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Memphis reserves must rise

Memphis needs bench production heading into the playoffs.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies have six games left in the 2016-17 regular season. They are coming off of their second losing streak of 4 or more games in the second half of the season. The most recent streak was ended in a win against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. With six games left and a tight playoff race for the 4-7 seeds in the West, the Grizzlies need to play well in the final stretch of the season. Memphis have secured a spot in the playoffs, but there is still room to move up seeding if they wins games.

Throughout the season the Grizzlies have looked unstoppable, and also looked like they might not win another game. What are they doing right in those dominating wins? What are they doing so wrong in the inexcusable losses? And what do they need to do to win a handful of games in the final six?

What Memphis Does Right

For reference, I will cite three wins specifically: Jan. 30 at Phoenix Suns (W, 115-96), March 13 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (W, 113-93), March 18 vs. San Antonio Spurs (W, 104-96). These three wins mark games that the Grizzlies handled bad teams in the right way, and a solid win versus arguably the best team in the NBA.

In the win versus Phoenix, Mike Conley had his career high of 38 points, so we can’t expect that every night. What’s important about that win is that nine Grizzly players logged 10+ minutes, and eight players had a positive plus/minus for the game as well. In the game against the Spurs, the same is true for minutes logged, and Troy Daniels and JaMychal Green both played really well despite what their plus/minus shows.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, when the bench gives the starters rest, effective rest, the Grizzlies win. The Memphis bench has players that can play well on both ends of the floor- we need them to play well to win. Unfortunately, the Grizzly starters aren’t the type of players to score in bunches to put a game out of reach for opponents. Players like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter will score when given the opportunity. Players like Brandan Wright and Troy Daniels have to learn to be effective in the few minutes they are given the chance, specifically on the offensive end.

Memphis’ win against Milwaukee is the ideal statistical game for the Grizzlies. The only player on the roster that didn’t log minutes was Chandler Parsons (imagine that). All 12 players had a positive plus/minus and every player scored. It can’t get much better than that. Now I understand that we shouldn’t expect that type of team performance every game. But if Memphis could get 21 minutes, 9 points, and a +12 plus/minus from Andrew Harrison in just half of the games moving forward, we have a good chance to win.

There is another theme in wins for Memphis that you can notice just from the final scores. When Memphis keeps the opposing team under 100 points, the odds are high to win. Of the wins this season, just eleven of them the Grizzlies have won when the opponent scores over 100 points (three of them were in overtime). I’m not even suggesting the Grizz have to score 100, obviously that would help, but the emphasis is on the defensive end. Defense drives this team, that’s what Memphis has known in the past, and its still true this season.

What Memphis Does Wrong

For reference, I will cite two losses: March 6 vs. Brooklyn Nets (L, 122-109), March 21 at New Orleans Pelicans (L, 95-82).

I realize that both of these games are in the month of March, by far the worst month the Grizzlies have had in a long time. But both are opponents the Grizzlies should handle easily. The loss versus Brooklyn was a low for the Grizzlies, Mike Conley played well, but that was about it. Z-Bo led the bench in scoring with 10 points on 4-12 shooting. You get the gist, it wasn’t a good game.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In the loss in New Orleans, the Grizzlies just couldn’t score. Sure, they held NOLA under 100 points, that’s usually an ingredient for winning, but you won’t beat anyone scoring 82 points. All five bench players that saw the floor logged 15+ minutes. That is a good start. Except Z-Bo was 2-11 shooting, James Ennis III only took four shots in 15 minutes, and Brandan Wright took three shots and grabbed a lowly two rebounds in 20 minutes.

Of course, a big reason for any team’s loss is poor shooting, the Grizzlies shot below 45% in the two games I mentioned. The three point line can keep a team in the game, something the Grizzlies are just now discovering. But for Memphis, scoring the ball isn’t really the issue, there are improvements to be made, but it’s not the most urgent problem.

There has to be more production from the bench- it is that simple. Mike and Marc are going to get their numbers, they are elite players capable of production even on their off nights. The other three starters, whoever they are for the game, will contribute an extra 30 points and 10 rebounds. That’s a competitive starting lineup for any team, but the Grizzly bench makes the difference.

Two home games versus Dallas (virtually eliminated from making the playoffs), on the road versus the Lakers (the worst team in the West), and a home game versus the NY Knicks (eliminated from making the playoffs) are what the Grizzlies have to look forward to. San Antonio, OKC, and Detroit will be tough opponents, but are definitely beatable. Memphis will end the season on a four game home stand as well.

Looking forward to the last two weeks of the season, hopefully the bench will finally click and contribute significantly on both ends of the floor. Here’s to not having a playoff series against the Spurs.

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