The Memphis Grizzlies were “lucky” enough to experience the full might of the L.A. Clippers, who were completely healthy for the first time all season last night at Staples Center. No “load management.” No nagging injuries to Paul George or Patrick Beverley. Just the title contending Clippers, in all their glory, just in time to take on the reeling Grizzlies who were without the important Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time due to his knee sprain injury that will for him to miss at least two weeks of action.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Memphis got pretty close to finding out, as L.A. blew the doors off the Grizzlies to the tune of a 49-14 start to the contest and an eventual 124-97 bludgeoning. Add in the fact that Brandon Clarke - who Taylor Jenkins decided to start in place of the absent Jackson Jr., as most expected - left the game after just about four minutes due to a sore hip, and it was a disastrous night for Memphis.
On to grades for one of those nights.
Kyle Anderson: 6 points on 3-8 shooting (0-2 from beyond the arc), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, -15 +/- in 22 minutes played
Kyle has taken some heat in recent days as a major part of “the reason” that Memphis has been struggling of late. The logic behind that argument is that Jae Crowder - while the worst volume three point shooter on the team while in Memphis - was more of a “threat” from beyond the arc than Anderson is, and the spacing is thrown off with “Slo-Mo” in the lineup instead of Jae. This is overblown - as previously stated, Jae was not a good three point shooter while in Memphis.
You can argue “intangibles” all day, if you’d like, but the truth is the guy that will eventually be the starter when he is healthy is Justise Winslow, who is a more athletic version of Kyle Anderson with better three point shooting potential. Kyle - who still contributed in other ways - is not in his ideal spot in the rotation. When players like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas struggle offensively, that will mean off nights for the offense. That hasn’t ever been Anderson’s game.
He is worthy of criticism. He needs to convert opportunities when presented, and his defense on the wings of L.A. simply was not good enough. But to say his insertion in to the lineup is the cause of the recent skid - and not, you know, playing better teams than the Wizards and banged up Trail Blazers - isn’t fair.
Jonas Valanciunas: 5 points on 10 shots (0-2 from beyond the arc), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, -26 +/- in 25 minutes played
Meanwhile, with Jaren Jackson Jr. out, a player that will certainly be counted on to carry more of the offensive load picked a lousy time to play perhaps his worst game of the season. Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell, and the rest of the Clippers front court thoroughly outplayed him and the other Grizzlies bigs - well, everyone except Gorgui Dieng, who posted another double double and was a solid 5-10 from the floor. With both Jaren and Clarke out, this was to be expected to an extent. Jordan Bell played his first meaningful Memphis minutes, and to think he’d be a savior would be unfair to him.
Jonas, however, should have been more capable of helping Ja Morant. Without Jaren and Brandon, the Clippers were able to prioritize clogging the paint and limiting Vanalciunas’ effectiveness. The issues of Anderson and Dillon Brooks shooting didn’t help matters with spacing, but if the Grizzlies are going to survive this tough stretch they are going to need more from Valanciunas. This simply will not cut it.
- Ja Morant is slowing down a bit. Especially from three. Perhaps he is regressing a bit to the mean in that area - surely he wasn’t going to maintain the red-hot start to the season from beyond the arc he enjoyed before the All-Star Break. The last three games have also been particularly challenging in terms of opponents for Morant. But for the third straight game, Ja was not able to effectively create for his teammates (only one assist). 16 points on 13 shots is efficient offense for himself. But Ja needs help. It takes made buckets to get assists, and without his running buddy Jaren some issues should be expected. But Morant’s play has a role here as well. GRADE: C-
- De’Anthony Melton also did not have his best showing. “Mr. Do Something”, as Brevin Knight calls him, was not the player Memphis needs him to be either with the injury bug biting. He took on the brunt of Lou Williams - one of the best reserve guards in the NBA - and limited his scoring output admirably (only 8 points from Sweet Lou). But the Grizzlies require more in terms of scoring and facilitation (5 points and 1 assist in 22 minutes of play) than Melton supplied in this game. I argued for him to be the starter replacing Jaren Jackson Jr. in a feature yesterday. This Melton would not fix that problem. GRADE: D+
There is no three point shooting super hero riding in to save the Grizzlies. Memphis is getting banged up at the worst possible time, and it is important to remember that even when healthy the Grizzlies are the youngest team in the NBA. Continue to manage expectations of this group. They’re in the playoff fight right now, and figure to be the rest of the season. But considering what was expected of them to begin the 2019-2020 campaign, continued growth remains the main goal. Adapting to adversity is just another step in that process.