WHEN: 7:30 PM CT
WHERE: AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley (Out, Achilles), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, Quad), Brandan Wright (Out, Groin), Mario Chalmers (Questionable, Ankle), Chandler Parsons (Probable, Knee)
SAN ANTONIO- Kawhi Leonard (Out, Quad), Derrick White (Out, Wrist), Rudy Gay (Probable, Heel)
MEMPHIS- Mario Chalmers, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
SAN ANTONIO- Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
When the Memphis Grizzlies take the floor tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, they will have a new man in charge of managing the game. New head coach J.B. Bickerstaff replaces David Fizdale after approximately 72 hours of presumed conflict and profound change within the organization. Bickerstaff has to try to do what Fizdale could not- get this team’s free fall to stop. An 8-game losing streak, a run of losing basketball ever since last season’s All-Star break, a roster depleted by injury, questions about your best player being a “coach killer”...
And oh, by the way, it starts against one of the best coaches of all time in Gregg Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, who despite being without their best player all season long are 13-7, 9-2 at home, and currently the 3 seed in the Western Conference.
What could go wrong?
Some keys to tonight’s game...
What change will Bickerstaff bring?
J.B. Bickerstaff, as has been discussed here at GBB and elsewhere, took over Head Coaching duties for the Houston Rockets when Kevin McHale got fired a couple seasons ago. He emphasized shooting threes and pace, something that David Fizdale believed in and tried to implement here. Considering Bickerstaff was Fizdale’s lead assistant, and assuming that he had a large role in developing the schemes that Fizdale implemented, I would not expect to see much different in terms of actual X’s and O’s with Memphis. That’d be hard to do in two days.
What you will (hopefully) see, however, is better execution of those schemes. That may not result in a win, or even more made shots, considering the roster’s current injury woes. But better switches and close outs/hedges on pick and rolls on defense and better ball/player movement on offense would be welcome sights. If the Fizdale/Gasol rift was creating tension, perhaps that cloud will be lifted and things will click a bit better with a new coach bump.
Speaking of Gasol...
All eyes on Marc
For better or worse, the decision to let go of David Fizdale will be directly connected to Marc the rest of his career and will be a part of his legacy here in Memphis. The relationship was broken, and relationships are two-way streets. To Gasol’s credit, he has said the right things in the press about taking ownership for his role in the issues of this team. He knows he has to be better.
That is good, because now the pressure on him has been ramped up even higher. All the scrutiny, all the attention, all the focus will now be on whether or not Marc did his part. 38.3% shooting, as he has done over the last 10 games, isn’t going to cut it. 29.8% three point shooting, as he has done the entire month of November, isn’t going to cut it. The organization made the choice to move forward with you and has invested heavily in you to be one of “the guys” for this team. With Conley out, and Parsons still limited by his knee progression, Gasol must be “the guy” now more than ever.
Is the 32 year-old big up to the task?
Rekeing havoc once again
Tyreke Evans has cooled off since his white-hot start to the season. While that is to be expected- there was no way he was going to sustain those ultra-high shooting numbers- Memphis needs for him to be more efficient tonight and moving forward to have a chance to compete. He scored 18 points against the Nets, but needed 15 shots and 8 free throws to do it. The last 5 games he is shooting 42.6% overall from the floor, 35.3% from three, and a bad 60.9% from the free throw line.
Those first two are more in line with career averages, but that free throw number needs to come up in a big way. Evans also needs to facilitate more consistently- he is a good offensive player in his iso-drive to the basket play, but he is great offensively when he can create for others. That Tyreke will be needed against a Spurs bench led by old Grizzlies friend Rudy Gay, who is enjoying a solid Sixth Man of the Year-type season himself.
Winning this game matters only in the sense that stopping the streak would be nice. While a victory is always a priority, that cannot be what this game in particular is judged by. Memphis has been through a lot the past 48 hours, and they are essentially hitting the reset button starting tonight against a rival who is playing some great basketball, especially at home. The Spurs are just better than the Grizzlies right now, so saying “Memphis should win” would be tough even without all the adversity.
What should be hoped for from Grizzlies fans is better execution. Better offensive movement, better defensive adjustment, better in-game management of timeouts and rotations. A more engaged, more active, more aggressive Memphis team would be in and of itself a win considering all that has transpired.
Perhaps you hope to steal one at home against this Spurs team on Friday. Tonight? It is tough to see the end of this losing skid happening.
San Antonio 105, Memphis 98