The Memphis Grizzlies are on fire...but only kind of. After beginning the 2016-17 NBA season in slightly above average fashion with an 11-8 record through 19 games, Memphis has reeled off five consecutive victories to move its record to 16-8. This run has moved the team into fifth place in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
Of course, despite the five-game winning streak, the Grizzlies still have a negative point differential on the season. That is because all five of their wins during the streak have come by five points or fewer. The biggest win was a five-point victory at home over the Philadelphia 76ers; hardly something to hang your hat on. Memphis became the first team since the 2009-10 Pelicans (then Hornets) to complete a five-game winning streak with each win coming by five points or fewer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Overall, it would appear the successful stretch is more a case of schedule favoritism than some mighty run for the Grizz, though a five-game winning streak is great regardless. Even though these teams have star players on them such as Damian Lillard and MVP candidate Anthony Davis, these five opponents have a combined record this season of 44-73, and none are over .500 as of December 9. Only one win came on the road, and that victory took double overtime to notch. Everything about this streak is favorable and/or fluky, yet five wins are banked. No one can take those away from Memphis.
With Mike Conley sidelined, Marc Gasol has really taken charge of this team. In the month of December, which coincides with the winning streak and nearly perfectly with Conley's absence, Gasol is averaging 26.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, all with .510/.500/.800 shooting splits. He's been a man possessed.
Along with Conley, Chandler Parsons has been sidelined since much earlier in November, as he has been unable to come back from his knee injury that has sapped portions of multiple seasons now. Instead of the All-Star-caliber trio of Conley, Parsons and Gasol, Memphis has been forced to turn to young and inexperienced guys for production next to Gasol. Andrew Harrison and Troy Williams have started every game this month. Unheralded Troy Daniels is playing 32.6 minutes per game and is second on the team in scoring in December.
The fans must love that the old Grit 'n' Grind is playing fast and loose with young athletes behind head coach David Fizdale, though this excitement could fizzle out as the schedule toughens. In fact, such a coming-to-terms will happen immediately. The team's next three games are against Golden State, and back-to-back contests against Cleveland.
Thus far, the Grizzlies have started 11 different players this year, and 14 different guys are averaging more than 13 minutes a game when they play. Fizdale needs to figure out what he has (and who is available), though winning with spare parts has got to feel great.
Thanks to GBB community member Richard Miller for the guest post!