DALLAS – Fresh off their first home victory of the season, the Grizzlies look to carry momentum on the road as they finally leave behind a difficult month of November.
Although December awaits with its own set of daunting challenges, here are two takeaways from the breakthrough win over the Jazz and a look-ahead to Friday’s visit to face early MVP frontrunner Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
‘OUR FANS DESERVE BETTER’
A year after celebrating the best home record in franchise history, the Grizzlies followed their NBA-best, 35-6 mark last season with a franchise-worst, 0-8 start this season at FedExForum.
But that streak of futility came to a screeching halt when the Grizzlies delivered their most dominant and complete effort of the season in Wednesday’s 105-91 victory over the Jazz.
The performance provided equal parts relief and reassurance. The coaching staff pushed every button imaginable to find answers and group of players largely held themselves accountable for a lackluster start to the season that left the fanbase reasonably restless.
“We’ve had some tough battles and stuff, but we were a great home team last year,” Jenkins said of the Grizzlies, who became the last team in the NBA to win a home game this season. “Our fans deserve better play at home – that’s the biggest thing that jumps out. So, if we go out there and perform better, we can turn the tide for sure. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
In many ways, the Grizzlies took care of business in a fashion that was similar to their blueprint from each of the two previous seasons. During the two-year run when Memphis posted the second-best record in the Western Conference over consecutive seasons, the team ranked among the best in the NBA in paint scoring, creating transition points off stingy defense and sharing the ball in a balanced offensive attack.
Those elements were on display Wednesday, when the Grizzlies tallied season highs in points in the paint (58), rebounds (51) and combined blocks and steals (19). That production was the result of a greater commitment to dictate tempo and generate disruptive defense. Two games after failing to score a fastbreak point, the Grizzlies notched 23 points in transition against Utah.
To fans, that energy in the building was familiar. And so were the results on the scoreboard. After securing a much-needed win at home, the Grizzlies will play 10 of their 15 December games on the road. They got back to their identity as they closed out November at home. The hope is that effort will give the Grizzlies something to draw from as they embark on the road.
“We’ve been here before though, through all the streaks,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said of enduring the ups and downs of a season. “It makes you appreciate the win, but there’s totally more to do. There’s more (success) coming for sure. It’s going to be a good next month.”
ANOTHER LINEUP TWEAK
The revolving door to the Grizzlies starting lineup took yet another spin, with veteran Derrick Rose and second-year forward David Roddy inserted into the opening group against Utah.
Rose and Roddy joined regulars Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Bismack Biyombo for what was the Grizzlies’ eighth different starting lineup through 17 games this season. According to Jenkins, Rose moved into the first unit to give the team a change of pace in an attempt to speed up the offense and generate transition opportunities.
And Roddy’s rugged presence gives the Grizzlies a physical defender on the perimeter to help stabilize and solidify the frontcourt. The move worked to near perfection in the one-game sample size, with Rose contributing season highs of nine assists and 27 minutes while Roddy knocked down a career-best five 3-pointers to go along with a stellar defensive effort.
Ideally, Rose won’t be asked to play minutes that extend into the high 20s at this stage of his career. The 16-year veteran is best suited to give the Grizzlies about 15-20 minutes a game to help preserve his health at age 35.
“I’m having to re-learn and adjust to where my body is now versus where it was even two or three years ago,” Rose said. “When I feel something, I know. And I know I’m in a good situation right now, just listening to my body and knowing to trust my regimen and what’s best for me.”
It is possible Rose will remain in the starting lineup for now when he’s available, with the team limiting his minutes and permitting for rest-and-recovery days, particularly on back-to-back sets.
Veteran point guard Marcus Smart (foot sprain) was out of his walking boot Wednesday, but likely remains sidelined for another couple weeks. And Ja Morant has eight games remaining on his 25-game NBA suspension before he’s eligible to return Dec. 19 against the Pelicans.
DOMINANCE ON DECK
So, what awaits the Grizzlies now that they’ve regained some confidence after notching their first home win of the season? A back-to-back set on the road against two of the NBA’s most dominant offensive forces.
First up is Friday’s matchup against Doncic, who emerged from a recent slump by pouring in 41 points Tuesday against a Houston Rockets team that tied for league’s No. 1-ranked defense. And on Saturday, the Grizzlies head to Phoenix to face the Suns just over a week after Devin Booker scored his season-high 40 points during a win in Memphis.
The last time Doncic faced the Grizzlies, he finished with his 58th career triple-double, accounting for 35 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in the Mavericks’ 125-110 win in Memphis on Oct. 30. Dallas also knocked down 23 shots from beyond the arc, which were the second-most 3-pointers made by a Grizzlies opponent in franchise history.
Sustaining their defensive effort from Wednesday’s effort is the top priority as the Grizzlies brace for a tough trip.
“If we play the (same) way we did on the defensive end of the floor, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win most of those games,” Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane said. “And that’s all you can ask for. Attention to detail, especially on the defensive end, really fuels our offense.”