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Game Recap: Grinding on the Road in Portland

The Grizzlies ground out a great team win last night on the road against the Trail Blazers. What did it teach us about the team going forward?

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Last night, the Grizzlies rolled into the Rose Garden — a notoriously tough place to play — and ground out a win over a Trail Blazers team that refused to give up even when they were down 15 in the 4th quarter. Led by their trio of big men (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Ed Davis[1]), the Grizzlies punished the Blazers inside, and spaced the floor just enough to keep the defense from packing the paint. On the defensive end, the Grizzlies were stifling through the third quarter and most of the fourth, before the Blazers charged back and made a game of it. Overall, it was a quality win on the road, in an arena where the Grizzlies have never had much luck.

Herewith, some scattered thoughts on last night’s game.

Z-Bo is Z-Back

After hurting his ankle 42 seconds into last week’s game against the Miami Heat, but he stayed in the game, playing the whole thing and almost willing the Grizzlies to a win against the defending champs. He missed games against the Magic, Blazers (in Memphis), Cavaliers, and Hornets before returning to action last night, and it was clear that he was ready to play.

In 28 minutes of action — either because the ankle is still a little sore, or because Lionel Hollins wanted him rested for tonight’s playoff-seed-essential matchup against the Clippers, or probably both — Randolph managed to rack up 19 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 8–13 from the floor. There were flashes of brilliance from Randolph last night where he looked absolutely unstoppable on offense, and then played some staunch D on the other end against LaMarcus Aldridge and company[2].

Having Randolph healthy is going to be critical to the Grizzlies’ success the rest of this season, and last night, he put aside whatever doubts there may have been about the readiness of his ankle. With critical games against the Clippers and Nuggets coming up tonight and Friday night, the Grizzlies need Z-Bo to be at his best. I’m sure he knows that.

Big Boss Man

So, Ed Davis is still a little rough around the edges (especially the defensive edges against bigger centers and power forwards), but last night, he showed flashes of his potential, attacking the basket and making great plays in the paint[3]. Davis finished the night with 14 points on 9 shots, 9 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and two blocks. His offensive rating for the game was 140 and his defensive rating was 98, which, well, that’s really good.

Outside observers regarded Davis as the key player the Grizzlies got back in the Rudy Gay trade, and I think Griz fans had a "Yeah, right" attitude about it at the time, but the more we see him play — and the more leash Lionel Hollins is willing to give him — the more that seems like the truth. Davis’s athleticism (which he has to use to make up for his current lack of size) allows him to be a very dangerous player around the rim on both sides of the ball.

I genuinely believe he’s a guy that can be the "Z-Bo of the Future" for the Grizzlies if — and it’s a big if — he really works hard on his game and develops his talents to their utmost. I’m excited to see what he can do in the future. Think about what he’s going to look like in his prime.

Last night we saw the Grizzlies’ post offense turn into a lean, mean, killing machine, with Z-Bo or Davis on the blocks and Marc Gasol camped out at the elbows making passes or, the few times the Blazers accidentally left him unguarded, dropping flat-footed shots like he was taking free throws. He basically was taking free throws. If the Blazers doubled Gasol, whoever was down low was open. If they doubled down low, Gasol was up there at the foul line open. What a nightmare to defend. I loved it.

The Jerryd Bayless Experiment

Was, well, terrible. Bayless is a dynamic player, and a very streaky one. Either he has it or he doesn’t. Last night, he appeared to not have it, making some genuinely terrible plays, airballing shots, fouling Eric Maynor on a three point shot attempt at maybe the worst possible time on Earth, with the Blazers only down 6 in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. There were long stretches of the game last night where Bayless played like hot garbage.

Bayless still hasn’t really found a niche with the Grizzlies, and I’m not sure if it’s because Lionel Hollins hasn’t been consistent in how he utilizes Bayless, or if Bayless just hasn’t figured out his groove yet. Either way, Bayless has got to step up his play if the Grizzlies are going to be a serious postseason threat. He has the potential to be a dynamic outside scorer, but not when he’s airballing. He has the potential to be a backup point guard… I guess…? But he’s not very good at it. Tony Wroten is a better facilitator (except Bayless is a better facilitator when he’s… playing the 2-guard spot?)

At any rate, I’m not sure the Grizzlies’ Jerryd Bayless Experiment is working, and I’m not sure why. Something just isn’t clicking right now, and that’s going to be a problem down the stretch. I mean, it was almost a problem last night.

The Road Ahead

Last night kicked off a horrible four-games-in-five-nights stretch in three of the hardest arenas in the league to get a win in, and the Clippers’ lights-on weird version of Staples Center isn’t exactly a stroll through a friendly meadow these days either. The Clippers and Nuggets games are must-wins if the Grizzlies want to maintain their razor-thin grasp on the 3rd seed in the playoffs for now, and the Nuggets are 28–3 at home, and the Clippers are doing this kind of stuff to people.

This might be the toughest gauntlet the Grizzlies have run all season, and historically, the Grizzlies just haven’t been very good on long West Coast road trips. Last night’s win was great, but I would rather have lost last night’s game and gotten a win tonight over the Clippers than get last night’s win and have the team be too tired to get a win in Los Angeles. Can’t win ’em all, and the Grizzlies have been on a magnificent tear as of late, winning 13 out of their last 14 and going 14–4 since the Rudy Gay trade.

We’re going to learn a lot about this team between now and Sunday. Hang on to your seats, Griz fans. It doesn’t get any bumpier than this…

…until the playoffs, which are right around the corner.

Blazer’s Edge has a ton of good coverage of the Blazers. Check out their great recap and a very insightful Media Row report.

  1. Everybody calls him "Special Ed" because that’s what Tony Allen told Chris Vernon he calls Davis, but apparently Davis already had an established nickname before he came to Memphis, and that nickname is/was Boss. Which is totally appropriate.

  2. Something that’s happened this season, as we’ve seen Randolph shift his role somewhat, is that he’s played remarkable defense from time to time, shutting down Dirk Nowitzki in a come-from-behind win over the Mavericks, playing tough against LaMarcus Aldridge last night (when Gasol was sitting), etc. I’m not sure I’ve seen him play this hard on defense in a while.

  3. There were also times where his handle was a little, uhh, suboptimal. One has to assume that’s going to improve as Davis matures into his game. Dude’s only 23.