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Cutting to the Chase: Grizzlies Step Back So They Can Move Forward

What can be learned in a seemingly meaningless game? Where the real vision of a team lies. The time has come for vision to become action.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that went about as well as you would expect.

A night after a disappointing loss against the Boston Celtics, without their "core four" of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen, the Grizzlies started the game borrowing a line from their foes for the evening, the Washington Wizards, and rose up to start, but over time the difference in talent and cohesion was too much for these Grizzlies to withstand. It isn't just about this one game, however; this decision by Head Coach Dave Joerger and comments following the game showed a team with an eye to the future.

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The calling card of the starting unit so far post All-Star Break has been slow starts. Not tonight. The starting group of Beno Udrih/Courtney Lee/Jeff Green/JaMychal Green/Kosta Koufos ran the floor and moved well early, scoring 33 points in the opening stanza with only 12 of them coming in the paint. A very un-Grizzly run of success, led by Beno Udrih Kosta Koufos who both had eight points in the quarter as the team shot 59.1% from the field.

It all came crashing back down to earth in the second quarter though. Turnovers, another issue that has been plaguing the Grizzlies, reared their ugly head, allowing for John Wall & company to run in transition, and despite a flagrant foul on Bradley Beal after an elbow to Jordan Adams' face on a pull through move, the Wizards went on a run to take a 43-41 lead with 5:44 left in the first half. The Wizards continued the smack down as the Grizzlies fell out of rhythm, forcing shots and making poor decisions with the basketball. 60-47, Wizards up at the half after a 34-14 second quarter. Turnovers were the story, as the Grizzlies had 11 in the half, leading to 16 Wizards points.

Some changes came with the start of the second half. Courtney Lee began defending John Wall, a worthwhile idea considering how well Courtney defended James Harden recently. Unfortunately, Wall and Paul Pierce remained active, and he Wizards got to the free throw line early to build the lead up to 67-51 at the 8:19 mark. The Wizards were hitting on all cylinders while Memphis looked like they were without their tires and engine, which of course they were in the absence of the "core four". Short shots showed tired legs, foul trouble for Kosta Koufos (5 fouls through the third quarter) added to the frustration. The lone positive of this quarter was the appearance of Russ Smith, who completed the "Grizzlies' future" trifecta alongside Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes to close out the quarter. 89-71 Wizards to close the third after a late surge due to a dangerous flagrant 2 foul on Kevin Seraphin against Jon Leuer on a dunk.

The fourth quarter came and went as the young Grizzlies got some good experience. The lack of cohesion was evident though, as you would expect with a lineup of Nick Calathes/Russ Smith/Jordan Adams/Jarnell Stokes/Jon Leuer to start the final frame. Memphis got the lead down as low as 15, but the Wizards (and 23 Memphis turnovers) were simply too much for this weakened version of the Grizzlies to overcome. Final score, the Washington Wizards 107, the Memphis Grizzlies 87.

Z-Bo

Post game, Zach Randolph spoke of the importance of being positive. He alluded to the challenges of the schedule post All-Star break and in March, with 8 back-to-backs over that time period. Rest is necessary, especially for a veteran team like this one, and a veteran like Z-Bo understands the pace and grind of a season. Experience like that is worth a night or two off every once and a while.

Green

Jeff Green, a player who has been a polarizing figure both in Memphis and throughout his entire career, had great perspective on this stretch for the Grizzlies as well. In a season spanning at least seven months, there will be times your shot doesn't fall. The key is to not let defense slip alongside your offensive game, and sometimes it's as simple as being one step behind and all of a sudden games are out of reach.

This is, of course, only one game out of 82, one that Dave Joerger seemed willing to concede by benching his four best players because of injury concern with Conley and the desire for rest for Gasol, Randolph, and Allen. Joerger in his post game comments stated as much warning about the dangers of complacency (an issue this team has dealt with throughout the Grit and Grind Era), but also knowing the schedule is brutal. Coach Joerger stated that he is becoming more minutes conscious as the season goes on, and his planning at this point, with this roster, is with an eye to April and having a healthy, well-rested squad in the playoffs.

It was a decision that was Gregg Popovich & the San Antonio Spurs-esque, and Joerger's willingness to pull the trigger on such a move shows more comfort in his role as head coach. Dave likely does not make this choice in a similar situation last season had it existed (which it didn't, as the Grizzlies had been fighting for their playoff lives since January at this point in 2014.) Mike Conley's health is the most important factor in this decision; whether the Conley choice was a one-game move like Gasol, Randolph and Allen appear to be or the beginning of an extended rest bears watching heading into Saturday night, the next time the Grizzlies play (at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.). "Captain Clutch" has not been right consistently in a long time and extra time to heal up, even if he can physically play, could make all the difference for arguably the second most important player on the Grizzlies.

In the grand scheme, this loss will be an afterthought. Hopefully in the aftermath of this game, the Grizzlies find themselves again, Gasol finds his aggression scoring more consistently, Mike Conley finds his health, and the team hits their stride. Part of achieving this lies on Coach Joerger; he must figure out how best to utilize the tools at his disposal to put his charges in the best position to be successful. How do you protect possessions for an offense which is nowhere near good enough to waste them? How do you reinvigorate a defense and Gasol, its catalyst, to achieve the consistency necessary to win the franchise's first divisional championship? Questions remain, despite this pause for air.

The final say on this season will come down to these players, however. As the playoffs approach, if chasing something greater is truly their desired end game, they must dig deeper than they ever have and make those words look more meaningful through their actions. They must commit to efficiency and ball movement, effort and aggression through screens and in help defense. They must move forward.

Otherwise, their goals and their fans' dreams will suffer the same fate that a lot of the Grizzlies' shots did against the Wizards and will fall short. Talk is one thing, but physically this team must bow their necks and get back to playing championship caliber basketball. It is there for the taking, but in order to become a champion it will take more than this team has ever given. The challenge is great, but well worth the chase. The time is now, as this chapter in Memphis Grizzlies basketball reaches its peak.

Sometimes, all you need in order to see the big picture and gain ground again is to take a step back and catch your breath. For these Grizzlies, where they take that next step will make all the difference.

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