MikeCheck: At ‘Lowest Point,’ Grizzlies Meddling with Mediocrity

MEMPHIS – Two takeaways from last night’s 122-109 demoralizing home loss to the Brooklyn Nets and a look-ahead to Thursday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedExForum.

TAKE ONE … Shuffling Through Mediocrity

Stale. Adversity. Mediocre. Lowest point.

All of the above terms found their way into Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s postgame explanation for his team’s dismal performance in the latest baffling home loss. What made Monday’s setback so discouraging was not simply that it came against the league-worst Nets, but that it came precisely after Fizdale made two bold tweaks to the starting lineup he hoped would jumpstart the team.

Instead, sending Grint’N’Grind commissioner Tony Allen and JaMychal Green to the bench and replacing them with Andrew Harrison and Brandan Wright backfired to the point that it may have left the Grizzlies more disjointed and disconnected on the floor and in the locker room than they were before the game.

Indeed, these are desperate times for the Grizzlies (36-28), who are just 14-14 since Jan. 1 and have lost five of their last seven games, including three in a row. The only things piling up faster than routinely frustrating losses are the questions that surround them about the team’s puzzling performances.

“This is our lowest point, I think, this year,” Fizdale said heading into Tuesday’s off day to regroup. “If you call this adversity, this is the most adversity we’ve probably faced. This is our lowest point. This is the challenge now and we always talk about how this will reveal character and it’ll test us to see where we are as a team, as a collective unit and how together we are.”

Credit Fizdale for one thing, at least. As a rookie head coach, when he’s made mistakes, he’s owned up to them. When he’s at a loss for answers, the search to find them is as transparent as it gets with any coach in the league. And when Fizdale rolls the dice on an adjustment and comes up snake eyes, he simply shakes things up a bit and tosses them out again.

But right now, he appears to be doubling down on his latest lineup bet. Fizdale strongly suggested that he’ll stick with Harrison and Wright in the starting lineup alongside Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol for “a couple of games and see what it turns into,” before reconsidering his options. The issue here is that if Allen and Green were particularly problematic in the starting lineup, it’s difficult to see how Wright and Harrison could be viewed as solutions at this point.

Green was coming off one of his most productive games of the season in Saturday’s loss to Houston and had benefited from Fizdale’s first bold lineup change of the season when he was moved ahead of Zach Randolph as the starting power forward after training camp. Wright, meanwhile, was coming off four absences in the past five games for personal reasons after the birth of his twins.

However, Allen’s move to the bench apparently has been contemplated for a while as the perennial All-NBA defender and his new coach continue to work to get on the same page regarding strategy and habits. But for as much as sending Allen to the bench for now seems to send a resounding statement, resuscitating Harrison into the mix only clouds the message. At one stage during the season, Harrison led all NBA rookies in minutes but was drastically inconsistent and ineffective before he fell completely out of the rotation midway through the season.

So the decision to bring Harrison back at a time when James Ennis’ role has vanished and Fizdale has admitted to wanting to find more opportunities for Troy Daniels does raise reasonable questions. Bottom line is this, Fizdale should have been able to blindly draw five names out of a hat and that should have been enough to avoid the kind of meltdown that took place Monday at FedExForum.

The Grizzlies are now tinkering just as much with less than 20 games remaining in the season as they did during the first 20 games on the schedule. They’re now on their 17th different starting lineup as they scramble toward the finish in hopes of finding effective combinations for the playoffs.

“If this isn’t getting it done, I’m ready to shuffle some more because that’s my job,” Fizdale said. “I’m not going to be satisfied with mediocrity. We’re a mediocre basketball team. That’s on me as well, so I’m controlling what I can, which is minutes, lineups and all of that. Hopefully, it’ll have an impact.”

TAKE TWO … Gasol’s Gripe

Gasol, the Grizzlies’ three-time All-Star and team captain, is fed up with what he’s hearing on the defensive end of the court after three straight losses to the Mavericks, Rockets and Nets.

“There are too many, ‘My bads’” Gasol said of repeated instances when teammates are apologizing for blown assignments instead of correcting the issues. “I thought by now we’d have a good idea of what we’re going to do, especially from a players’ standpoint, knowing exactly what we are supposed to do. We can look ourselves in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, each and every single one of us.”

The reflection the Grizzlies will find in the mirror is now of a team that is cratering defensively. At the peak of their powers and connectivity earlier this season, the Grizzlies were the NBA’s top-rated team in defensive efficiency. While Memphis still holds steady in the top five overall in points allowed, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage defense, the production since the All-Star break has dipped.

Over the past six games, the Grizzlies have allowed an average of 110.2 points and have struggled to keep teams out of the paint. Memphis hasn’t stopped anyone or anything the past three games. All five Dallas starters scored in double figures last Friday, the Rockets shot 50 percent from the field Saturday and the Nets did even better Monday, shooting 53.4 percent and putting six scorers in double figures on the way to just their second win this season over a team that currently has a winning record.

Memphis’ problems are multi-layered. But it boils down to this: perimeter players can’t stop dribble penetration and the forwards and centers aren’t rotating fast enough to cover ground in the lane.

“There’s a lot of, ‘We should have done this, we should have done that,’” Gasol lamented. “During the game, there are a lot of little games being played – too many things that we are trying to accomplish. We don’t have that much time left to get ready for the playoffs. I think now, there has to be one goal, and that’s what’s best for the team, not what’s best for one guy or another guy.”

Gasol insists the Grizzlies have the personnel and the mindset to correct the issues to become a great defensive team again, but it’s going to require rebuilding trust on the fly.

“I wish I could put my finger on it and tell you exactly what it is, but it’s hard,” Gasol said. “Defensively, it’s too many breakdowns from way too many different places. We have a lot of guys here that have been through it, and I trust every single one of them that they are going to do the right thing.”

WHAT’S NEXT … Slipping to Seventh?

As bad as things were against the Nets, the Grizzlies didn’t fall in the Western Conference playoff standings and remain in sixth place heading into Tuesday’s slate of games.

But that could all change, depending on the outcome when the Trail Blazers visit Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. A win by the Thunder would move OKC into a tie with Memphis, with both teams owning 36-28 records. But with the Thunder holding a 2-1 series lead over the Grizzlies this season, OKC would essentially take over position as the No. 6 seed in the West and knock Memphis to No. 7.

Slipping to seventh means a potential matchup with Golden State or San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. Among the four teams still battling for the coveted No. 4 seed to secure home-court advantage for a first-round series, the Grizzlies have already won the season series against Utah (3-1) and trail both OKC (2-1) and the Clippers (2-1). That sets up for a pivotal game Thursday against the Clippers, with the Grizzlies then playing their final matchup against the Thunder on April 5 at home.

“It’s basically the playoffs right now for us, man,” Randolph said. “We can’t mess around. It’s real important we take care of business … stick together and figure this out. There’s not a lot of time.”

Grizzlies vs. Clippers – Thursday, March 9 at 7pm   Find Tickets

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