MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Amid longest losing streak in Memphis era, Grizz face best shot to snap 14-game skid on trip’s last stop
CHICAGO – It wasn’t exactly a light-the-cigar, celebratory moment.
Total opposite, actually.
“Well, first, thanks for taking me back to those great times that I had earlier in my career,” Brevin Knight sarcastically deadpanned at the memory. “Those are the days I love to look back on.”
Those were the not-so-glorious days when the Grizzlies opened the 2002-03 season with 13 consecutive losses before stumbling into The Pyramid on Nov. 23, 2002 to face Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards. Knight dished five assists that night in 24 minutes while starting alongside Pau Gasol, Drew Gooden, Stromile Swift and Gordan Giricek as the Grizzlies won 85-74 in front of 19,351 fans.
It was a situation where, for me, it was to see Jordan again, not in the same way being in that Wizards uniform, but it was still the aura of Michael Jordan. Because of that buzz in the building, it was enough to give us what we needed to finally get over the hump.-- Brevin Knight
“The big thing for us was trying more so to win for ourselves, but to also win for those people that were coming to the games,” Knight recalled. “It was a situation where, for me, it was to see Jordan again, not in the same way being in that Wizards uniform, but it was still the aura of Michael Jordan. Because of that buzz in the building, it was enough to give us what we needed to finally get over the hump.”
The game would go on to be memorable for two reasons. It was Jordan’s last career game in Memphis. And it would also put an end to what, for 16 years running, would be the longest losing streak in the Memphis era of the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies (18-45) have now lost 14 consecutive games after Monday’s 100-98 setback in San Antonio, and carry the NBA’s longest losing streak of the season into Chicago to wrap up a three-game trip on Wednesday. Knight, in his eighth season as an analyst on the Grizzlies’ television broadcast after playing a decade in the league, takes no comfort in the current team eclipsing his squad’s distinction.
Emotionally and professionally, he’s essentially as invested in the Grizzlies’ successes and struggles as he was during his playing days in Memphis. A skid of this magnitude impacts just about everyone affiliated with the team, from the fans who watch from the stands or on television to the players who carry the burden of every missed shot, turnover or blown coverage on the court each night.
A disappointing season keeps diving deeper into despair. The Grizzlies have dropped 12 in a row away from FedExForum and remain the NBA’s lone team yet to win on the road in 2018. They haven’t won a game in any location since beating Phoenix on Jan. 29 in Memphis.
And the losses have come in every way imaginable. The two-point setback to the Spurs was the 14th game the Grizzlies have played this season that was decided by one possession, which is tied for second-most in the league. Each of Memphis’ last three games – losses to San Antonio, Orlando and Denver – were tight late into the final minutes before opportunities slipped away.
There have also been blowouts and beatdowns, which included a stretch of five straight games in which the Grizzlies trailed by at least 22 points at one stage or another. In the 14-game losing streak, Memphis has fallen by an average of 11.4 points per game and its 95.9 net offensive rating over that span ranks last in the league by a significant margin.
Injuries and absences have decimated the roster of experience and depth. The Grizzlies are missing their top four point guards, with Mike Conley (heel) out recovering from season-ending surgery, Andrew Harrison (wrist) and Mario Chalmers (hamstring) sidelined at least another week and Tyreke Evans (ribcage) not with the team on the current trip.
That’s left Memphis having to rely on two-way developmental rookie Kobi Simmons and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who was signed to a 10-day contract on Monday. They showed solid potential in extended minutes against the Spurs when they combined to shoot 10-for-20 from the field for 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals, with each playing 25 minutes.
That infusion of youthful energy is one of the reasons why the Grizzlies might be a beaten team, but far from a totally defeated one.
“We go out there and play hard, and to not be able to close out games like this is definitely challenging for us,” said forward Jarell Martin, who sat out Monday with knee soreness but posted his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds Saturday in Orlando. “But we’ve got to keep our focus, go into practice and keep getting better and better. I feel it (pressure of the losing streak), and I definitely want to break it. No one should like losing, so I definitely feel that we all should come out with that eager mindset and try to get us a victory.”
The next, best shot to snap out of the funk comes Wednesday against the fellow lottery-bound Bulls (21-42), who are coming off Monday’s 105-89 home loss to the Celtics. Chicago trailed 26-5 at one stage, and coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters afterward that his team “quit playing.”
Hoiberg then added: “When things got tough, we just kind of gave in and said, ‘OK, this is too hard for us.’ That was embarrassing the way we got outworked.”
Ironically, the Grizzlies continue to struggle despite solid efforts from veteran anchors in Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. On Monday, Gasol had a game-high 23 points to go with 10 rebounds and nearly forced overtime with a huge fourth quarter, but missed a potential game-tying three in the final minute. It was Gasol’s 23rd double-double of the season, more than twice the amount he had all of last season.
Green finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds for his sixth consecutive game with a double-double, extending the longest streak of his career. Still, it hasn’t been enough to get a breakthrough victory.
“Right now, winning cannot be the only goal - it’s got to be a consequence,” Gasol said. “It’s about how can we find enough things that happen as a consequence that also results in a win? The losing streak cannot be an excuse for you not to do your job. Worrying about that will only bring more frustrations. You want to do all the right things and may the chips fall where they may. That’s where we’re at.”
The Grizzlies are also at the bottom of the NBA’s overall standings.
Fourteen consecutive losses have delivered the league’s worst record with 19 games remaining. And Wednesday’s game against the Bulls also starts a third stretch of three games in four nights since the Grizzlies returned from the All-Star break.
That scenario will again leave Memphis’ roster in flux as interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff tries to piecemeal enough available bodies to constitute a suitable NBA rotation.
We have certain guys who haven’t really played with certain guys, so we don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s definitely tough and challenging. But we’ll get in and get some time to practice to build that chemistry and timing and maybe showcase it in the next game.-- Jarell Martin
“It’s definitely a strain because the chemistry isn’t there with so many guys being out with injuries,” Martin said. “We have certain guys who haven’t really played with certain guys, so we don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s definitely tough and challenging. But we’ll get in and get some time to practice to build that chemistry and timing and maybe showcase it in the next game.”
Knight remembers the sense of relief that swept through the locker room after his team halted the previous longest victory drought in the Memphis era of the franchise.
Based on their recent play, the current Grizzlies might not be far from their own exhale moment.
“For these guys, continue to play the right way and things will eventually fall their way,” Knight said. “And they’re getting closer to that. Be in games late, give yourselves a chance and see what happens.”
After 14 straight Ls, it’s time to see a W.
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