MikeCheck: As prolific April closes, ‘GrindTable’ debates Grizzlies’ run, resilience and rotations
MEMPHIS – For most of April, the Grizzlies have sprinted to the head of the pack in the NBA in offensive production and overall efficiency to position themselves firmly in postseason race.
But after two lopsided losses to the Nuggets and the Trail Blazers, the Grizzlies look to regain their footing and finish the month out strong. That’s the focus as Memphis closes a two-game homestand with the first of consecutive matchups with the Magic that starts Friday at FedExForum and wraps up with Saturday’s return trip to Orlando.
“We just got to make sure we punch back when we get punched, but we need to throw that first punch for sure,” forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said of the Grizzlies regaining their competitive edge. “It’s just (about) taking care of the little details, taking care of the ball, hitting more shots. All around we have to do more, especially at home. We know what to do on the road. We’ve just got to take that same intensity and bring it home.”
As the Grizzlies (31-30) cap their historic April, averaging 119.4 points per game, our ‘GrindTable’ breaks down three key topics entering Friday’s game against the Magic (19-43).
Joining me for this week’s panel are Grizzlies TV broadcasters Pete Pranica and Rob Fischer, and Radio broadcaster Eric Hasseltine.
The most impressive aspect of the Grizzlies’ month of April has been...?
With the notable exceptions of the last two games, the Grizzlies in April have been a good two-way team. We saw that they could be great defensively against teams like Milwaukee and Portland, and equally potent offensively. There’s been a subtle change from the Grizzlies being reliant on paint scores to having a more balanced attack that focuses on threes and paint scores. Maintaining that balance is tricky, but the Grizzlies are off to a good start in that regard.
It’s been the level of intensity the team has played with. With the exception of a couple of games, the Grizzlies have basically played playoff basketball. For all the times we’ve heard about “learning experiences”, we’ve seen this team learn to play with that edge. For the final push, they’ll need it consistently every night.
I thought the most impressive thing in April was that your best players led the way, but many of the wins came because the entire roster elevated their game. The play of Xavier Tillman was really impressive throughout the road trip. To be a playoff team in the West, you can't just be about your best, your entire roster has to contribute.
The point output. Entering this final week of April, the Grizzlies lead the NBA in scoring this month, regularly dropping 120+ points, dishing 30+ assists and dropping more than a dozen threes a game. As a result, Memphis was on course to set a franchise record for offensive output in a calendar month. Before hitting that bump in the road the past two games, the Grizzlies had hit their stride offensively, and it’s been something special to behold this month.
The biggest challenge Taylor Jenkins faces in sorting out his 10-man rotation is...?
The big question is, “How do you want to play?” The obvious answer is with great pace and intensity, but beyond that, do you want to roll with a more conventional lineup that has either Ja Morant or Tyus Jones running the point? Or do you go for more size with De’Anthony Melton or Justise Winslow triggering the offense with the second unit? I think it’s important to settle on what you like best and then refine that approach as you get to the finish line of the season. Make sure that everyone is crystal clear on their roles and what you expect from them.
The biggest challenge is exactly that – sorting out the 10-man rotation. With 11 games left, the Grizzlies need continuity with their rotations. That starts with Jaren getting back in the starting lineup, and the second unit gelling whether it’s going to be with Justise at the backup point guard position or Tyus. Those decisions need to come quickly because we’re running out of time.
The biggest challenge for Coach Jenkins is finding chemistry quickly with lineups that literally had never previously played together in an NBA game. This team thrives on good ball movement and making extra passes to open shooters. With new lineups, the primary ball handlers have to learn quickly where guys like getting the ball and how best to run your sets.
Staying true to his beliefs, and trusting what has worked throughout the past two seasons with his handling of the bench rotation. No matter what the Grizzlies endured from an injury standpoint, they’ve always been able to rely on the second unit production to keep them going. For two seasons now, Taylor has pushed the right buttons with that second-unit rotation. Now, it seems he’s gambling a bit with a different mix. But his track record speaks for itself.
After two tough losses, what I’ll watch most closely from the Grizzlies against Orlando will be...?
The Grizzlies have a chance to make some hay against an undermanned and injured Orlando team. But you can’t assume that these games will be walkovers. Memphis struggled defensively in the last two games, especially containing the pick and roll and dribble penetration. Their game plan discipline on the defensive end has to be on point. For any hope of rising to sixth in the West and avoiding the play-in tournament, the Grizzlies must handle their business against a lottery-bound team like Orlando.
How the Grizzlies respond. They’ve been a team that has responded well all season and I expect them to do the same this time around. The Grizz have done well against Eastern Conference opponents and against teams they should beat. This weekend is an opportunity, and they need to grab it.
Heading into this set with Orlando, I am watching for the Grizzlies to not let down and cruise into these games, but rather to lock in and impose their will. It's a tough season for Orlando but they still have young players like Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. along with a veteran in Gary Harris, who is getting a chance to be more of a factor than he was in Denver. Add in the emergence of Chuma Okeke, who sat much of last year after a bad injury at the end of his time at Auburn, and this is not just a cake walk of two games for the Grizzlies.
The opening flurry. The Grizzlies need to deliver as lethal of a knockout blow as they can from the outset of the game. Yes, basketball is a 48-minute game. And it’s important to play a complete game. But the Grizzlies don’t need to back their way into this. They need to do to the Magic what the Blazers did to them in the first quarter the other night. The good thing about the Grizz this season has been their growth, and ability to adjust. After two blowout losses, they must enter this next two-game set with the Magic with a mature level of urgency.
(Catch Pranica and Fischer on Bally Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies game-night coverage, and listen to Hasseltine and Wallace on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
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