my teammates, or sometimes I got to shoot over two or three guys. So there’s no excuses no matter how many people are guarding me. I’ve just got to get it done.”

Durant, better than a 90-percent free throw shooter during the season, will try to get there more in Game 5. Brooks was a bit miffed that Durant got to the free throw line just three times in 48 minutes of Game 4, and one of those came via a defensive 3-seconds call.

Don’t expect Durant to alter the way he plays. He’ll continue to try to create for himself and his teammates even though they’ve been cold. Among Serge IbakaKevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, Collison has the highest shooting percentage of that group in the series — 41.7 percent.

“I don’t have to say anything really, just pass them the ball and they know I got confidence in them,” Durant said. “I tell them all the time to shoot with confidence, don’t worry about it if they miss a shot, so what? Just keep getting back on defense and playing the great defense that we are. Don’t worry about the shots, just continue to keep shooting them if you have them.

“I’m going to trust in my teammates no matter what, no matter what people say or how many shots they miss or how many shots I miss, I’m going to continue to trust my teammates, myself and all the hard work we’ve put in.”

Pondexter Deals With Missed FT, Criticism

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OKLAHOMA CITY –
What did a deflated Quincy Pondexter do to shake off a crucial missed free throw with 1.6 seconds left in Sunday’s Game 1 followed by an endless barrage of R-rated — and downright shameful — Twitter criticism that followed?

He went out to dinner with teammates and saw Iron Man 3, rated PG-13.

“I was telling him we’re built for this situation,” Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said after Monday’s practice. “We’re built to handle the negative, we’re built to handle the positive and I think he should be proud of how he played and all the effort he’s given us. Because I’d much rather have him in the game than sitting on the bench.”

Pondexter has had a productive postseason with four double-digit scoring games in the last five. He was set up to be the unsung hero of Sunday’s eventual 93-91 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second-round series opener. He already had 12 points and three 3-pointers, including a halfcourt heave to end the third quarter that put a temporary stop to the momentum shift that favored the Thunder.

But with 1.6 seconds left in the game and OKC leading 93-90, Pondexter, positioned at the left wing beyond the arc, got the ball and went up with the potential game-tying shot only to be inexplicably swiped on the arm by young Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. The third-year Grizzlies forward went to the line for three free throws.

He missed the first, effectively ending the game. After it he took to Twitter to take responsibility:

But that didn’t stop the immediate and vitriolic knee-jerk tweets that piled upon Pondexter and ignored the numerous opportunities the Grizzlies lost, including Conley being stripped from behind by Derek Fisher with 20 seconds to go and Marc Gasol‘s errant pass with less than five seconds to go.

“It’s part of the job,” Pondexter said after Monday’s practice on the Thunder’s home floor. “I just use it as motivation. It’s not the first time people have told me stuff like that it won’t be the last probably. You just got to take it all in stride and move on from it, and I’m going to be a lot better person and player from it.”

Pondexter even retweeted some of the nastier comments.

“I probably just retweeted because I was angry at the time. It was a tough situation,” Pondexter said. “Just to say, ‘You know what, I’m taking it all in stride.’ I probably think the same about myself of what those people were thinking.”

Athletes must have short memories no matter how difficult social media might make that these days. Pondexter said he’s ready for Game 2 on Tuesday night when the Grizzlies will try to even the series before heading back to Memphis for Games 3 and 4.

“People will remember the end of the game. I know I remember the end of it; I won’t forget it for the rest of my life,” Pondexter said. “I’m a tough kid, man. I’m as tough as any kid, and no matter what, nothing like that is going to ever break me down. So I’m looking forward to getting back on the court and if I get another pressure situation like that again, I’m going to knock it down.”

Durant Wins It, But Not Without Help


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OKLAHOMA CITY – News that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would miss the entire playoffs rippled across the NBA like an earthquake tremor. The epicenter was Oklahoma City where the shock was sudden and the aftermath is fueling new opportunities for a team that still aspires to win it all.

“It was kind of a gut-punch initially that day at practice, and the whole day you could tell guys were disappointed and down,” reserve forward-center Nick Collison said. “Of course we’re at a deep disadvantage without him, but I don’t think we work that way really. We do a good job of seeing what’s right in front of us.”

As the Memphis Grizzlies frustratingly discovered on Sunday afternoon, count out the Thunder at your own peril. Oklahoma City stole Game 1 on its own home floor, rallying from 12 down late in the third quarter to take a 93-91 decision on a go-ahead, pull-up jumper by Mr. Clutch, Kevin Durant, with 11.1 seconds to go.

“My teammates did a great job of setting me up all game,” Durant said. “I missed some easy ones, some chippies, and I was able to hit that one.”

Let the box score show Durant with a game-high 35 points on 13-for-26 shooting, 15 rebounds, six assists, a couple blocked shots and a steal in 44 exhaustive, mandatory minutes. Yet the opportunity for OKC’s Big One to put his team ahead for good was supplied, as much of the Thunder’s gusto on this day was, from role players coming up big in Westbrook’s absence.

As OKC continues to adjust and tweak on the fly, it is discovering what lies beneath.

They’re finding a resilient Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points, 15 in a critical second-quarter stand when OKC scored 33 points without Durant attempting a shot. Martin’s game, which also included a season-high seven rebounds and a late fourth-quarter swat of Quincy Pondexter in the lane, came on the heels of scoring 26 in the clincher at Houston after being left for dead and his OKC future being questioned, following his Game 5 stinker.

Derek Fisher proved he can still bring it in the clutch at age 38, hitting both of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the first to start the period with OKC down nine. Then he’s making the defensive play of the game with 20 seconds to go, stripping driving Memphis guard Mike Conley from behind just before he can ascend to the rim and triggering a rush the other way for Durant’s big bucket.

The moment once again didn’t swallow second-year guard Reggie Jackson, who starts in place of Westbrook but watched from the bench while Fisher played down the stretch until the final possession when Memphis had to foul with 3.5 seconds to go — a sequence set up by Thabo Sefolosha’s deflection of an errant Marc Gasol pass. Jackson calmly sank both free throws, as he did against Houston, to make it 93-90 with 1.6 seconds left.

Fisher and Jackson totaled 20 points with a couple of assists and just one turnover. Conley, coming off a big series going toe-to-toe with All-Star Chris Paul, finished with 13 points, three assists and two turnovers. The final one cost Memphis the game.

“We got a nice little flow going right now,” Martin said. “I think we settled in, realizing that we’re not going to have Russell, and guys are stepping up.”

How about Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who absorbs criticism at times for stubbornly sticking to lineups? When he deployed a small unit for the first time in the game as he sensed it getting away at 70-58 with 1:57 left in the third quarter, the momentum shifted drastically in OKC’s favor. A 15-5 run — with three of the Grizzlies’ points coming on Pondexter’s halfcourt heave at the end of the third — cut Memphis’ lead to 75-73 with 10:10 to play.

And his trust in Durant to take the turnover created by Fisher’s poke of Conley uninterrupted by a timeout proved masterful. The ball came to Durant who pushed it up at his coach’s insistence. With Memphis trying to get back, Durant pulled up from 19 and banged it home.

It was a game the resolute Thunder could have lost and one the Grizzlies believe they should have won.

“I feel like we gave it away, honestly,” said Zach Randolph, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

But that’s not giving the Thunder enough credit. OKC’s big men, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, were atrocious offensively, going 2-for-16 from the floor, and Perkins nearly blew OKC’s chance altogether when Durant’s routine inbounds pass slipped through his hands, leaving Durant rolling his eyes and Memphis with the ball up 90-87 and 1:07 to go.

But the Thunder’s inside duo made Memphis’ Randolph and Gasol pay a physical price in the paint. Perkins played 34 minutes, the most of OKC’s starters other than Durant, and played big in holding the inside-oriented Grizzlies to just 32 points in the paint and four second-chance points on eight total offensive rebounds.

It wasn’t always pretty — OKC missed its first 10 shots and scored 31 points in the first and third quarters combined — and it won’t be the rest of the way. But in taking Game 1, the Thunder, down a star, are coming up with alternatives.

“We know what Russell brings to our team,” Brooks said. “He’s an amazing player and an incredible leader that has been missed, there’s no doubt. But we’ve changed in different ways. We’re different, but we’re still a good team and on both ends of the floor we present problems.”

Now The Hornets Start Over

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU – The Chris Paul trade has been made and now, we can move on to focusing on basketball (at least until the Dwight Howard rumors start flying again).

The Hornets got a pretty good haul for Paul, acquiring Al-Farouq Aminu, Erick Gordon, Chris Kaman, and the coveted (and unprotected) Timberwolves 2012 first-round pick.

John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune gives his take from New Orleans

So while there’s relief that the Hornets removed the cloud that has been the Paul Stall, and joy that the NBA office might now go back to doing whatever it is that it does that doesn’t involve scratching its itch to be a general manager, the desire to backflip over this deal hasn’t yet bubbled to the top.

Yes, there’s “potential” involved, and plenty of it. The Hornets could be younger, more athletic and more dynamic, and the future could be bright enough to light the New Orleans Arena for years.

But tell me: When was the last time that potential paid the freight?

In other words, to take a step back only is palatable if the ensuing steps forward are delectable, and we have no idea if they will be.

That’s the truth. The Hornets’ hands were tied because of Paul’s impending free agency and unless they hit the jackpot with that Minny pick, they’re not getting back a star near his caliber.

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