- Is in the bottom five in 3-point makes, attempts and percentage in the most prolific season for 3-pointers in league history.
- Has been without its best player for over a month.
- Responded to losing its best player by dealing two more of its top five remaining rotation players at the trading deadline.
- Has a 36-year-old at small forward, arguably the most talented position in the league.
- Is currently paying six players to not play for them.
- Has seven players unable to play due to injury, not including the guy who was waived (Mario Chalmers) because his roster spot was needed.
- Has nine players on the roster who were not with the team last season.
- Had no healthy point guards on its roster for a couple of hours Friday morning.
- Signed three players to 10-day contracts in a 24-hour period, then used those players for 40, 27 and 19 minutes in their team debuts.
The first came Monday in Cleveland. With just eight players total and five different starters from the group that lost by 30 points at home to the Cavaliers on Opening Night, the Grizzlies pulled off an unfathomable 106-103 victory.
“The guys played their hearts out,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said afterward. “We had guys cramping, but they left it all out there. It’s a happy locker room. The phones are blowing up from everybody in Memphis. All of our guys that (are) back home like Marc (Gasol) and Birdman (Chris Andersen) are jumping and down in their living room right now.”
“We didn’t respect them tonight and they beat us,” Cavs superstar LeBron James said.
Back home four nights later, the Grizzlies outlasted the New Orleans Pelicans in overtime, 121-114. Their starting point guard was Briante Weber, who was signed that morning to a 10-day contract and found his name written on masking tape over a locker when he arrived at FedEx Forum that night. In his NBA debut, he played 40 minutes and collected 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Matt Barnes, their 36-year-old small forward, became the oldest player in NBA history to register his first career triple-double.
“Credit to Memphis for how well they’ve been playing for what seems like a long time, with a lot of (injuries) starting with Marc Gasol and a few more since then, and especially lately,” said Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose club handled a spent Grizzlies team on Saturday night. “Dave Joerger and his staff and his players, the way they’re competing and fighting every night … ”
No team currently occupying a playoff spot has lost more player games to injury than the Grizzlies. But if what they have already been through isn’t going to derail their postseason push, then nothing will.
Gasol went down for the season before the All-Star break with a broken foot. Before the stretch run had resumed, the Grizzlies made a pair of trades, dealing away starting shooting guard Courtney Lee (to Charlotte) along with Jeff Green (to the Clippers) to net Andersen, Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston, none of whom had played with any effectiveness this season and all on expiring contracts.
Memphis appeared to be packing it in. Starting point guard Mike Conley even joked that the addition of three players with chippy, off-kilter reputations to a roster that already included rough-and-tumble Zach Randolph and professional pests Barnes and Tony Allen should give the Grizzlies a new nickname – the “goon squad.”
But the Grizzlies have gone 9-5 without Gasol, a top-three center and former Defensive Player of the Year who led the team in scoring and was second in rebounding and assists. During his absence, they have lost Randolph, their best remaining scorer, to a sore knee and Conley, their floor general, for at least a month to Achilles tendinitis.
Wait, there’s more. Brandan Wright, signed as a free agent last summer to back up Gasol, has missed the last eight games with an MCL sprain. Andersen, acquired in part to compensate for the loss of Gasol, went down with a shoulder injury and has missed the last four games. Chalmers tore his Achilles tendon in Wednesday’s loss at Boston.
Chalmers was acquired in November from Miami, which was trying to dump salary to get below the luxury tax line. It was a nice pickup by Memphis, which added needed 3-point shooting and championship experience. The Grizzlies also had his Bird rights and could exceed the cap to re-sign him this summer. But when Chalmers went down, he had to be waived because the Grizzlies are so banged up they needed the roster spot. The news release was almost apologetic.
With Conley already out, that left the Grizzlies without a point guard. They signed Weber on Friday, then added point guard Ray McCallum and power forward Alex Stepheson on Saturday, both via the injury hardship rule. All three played significant minutes Saturday in Atlanta alongside other household names such as JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, making it difficult for Joerger to even call a play.
“I tell one guy to go over there, and then you pick, and you pop, and you throw it to him,” Joerger said. “Guys are learning on the fly. They’re watching video and we’re running through offense and defense. I’m trying to take timeouts when I can and trying to give them two or three different looks and keep it really simple.”
“We’re going to make mistakes,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to understand that. We’re going to do dumb stuff sometimes, and you’ve got to understand that. But the next play is the most important play.”
There is no timetable for the returns of Randolph, Wright or Andersen. Conley could be back before the end of the regular season – or not at all. Gasol won’t be back until training camp.
Yet it is hard to imagine the Grizzlies missing the playoffs. They are five games in the loss column ahead of sixth-place Portland and eight in front of ninth-place Utah with 16 games to play. Memphis does have two games remaining with San Antonio, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers and a single contest with Toronto, all members of the “.600 club.”
It probably should be mentioned that while Joerger is holding his team together with duct tape and rubber bands, two of the team’s co-owners reportedly have been at each other’s throats over the prospective sale of a portion of the franchise. But that doesn’t matter to the Grizzlies. All that matters is the next play.
“Sometimes it’s not pretty, but we’re going out there and competing,” Joerger said.
TRIVIA: Who was the last team to beat the San Antonio Spurs at home? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: The food truck in the picture below is co-owned by San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and his personal chef Cliff Chetwood.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson, who still owns a home in Denver and leases it to Nuggets guard Will Barton:
“I’m beyond just a coach. I’m business-minded. I went to UCLA.”
TANKS A LOT!: The Los Angeles Lakers play Phoenix twice in the next 10 days, and the only way those games could impact the Ben Simmons Sweepstakes is if LA wins both. The Lakers have a four-game “lead” on the Suns for the second-worst record. Winning both, however, would inch them closer to third. Should they fall to third by season’s end, they would be in danger of being bumped to fourth by a team hurdling them in the draft lottery – and lose their first-round pick to Philadelphia.
LINE OF THE WEEK: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto vs. Miami, March 12: 43 minutes, 13-26 FGs, 0-2 3-pointers, 12-15 FTs, 10 rebounds, seven assists, one block, two steals, three turnovers, 38 points in a 112-104 overtime win. It was the second 38-point game in nine days for DeRozan, and both came without the benefit of a 3-pointer. He led the Raptors in all three major categories and scored seven points in overtime.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota, March 11: 20 minutes, 0-4 FGs, 0-1 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, two rebounds, zero assists, one block, one steal, two turnovers, six fouls, zero points in a 99-96 loss. Ibaka did twist his ankle in the first quarter, but that doesn’t excuse this complete disappearing act which was his first donut since Christmas 2011. To make matters worse, he was schooled by Gorgui Dieng, who had a career-high 25 points with nine rebounds and three blocks and looked like the player Ibaka used to be.
TRILLION WATCH: A quiet week, with Boston rookie Jordan Mickey posting a 2 trillion Friday, San Antonio signee Andre Miller notching a 3 trillion Thursday and Denver swingman Mike Miller taking honors with a 4 trillion Tuesday. The season leader remains Milwaukee rookie Rashad Vaughn and his 12 trillion vs. Atlanta on January 15.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Golden State at San Antonio, March 19. Forget the battle between the NBA’s top two teams. Forget that these are the last two champions. Forget San Antonio’s perfect home record. Forget Golden State’s 30-point win in their first meeting, and roll this around your mouth: The Warriors have not won in the Alamo City since Feb. 14, 1997. That’s four months before the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Philadelphia at Brooklyn, March 15. Yep, these guys again. The Nets are the only team the 76ers have beaten since Jan. 26, winning home games on Feb. 6 and March 11. Maybe they can play this one without anyone getting taken off on a stretcher. Then again, beware the Ides of March.
TWO MINUTES: Many consider Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard among the top five players in the game right now. However, Leonard averages 4.3 free throws per game, the same number as Mario Chalmers. He ranks 36th overall and 19th among fellow All-Stars in that category. And his teammates feel like he should be higher. “His comfort level and his frustration are the same,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “He’s had an incredible year thus far and he’s starting to feel that he needs a little more respect than he’s getting. That he can make the plays that he’s making if he’s allowed the opportunity.” … Marreese Speights’ 25 points and nine boards in under 18 minutes Saturday should certainly get your attention. … Magic forward Aaron Gordon put on quite a show at the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend, and his game has catapulted since as well. There’s no doubt that Gordon has been helped by GM Rob Hennigan’s trades of Tobias Harris and Channing Frye, which basically cleared a position for him. But Gordon deserves credit for seizing the opportunity; he is averaging 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting nearly 53 percent from the field and has five double-doubles in 13 games, the same amount he had in 51 games before the break. … Over parts of five games, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas went 107 minutes without a turnover, scoring 91 points with 15 assists in that span. … Has there been a worse offseason signing than Omer Asik? The Pelicans re-signed him for $53 million over five years. He has zero double-doubles and just 22 blocked shots – one less than Rasual Butler – in 837 minutes. In his last five games since returning from a sprained ankle, he has four points with four straight donuts, 18 rebounds and 10 fouls in 64 minutes. … Even with Sunday’s home blowout loss to the Cavaliers, the Clippers are 25-10 without Blake Griffin. That’s a 58-win pace. They have gone 17-13 with him, a 46-win pace. Hmmm. … On the morning of Feb. 1, the Mavericks were 28-22, five games ahead of the Jazz and a virtual lock for their 16th playoff berth in 17 years. But Dallas has gone 5-11 since, losing to Orlando, Sacramento and Denver along the way. The Mavs also have squandered a stretch where they played nine of 10 games at home, going just 4-5 in those home games. Their lead over Utah is down to two games and they visit red-hot Charlotte and Cleveland this week before returning home to take on Golden State. A week from now, Dallas could easily be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. “We’re a .500 team,” guard Wesley Matthews said after Saturday’s loss to Indiana. “We deserve to be a .500 team and we’re at that crossroads. Where do we want to go? What do we want to do about it?”… On Saturday at Denver, Wizards starting center Marcin Gortat was 1-of-5 with four fouls in eight minutes and Nuggets starting center Nikola Jokic didn’t take a shot and committed four fouls and two turnovers in 16 minutes. And you thought center play was dead in the NBA.
Trivia Answer: Cleveland on March 12, 2015. … Happy 28th Birthday, Stephen Curry. … To East Hampton (CT) basketball seniors Chad Stanton, Quinn Schrager and Drew Arcidiacono, good luck in all you do in life.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.