MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Injuries, frustrations mount as Grizzlies aim to avoid 0-for-February mark against struggling Suns
MEMPHIS – Marc Gasol is into planting, growing and harvesting his own fruits and vegetables when he’s not busy pushing, prodding and pulling the Grizzlies through a demoralizing season.
One thing he’s not into: Sugarcoating struggles.
“We’re building too many bad habits as a team now to worry about wins and losses,” Gasol said after Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Suns at FedExForum. “I think we lived on our credit too much, and now it’s time to invest back and put money into the piggybank.”
A deposit in the victory column might be a good start.
The Grizzlies (18-41) and Suns (18-44) are in similar ruts as they enter what is certain to be a pivotal game in the NBA standings – at least at the bottom of them. Both Memphis and Phoenix are among a handful of teams tied for the league’s fewest wins on the season at 18, and they both are also knotted with the NBA’s current longest losing streak at 10 games.
For a night, at least, something has to give.
Someone has to win.
And as the injuries, losses and frustrations mount, the Grizzlies face the additional challenge of trying to avoid the first winless February – and only the second winless full month overall – in franchise history. Memphis has dropped six of its last eight games by double figures, has trailed by at least 22 in five straight and is the only team in the league yet to win a road game since the calendar flipped to 2018.
The losses have taken a significant toll on the team mentally and physically, with five players ruled out with injuries for Wednesday’s game against the Suns. That list includes a relatively fresh set of absences that contributed to three straight lopsided losses to playoff contenders in Cleveland, Miami and Boston.
Grizzlies’ leading scorer Tyreke Evans will miss his third consecutive game with a rib injury he sustained late in Friday’s loss to Cleveland. Evans’ MRI in Miami on Sunday revealed slight cartilage damage, but he participated in shooting and conditioning drills after Tuesday’s practice for the first time since the injury. Evans is considered day-to-day, and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff indicated on Tuesday that his return to the lineup will be determined by the level of pain tolerance Evans is able to play through.
The Grizzlies will also be without backup center Deyonta Davis, who is expected to stay in a walking boot for a few more days as he recovers from a left ankle sprain he suffered in the second half of Monday’s loss in Boston. In addition, Memphis remains without Chandler Parsons (illness) and Wayne Selden (knee), who have not played since the All-Star break.
Those issues cut farther into a rotation that was short on experienced depth and has had an adverse effect on ambitions to develop younger players, many of whom have struggled or have been wildly inconsistent while playing extended minutes.
You look at the youth we’re putting on the floor. We’re building character and we’re building quality NBA players for the long term. We could very easily shut down and let guys just go out and jack up bad shots. But we’re focusing on building long-term NBA professionals.-- Coach Bickerstaff
“It’s a lot of frustration about that, but I think the commitment to what we’re trying to get done is still strong,” Bickerstaff said. “You look at the youth we’re putting on the floor. We’re building character and we’re building quality NBA players for the long term. We could very easily shut down and let guys just go out and jack up bad shots. But we’re focusing on building long-term NBA professionals.”
That building process has been intertwined with breaking points. Rookie swingman Dillon Brooks had his best month in January, when he averaged 11.5 points on 49.6-percent shooting overall and a 43.2-percent clip from three-point range to earn a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend.
Subsequently, amid injuries elsewhere that forced his move from small forward to shooting guard, Brooks is closing out his least efficient month in February. He’s still scoring in double figures at 10.4 points a game, but his shooting has dipped to 36.4 percent overall and 25 percent on threes.
“It’s hard and it’s frustrating, because nobody wants to be losing this many games,” Brooks said. “I’m learning from the ups and the downs, and trying to get myself out of the multiple walls I’ve been hitting throughout the season. I’m just trying to learn new things, trying to cut more, trying to play harder defense. And even though I’m not taking as many shots, I’ve gotten used to that. I’ve got to score multiple ways and different arrays, and I’ve got to be focused on my shot when I take it.”
Third-year forward Jarell Martin has stumbled through a similar adjustment in recent games, moving from power forward into Brooks’ available spot as the starting small forward. The transition has required more ball-handling responsibilities and defensive matchups on quicker players, which has caused Martin to struggle for stretches with fouls and turnovers in recent games.
Learning through losses and mounting injuries isn’t an ideal situation. Couple that with the fact that the February schedule also featured eight of the previous nine games against teams either firmly in playoff position or on the cusp of it. And the rest of the schedule won’t exactly allow the Grizzlies to ease into the offseason as the franchise’s focus starts to shift toward the May 15 NBA draft lottery.
After a two-game set at home that continues with Friday’s visit from the Nuggets, the Grizzlies close out the season with 13 of their final 21 games on the road, which also includes four back-to-back sets. For now, players and coaches simply want the relief that comes with getting a win. The Grizzlies haven’t tasted victory since beating the Suns 120-109 on Jan. 29 at FedExForum.
Since then, losses have piled up against Indiana, Detroit, Toronto, Atlanta, Utah, OKC (twice), Cleveland, Miami and Boston. It’s left the Grizzlies with their second losing streak of 10 or more games this season, which marks the first time the franchise has endured multiple, double-figure skids in a season since the 1999-2000 season in Vancouver.
The way we’re losing is not a good feeling. We have to keep our head up and continue to fight. We just can’t go out of the season losing every game. We have to have pride for ourselves and go out there.-- JaMychal Green
“It’s hard to deal with,” said forward JaMychal Green, who has provided a recent spark with five double-doubles in his last seven games, including a season-high 21 points and 11 rebounds Monday in Boston. “The way we’re losing is not a good feeling. We have to keep our head up and continue to fight. We just can’t go out of the season losing every game. We have to have pride for ourselves and go out there.”
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.