If Coach Hollins has done one thing right this season, it's convincing his team to see this season in subsets of five games. By Hollins's estimation out of each five games, the Grizzlies should be winning two.
I like this as an outlook for a young, improving team. But even more importantly, I like it as a blogger, because it makes a remarkable set-up for a lasting series. From here on out, each five games will include a wrap of how the Grizzlies played, if they lived up to expectations, what they can do better, and some prospects for the next five game set.
So hop over the jump for the new format. Check it out, feel free to comment on your favorites over the past few, and be sure to check back for game-by-game analysis as well.
The Breakdown- 2-3: All five games were on the road, and the Grizzlies were vast underdogs in three of the five games. Memphis began the trip by getting run the hell out of Phoenix, playing no defense against the Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudamire super-pick-n-roll. They stunned Portland at home after a huge run. Then they lost after giving up a big 4th quarter run by the Clips and lost again to the heavily favored Jazz. Memphis finished the trip with just the right record with a tight victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
What Feels Good: The win against Portland was a huge bright spot for the Grizzlies. It was probably just an anomaly, especially since the Grizzlies struggled to get much going outside of that huge run, but still, monster road wins are monster road wins.
In terms of specific skills, the ball-movement was pretty solid this trip. The young guys still get a little overeager (read: never pass) when things get tight, but when the Grizzlies are rolling and feeling it, they swing the ball at least as well as the average. And average is a huge step up for this squad. Jamaal Tinsley and Marc Gasol are clearly helping in this department; Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo, especially in pressure points, are not.
I thought the bench contributed just about what they can be expected to during this trip. Unless Mike Conley comes to the bench as a tiny-scorer in training and Jamaal Tinsley replaces him, Sam Young should remain 6th man and comes close to doing the job. He has a Josh Childress-like upside. Hasheem Thabeet has shown improvement, and DeMarre and "Ashey Larry" straight bring it.
Even the defense looks a little better, with the guys seeming to show a little more awareness. Yes, the Jazz and the Suns carved them up, but those two teams can be fantastically efficient and execute well with great coaching. I'm seeing some double-teams that look nice. I'm also seeing the Grizzlies actively trying to force turnovers, which could be called gambling, but is probably the only effective strategy with these personnel.
Tell Me What Hurts: But all in all, Memphis's defense still is terrible. The players aren't good at defense. Tinsley is still rusted to the court on defense and Conley has never been decent. O.J. Mayo is way worse than we thought, with what seems like every shooting guard killing him this season. Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph were never supposed to be good, but at least they both board. Marc Gasol is the lone bright spot, but he's no Dwight Howard.
And the offense seems to break down at the most inopportune times. Maybe this is part of growing as a young core, but it's pull-your-hair-out frustrating. It's awful watching O.J. Mayo taking stupid, isolation shots at the end of games when he is one of our least efficient isolation scorers. Rudy Gay doesn't have the killer instinct. Zach Randolph has a tendency to do really stupid things. Marc Gasol's success is predicated on ball-movement.
The effort hurt at times too. None of these starters are known as big-time hustlers, but they seem to be giving up at times during the blowouts. Maybe setting the bar at two wins out of five was too little. Maybe they're just not that good so they look tired. It's hard to say, but bringing guys who play their hearts out off the bench, guys like DeMarre and Hadaddi could help.
Into the Horizon: The next five are against: Dallas, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Miami, and Boston. In other words getting one win will be an accomplishment, two will be a godsend.
With four out of the five at home, it's feasible that the Grizzlies could beat Dallas or Miami, but I'm not sure they match up against Cleveland or Boston, who play too tough of defense and will force turnovers every other possession. If Dirk Nowitzki or Dwayne Wade has an off-night, it's more than feasible that the balanced Grizzlies attack could pull an upset.
But honestly, that one that got away from the Grizzlies in L.A. against the Clippers is going to come back to haunt Memphis. This five is tough, much tougher than the last, and the Grizzlies will be lucky to get out with another gold star.