The Grizzlies headed to Denver on Friday evening looking to put an end to their six game losing streak as they took on the Nuggets. The cards weren't stacked in Memphis' favor; Friday's game was a one-off road game the day after a holiday. Denver's altitude wouldn't make things any easier, either.
If there was any reason for optimism, it was the fact that Denver (10-8) would be without Paul Millsap, who is out for three months after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. Millsap had been a key piece in Denver's improved defense this season. Unfortunately, Millsap's absence didn't seem to cause Denver too many issues.
Coach David Fizdale rolled out what has become the normal starting lineup in Conley's absence: Mario Chalmers, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, and Marc Gasol.
Memphis, aided by a lucky bounce, started hot and built a quick 6-2 lead, but defensive miscues quickly turned that advantage to a 13-8 deficit. An early 6 points from JaMychal Green, including a forceful dunk inside, helped keep the Grizzlies in striking distance, if only for a little while.
By the end of the first quarter, the Grizzlies' atrocious offense and subpar defense had dug them a 27-18 hole, and it looked like the team was in for a long night. Even Gasol appeared to lack concentration at times, a bad sign for a team that needed him to step up in Conley's absence.
The Grizzlies' offense remained stagnant in the second quarter. It didn't help that Deyonta Davis, the team's only active center with Brandan Wright sidelined, accumulated four fouls in just nine minutes of playing time, forcing an even greater burden on Gasol.
By the end of the second quarter, the game looked as if it had been decided. The Grizzlies trailed by 16 points (61-45) and continued to let the Nuggets get whatever look they wanted. Nikola Jokic even while looking like he had a cold led the Nuggets with 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting, while also adding 5 assists. JaMychal Green led the Grizzlies with 12 points, while Marc had pitched in 10 points on 4-10 shooting and 5 assists.
The Grizzlies struggled out of the half, but did just enough to keep the deficit at 16 before a series of threes by Parsons, Evans, and Brooks, combined with some ACTUAL DEFENSIVE STOPS, allowed the Grizzlies to get within 7 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The ball continued to move on offense, and that, paired with the uptick in defensive intensity, got the Grizzlies back into the game. A Tyreke lay-in on an incredible inbound pass just before the end of the quarter capped a 29-15 quarter. The Grizzlies trailed by 2 points with 12 to play.
With the bench in to start the fourth, though, the Grizzlies could not keep momentum, and the Nuggets lead quickly stretched back to 14. Jokic was instrumental in Denver's run. Memphis had no answer for the big man, who knocked down shots, found open shooters, and pulled down big rebounds in the game's key moments. He finished the game with 28 points; 14 of those points came in a fourth quarter in which the Grizzlies were outscored 28-16.
JaMychal Green finished the night as Memphis' leading scoring, with 21 points on 9-9 shooting, including 2-2 from three. Gasol, meanwhile, added an inefficient 15 points on 13 shots, along with 14 assits and 6 boards. Tyreke Evans continued to be a force with 15 off the bench.
After the 104-92 loss, the Grizzlies will have Saturday off before they welcome the 6-12 Brooklyn Nets to FedExForum. Memphis absolutely must beat Brooklyn. The next team they face that currently has a losing record after that game isn't until December 9, when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 8-10 and underperforming in the clutch.
- Ben McLemore likely had what was his best effort in a Grizzlies uniform. He made a few key offensive plays, and provided energy on the defensive end, which was the more concerning area when it came to the former King.
- Marc Gasol set a new career high with 14 assists. His previous career high was 11.