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NBA Today: Clawless Grizz Look to End Pain

December 30, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

An improved defense has allowed the Memphis Grizzlies to make some progress this season (yes, it’s quite sad when playing .323 basketball represents progress), but it still looks like they will come in south of 30 wins and are well on their way to a third straight season out of the playoffs. Fortunately, on Tuesday, they get to go right after the team they are “chasing” for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West – Phoenix. Unfortunately, they have lost nine straight games to the Suns.

The Grizzlies have at least been more competitive lately — sort of. After beating the Pacers on Friday, they took the Spurs to overtime on Saturday before losing. Then, they lost to the T-Wolves – again in overtime. Then again, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so with six losses in their past seven games, a tight game only offers so much comfort to a Grizzlie fan (if such a beast even exists, that is).

Do you think the T-Wolves are kicking themselves for picking and then dealing O.J. Mayo on draft night? While Mike Miller has struggled in Minny and Kevin Love is working through typical rookie big man inconsistency, Mayo has proved to be a real find, stepping right into the NBA and lighting it up offensively, while also being quite dependable defensively. He was going absolutely berserk last month, averaging 23.1 PPG, but was sometimes criticized for being a bit of a shot hog. Since then, however, Mayo is taking fewer shots, and his scoring has dropped five points per game as a result. Clearly, he was learning to distribute the pumpkin more, having dished four assists per game so far in December. In the last two games, Mayo again hasn’t been shy about jacking it up, going 22-for-39 while averaging 26 PPG (at one point on Monday, he scored seven straight points in the fourth quarter). Better yet, he’s upped his scoring while continuing to pile up assists, averaging almost five dimes per game in the last three. The last time Memphis played Phoenix, Mayo went off for a career high 33 points. He earned merely an honourable mention in our pre-season top 40 guard rankings, but Mayo has played like a top 20 guard so far, averaging 20.2 PPG, tops among rookies. I still love Derrick Rose, but Mayo will definitely be in the ROY mix come season’s end. Get this: he’s only failed to reach double digits in scoring twice in 31 games. However, lest we forget he is just a rook, he reminded us by committing an extremely costly turnover Monday with less a minute to play and the Grizzlies leading by a point.

As I mentioned above, it’s been an improved defense that has helped Memphis make strides this season. In fact, when the Grizz went on a 5-1 run earlier this month, they held opponents to just 97 PPG. However, in the last seven games, they’re giving up 103.4 PPG – a trend that suggests they are reverting to last season’s form, when they had one of the worst defenses in the NBA en route to a second straight 60-loss season.

Memphis hasn’t done well this season in terms of limiting its opponents field goal percentage (in fact, just two teams are worse), but on Monday when the Grizz let Minnesota – one of the worst shooting teams in the league – to sink 49.4 per cent of its shots, they may have hit rock bottom. In its last six games, Memphis is allowing its opponents to sink a ridiculous 52.9 per cent from the field. That doesn’t bode well with the best-shooting team in the NBA (Phoenix leads the NBA with a 49.9 per cent shooting percentage) coming to town tonight. I’m thinking that the current Grizz drought of home wins against Phoenix (over three years) will continue.

Slow starts have really doomed Memphis this season. Want to know when the Grizz will lose? Check their first-quarter point total. If it’s under 20, forget about it. They’re 0-11 when that happens. Apparently, poor second halves are another trait of this club. Here’s another way to check for impending doom in Memphis: is it leading at halftime? When this happens, the Grizzlies are 4-7. Uh, yeah. That makes sense.

Promising sign: Memphis is a .500 team through 16 home games. Not-so-promising sign: it has won just two of 15 games on the road. Promising sign No. 2: seven of its next nine games are at home. I’d say the Grizzlies better win five of those home games if they want to salvage this season, but with Phoenix in as the first visitor, I don’t like their chances.

Looking for a sleeper PG? Kyle Lowry is starting to assert himself over terminally disappointing Mike Conley, someone I long ago dumped. After dropping a career-best 12 dimes on Monday, he’s now dished 26 assists in the last three games, while averaging 12 PPG in his last three and 1.3 SPG in his last four. If for some reason you’ve held onto Conley, now is a good time to set him adrift and pick up Lowry. This development isn’t unexpected; in our draft kit, we suggest that one of Conley’s main problems this year was Lowry.

Speaking of Grizzlie PGs, I sure hope you didn’t pick up Steve Francis after he was dealt to Memphis last week. He has yet to be activated for any of the three games the team has played since he was acquired. However, now that he’s passed his psychical, he’s supposed to make his debut tonight. Steer clear until you see The Franchise put up significant minutes. Either way, he’s bound to be seriously rusty and given that it’s been over a year since he was a fantasy factor, I have my doubts.

Even though he fouled out Monday, Marc Gasol is starting to look useful again. With Darko Milicic hurting, Gasol is starting again and has managed at least 12 points in each of his last three games. He’s blocked six shots in the last two and even added three steals on Monday. Gasol may have been dropped when his PT diminished, so take a peek. He’s been pretty well exactly what we expected — not bad, not great.

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