Finally, it is about to mercifully come to an end.
The NBA regular season takes a bow tonight as the eyes of fans everywhere stay transfixed on the playoff races in both the Eastern and Western conferences. On this final evening, the Memphis Grizzlies look at the lay of the land in the West, surely with a sigh and a slouch. It was only two weeks ago when the most likely scenario for Memphis remained the two seed and a Southwest division championship. Now? A distant memory as scoreboard-watching means a hope for a five seed homecourt matchup against a Trail Blazers squad also decimated by injuries instead of the six seed and a road opener against likely the Los Angeles Clippers or Houston Rockets.
A major development in this slide, outside of inspired play by the Clippers, Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, has of course been the Grizzlies' injuries. All six of the "key" Grizzlies (Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen and Jeff Green) have been in and out of injury reports of late with a variety of ailments. No one will feel bad for the Grizzlies outside of their own fan base, especially not an Indiana Pacer team who saw title aspirations fade away with Paul George's horrific leg injury this past Summer. Injuries happen, and are a part of the story for all teams.
The Pacers have some reason to be optimistic, however. George has returned, and Indiana is slowly but surely working him back in to game shape and (hopefully) bigger minutes in a potential playoff run. Others have stepped up in his absence and Indy will be entering the FedEx Forum fighting for their playoff lives, performing better lately than these Grizzlies have.
Even though this is a home game, and even though Memphis on paper is the better team (especially with a just-returning George), this game will be a challenge due to injury and the lack of execution that Memphis has shown of late. How to end this disappointing stretch on a high note? Three keys.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
If there were ever a game to throw the game plan out the window, it would be this one. The great teams, like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, preach executing as close to perfection as possible, regardless of the opponent. "Do what we do," coaches may say. At the end of it all, it's about us, not them.
Win or lose, the Memphis Grizzlies need to get back to playing "Memphis Grizzlies basketball." Inside out, different sets to get different looks from different angles in and around the paint. Injuries make this difficult, for sure. But regardless of who is in, the scheme can be executed and rhythm can be found.
Memphis cannot control who is in and out of the lineup with "legitimate" injury (rest is obviously a bit different). What they can control is their effort. They can focus on controlling tempo and the ball through properly running their offense. Even in a loss, this would be great to see heading in to the start of the playoffs this weekend.
Start Fast, Finish Faster
Golden State ran Memphis off the court early and set the tone for that contest from the beginning. Whenever the Grizzlies have had problems recently or in the past, it usually has something to do with a slow start (the big win against the Kings earlier in the season and a few others being the exception to the rule). The Bears of Beale Street have a roster and scheme designed to be terrific frontrunners, but not so good when playing from behind.
The first three minutes of each quarter are important for that very reason. Even more so is the need to finish these quarters in a similar fashion. Positive vibes are few and far between for the Grizzlies right now; any momentum at the end of quarters that may carry over in to the next one could begin a trend of good things for a team that could desperately use things to feel good about.
Jump out early, attack, attempt to get into a position at the end of quarters to have stretches of good play span over multiple frames. See the murkiness begin to clear.
Contain the Pacers Back Court at All Times
Two of the guys who has stepped up in the absence of Paul George this season are George Hill and CJ Miles. Miles is one of the better three point shooters post All-Star Break in the NBA at 40.3%. His shot chart shows a heck of a lot of green from the perimeter-
Hot hot hot. Heading into last night's contest against the Washington Wizards, Miles was shooting an obscene 47.5% from beyond the arc and had scored 18 points a game in the month of April. Against the Wizards, Miles dropped 25 points on slightly less torrid shooting (9-22 overall, 4-13 from three). He's still a threat who must be respected for his all-around game as well (8 assists and 8 rebounds in the Wizards game in 42 minutes of play).
Meanwhile, Hill has posted an overall 21.63 PER for the 2014-2015 season and is averaging 15.8 points per game in his last five games (part of a six game winning streak heading in to tonight) along with 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Hill made a CLUTCH three to help the Pacers beat the Washington Wizards Tuesday night in double overtime and almost posted a triple double (24 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds). He has played a huge role in the Pacers recent resurgence and overall hovering in the playoff conversation without their superstar Paul George.
Another example of executing better scheme on the defensive end would be being aware of these dangerous guards at all times. Don't let their combined 20-47 overall and 6-23 from three point land in their win last night against the Wizards fool you; considering the way the Grizzlies defense has played at times, they are capable of hurting Memphis in a variety of ways. Klay Thompson cooked the Grizzlies' goose on Monday night not just because of his en fuego shooting touch, but also because Memphis struggled staying in front of him on cuts and with ball watching.
CJ Miles and George Hill are a big part of the Pacers' success right now. Limit them, limit their potential.
As I wrote about in my season reflection yesterday (which you can read here), this season has gone downhill in a hurry. So much positive energy has dissipated, and injuries have decimated this roster so much that it is really and truly impossible to accurately predict what is coming.
That being said, I have never copped out of a prediction in my previews, and I am not going to start now. The Grizzlies are going to limit the back court of Miles and George Hill with an improved focus on and execution of perimeter defense whether Mike Conley plays or not (unlikely at this point). They will execute their offense in a "back to basics" movement to try to get in to a rhythm, and the Grizzlies will win a tough game against another top-10 defensive team as they head into the playoffs (hopefully as the five seed. Go Pelicans/Jazz!).
Memphis 91, Indiana 88
For the Indiana Pacer perspective, check out Indy Cornrows.
|014-15 NBA Season
54-27 (30-10 home)
38-43 (15-25 road)
|April 15th, 2015
|FedExForum, Memphis Tennessee|
|8:30 PM CDT|
|ESPN/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
|Injury report: Tony Allen (OUT, hamstring), Mike Conley (questionable; foot), Marc Gasol (probable; ankle)|
|Beno Udrih||PG||George Hill|
|Courtney Lee||SG||C.J. Miles|
|Zach Randolph||PF||David West|
|Marc Gasol||C||Roy Hibbert|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|94.3 (26th)||Pace||95.7 (19th)|
|102.9 (T-13th)||ORtg||101.1 (23rd)|
|99.9 (4th)||DRtg||101.0 (9th)|