MikeCheck: Grizz taking Wright approach to NBA trade deadline
By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – Two takeaways from last night’s 112-103 victory over Brooklyn and a look-ahead to Wednesday’s home matchup against New Orleans in the final game before the All-Star break.
TAKE ONE …
This time a month ago, the Grizzlies’ most glaring roster needs were for a reliable backup point guard to alleviate some of the burden on Mike Conley, and for an athletic, second-unit rim protector to defend the paint and balance the frontline alongside Zach Randolph.
If the Grizzlies were going to make a deal to do anything as the Feb. 23 trade deadline approaches, it would have been to address those two areas. That’s the reason why there continues to be optimism around the team and within the front office about the impact Toney Douglas and Brandan Wright have made on the court over the past two weeks.
Wright’s season-high 17 points and three rebounds in 21 minutes marked his most productive offensive outing in the seven games since he recovered from November ankle surgery. He shot 7-of-9 from the field and provided the type of springy, energetic punch this team hasn’t often had at the backup center position. Wright’s first three dunks came on lob passes from three different players. Everyone is getting in on the act, almost as if the Grizzlies’ playmakers have discovered a new toy.
“Each and every game, I’m getting my legs back under me more and more,” said Wright, who is shooting 53.7 percent from the field. “It’s almost unfortunate that the break is coming up. I’d like to keep playing for another three or four weeks to keep getting into a rhythm. But it is what it is.”
Wright said he feeds off the energy he senses in teammates when he enters the game and adds a different dynamic to the offense. Suddenly, everyone wants in on a highlight waiting to happen. Wright said some lobs are better than others, but he’s trying to catch them all to keep teammates happy.
“Another thing is that the officials are getting used to seeing that, because they haven’t been used to seeing that from us,” Wright said. “We had been an on-the-ground type of team. But now we have another aspect, so hopefully we can start getting some more of those whistles (foul calls).”
Grizzlies center Brandan Wright discusses his athletic impact on the rotation after scoring a season-high 17 points in Monday's win against Brooklyn.
Douglas’ impact has been a bit subtler but equally as vital. The most significant aspect of Conley’s 32-point outburst against the Nets was that the franchise catalyst was able to inflict most of the damage off the ball. Coach David Fizdale has long wanted to play Conley for longer stretches at shooting guard, and a combination of factors allowed that to happen in Monday’s game.
Tony Allen sitting out as part of a planned recovery day of rest created more available minutes at shooting guard, and Fizdale’s trust in Douglas to handle the point guard duties freed Conley to shift into a primary scoring role. Douglas played alongside Conley in the backcourt for much of the fourth quarter and finished with five assists and one turnover in 19 minutes off the bench.
“It takes a lot off my plate,” Conley said of Douglas share the point guard role. “I don’t have to deal with pick-and-rolls defensively as much. I can sort of run freely and look to score first and make plays second. This is the most I’ve been able to play off the ball consistently, and it’s something we really like.”
Fizdale has tried rookie Wade Baldwin IV, Andrew Harrison and Allen at backup point guard throughout the season. But Douglas, who is on his second 10-day contract in Memphis, appears to be the keeper at the position. Barring a potential trade, indications are the Grizzlies intend to sign Douglas for the rest of the season once his current 10-day deal expires next week.
The collective play of Douglas and Wright makes a strong case for the Grizzlies to stand pat and ride out the rest of the season with their current roster. No, there weren’t necessarily any epiphanies from a performance in which the Grizzlies coasted to Monday’s win over the NBA’s worst team.
It was just the latest evidence of Wright and Douglas showing they’re essential fits.
Here’s more proof: Memphis is 6-1 in the seven games they both played since a Jan. 30 win in Phoenix.
TAKE TWO …
Vince Carter appreciates all of the fanfare and well-wishes from fans across the NBA whenever the Grizzlies are on the road. But the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer continues to remind everyone that this isn’t some retirement tour through the league this season.
Carter, whose contract expires in June, plans to play another season – if not more. Still, the league’s oldest active player and seven-time All-Star couldn’t avoid getting a bit emotional at the reception at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday. Various versions of Carter’s jerseys throughout his career could be spotted on fans throughout the arena.
Carter has played for six teams over a 19-year NBA career, including a five-year run with the Nets. He averaged at least 20 points in each of his five seasons in New Jersey and made three All-Star games.
I’m just glad that it’s appreciated. It’s cool to see my Nets jersey out there, but also my Toronto jersey and someone even had on my old high school jersey. Those were great times in my career that people really appreciated.-- Vince Carter
“It’s pretty cool to see the reaction, because I had five great years here and we accomplished a lot,” Carter said. “I’m just glad that it’s appreciated. It’s cool to see my Nets jersey out there, but also my Toronto jersey and someone even had on my old high school jersey. Those were great times in my career that people really appreciated.”
What amazed Carter most was seeing younger children wearing his jerseys, considering many of them probably weren’t even born when he first joined the Nets after he was traded from Toronto in 2004.
“We’re talking about people who probably weren’t old enough to watch us play at the time,” Carter said with a laugh. “But they still have an appreciation for it because they’ve done their homework on YouTube. Yeah, YouTube has been great for all of us as far as learning the history of our favorite teams.”
WHAT’S NEXT …
Fizdale always has an intriguing way to psychologically motivate the Grizzlies as they push through the dog days of the NBA season. With the All-Star break looming, the first-year coach entered the week challenging his team to take a playoff mindset into the final two games before the break.
Before Monday’s win over the reeling Nets, Fizdale told players to view the matchup as if the Grizzlies were trailing 3-2 and facing elimination in a playoff series, needing to win Game 6 on the road to force a Game 7 back home. After theoretically staving off elimination, the Grizzlies are tasked with approaching Wednesday’s home game against the Pelicans as a Game 7 winner-take-all showdown before the break.
A slight bit corny? Perhaps.
But Fizdale is aiming to make a larger point, and he’s drawing from experiences as an assistant on the Miami Heat’s championship teams to do so with the Grizzlies.
“I’m just trying to present challenges, get us to look at things in ways we may not have coming into it,” Fizdale said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been in situations where we’ve been down 3-2 on the road, having to save your season even when you have home-court advantage. I want to get our team prepared for whatever adversity we may see. Hopefully, we really take it to heart and compete from that standpoint.”
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