By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
DALLAS – At one corner of the locker room at the Staples Center the other night, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph playfully rattled off his personal ranking of the team’s best three-point shooters – including himself right near the top.
Meanwhile, center Marc Gasol was in the opposite corner explaining to everyone within earshot how he wouldn’t apologize to anyone for his awkward celebratory dance (after) he hit the game-winning three-pointer against the Clippers to beat the best team in the NBA.
Between Randolph and Gasol that night stood a team that’s starting to connect on the road.
The playful, boisterous and festive atmosphere on display two nights ago revealed a completely different picture than the eerily quiet, frustrated and bewildered scene in the Grizzlies’ locker room when their four-game trip began with Saturday’s demoralizing 106-96 loss in Milwaukee. Geographically speaking, the Grizzlies have traveled 4,215 miles the past seven days to find themselves.
A team teetering on turmoil a week ago has now run off consecutive wins against the Jazz and Clippers and look to close out a confidence-boosting trip with a victory in Dallas on Friday. For all intents and purposes, this has been a fact-finding mission for the Grizzlies (6-5), who saw this four-game swing as a chance to build chemistry and discover their identity after a sluggish, injury-plagued start to the season.
“Our defense is the biggest difference between the last two games,” point guard Mike Conley said of the wins in Utah and Los Angeles. “It’s our effort and commitment to the defensive end. I think we kind of lost sight of that a little bit trying to run and shoot threes and be offensive so much that we lost a little bit of our identity. The last few games, we’ve done a good job of trying to get back to what we do best.”
There have been signs of progress along the way.
Offensively, Memphis ranks 24th in the league in scoring and 27th in field goal percentage but scored a season-high 33 points in the first quarter against the Jazz and torched the NBA’s best defensive for 61 points in the first half against the Clippers. Defensively, the same Grizzlies who were bludgeoned in the lane by the Bucks, who scored 77 of their 106 points in the paint and from the free-throw line, closed out the wins in Utah and Los Angeles with late defensive stops.
Grizzlies’ coach David Fizdale has preached trust and effort throughout the challenges of installing new systems on both sides of the ball in his first season in Memphis. But he suggested his team needed to get away from home on their first extended road trip to build connections internally.
“It is off the court stuff, first,” Fizdale said. “We are really starting to become more connected as a group, and that’s what the road does for you. You are away from your family, you are away from everybody; it’s just you out there, and guys are really starting to bond. You can see it in the way we work when we get on the court, the way we are starting to communicate to each other.”
A 3-1 finish to the trip is something that would speak volumes about the progress the Grizzlies are making amid a stretch in which they close November having played eight of 11 games on the road.
“It just took time to grasp our new roles,” forward Vince Carter said. “We’ve done that on the fly and rather quickly. When you’re doing things differently than you’ve done for several years, it just takes a little time to get everything going the way you want them to. But everybody here is really committed.”
Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (groin) has been upgraded to questionable for tonight’s game as he continues to work his way back from the injury he sustained 12 days ago against Portland. “I’m feeling better, but this is something you’ve got to take your time with and not rush it,” said Allen, who also has been slowed by a sore knee and has played in just four games this season. James Ennis (toe) is also questionable; Chandler Parsons (knee) and Conley (quadriceps) are probable and Brandan Wright (ankle) is out. For the Mavericks, Deron Williams (leg) is questionable, Dirk Nowitzki (Achilles) is doubtful and both J.J. Barea (Achilles) and Devin Harris (toe) are out.
16. Gasol has made 16 of his 40 attempts from three-point range through 11 games this season. That number has already eclipsed the 12 total threes he made through his first eight NBA seasons. Should Gasol maintain his average of 3.6 three-point attempts per game, he will be on pace to shoot nearly 300 this season. So does Gasol now consider himself a three-point shooter? “No,” Big Spain says. “I’m a basketball player that tries to do whatever my team needs.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
Andrew Harrison. No, the rookie point guard’s numbers don’t necessarily jump off the stat sheet on any given night. But the fact that Harrison continues to get bulk minutes at the backup point guard spot, especially at a time when the Grizzlies are starting to show consistent improvement overall, should only bode well for his rotation prospects. Since taking over the primary backup duties five games ago, Harrison is averaging 5.4 points, 2.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 turnovers in 22.4 minutes. His chase-down block of a Chris Paul layup in Wednesday’s victory over the Clippers was the kind of effort driven play that keeps Harrison on the floor through some of his offensive lapses. Friday’s game in Dallas marks the end of a six-game stretch in which Fizdale initially said Harrison would get to audition for the backup job after first-round pick Wade Baldwin IV played the previous six games.
Gasol on accepting Fizdale’s challenge to be more of a team leader –
What Fiz is talking about isn’t necessarily anything on the court. I think I go out and lead by example on the court, try to make the right plays, trust my teammates. I think what he’s talking about is the locker room, at practice, being more positive with young guys on the bench and lifting them up. I’m working on that more.
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