Grizzlies, Nets try to end skids

NEW YORK — The Memphis Grizzlies are experiencing their first speedbump in a quick start while the Brooklyn Nets are encountering massive struggles in fourth quarters of late.

Off to a respectable start after losing 60 games, the Grizzlies take a three-game losing streak into Friday’s visit to the Brooklyn Nets, who are on a five-game home losing streak after a pair of nightmarish fourth quarters.

The Grizzlies bolted to a 12-5 start when Mike Conley scored 30 points and Marc Gasol hit two free throws with 0.7 seconds left in a 104-103 win at San Antonio on Nov. 21.

Since then, Memphis dropped games to the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors. The losses to the Clippers and Knicks featured third-quarter collapses while Tuesday’s 122-114 loss to the Raptors saw the Grizzlies blow a 17-point lead and get outscored 29-17 in the fourth quarter.

“I think it’s a blip,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “There’s no reason to panic. We’ll be fine. It’s not like we’re out here getting our doors kicked in. We’re putting ourselves in position. We just have to finish.”

Against the best team in the league, the Grizzlies held a 76-59 lead on a tip-in by Kyle Anderson with 10:09 left in the third. Then they were outscored 63-38 the rest of the way.

While winning 12 of their first 17 games, the Grizzlies allowed 99.6 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting, including 34.6 percent from 3-point range and forcing 17.3 turnovers. In the three losses, Memphis allowed 108.6 points, 45.7 percent shooting and 11.6 turnovers.

“I’m not happy, by any means,” Gasol said after the Grizzlies allowed a season high in points. “I’m nowhere near happy with (our defense). You can see the trend. Things don’t happen overnight. You can see it. You can start feeling it. It tickles you a little bit, but you think, ‘Maybe it’s just me.’ I’m pretty demanding when it comes to defense and I’m the guy behind, so I see a lot of things.

While the Grizzlies are not consistently defending in the last three games, Gasol is consistently producing. He scored 27 points for the third straight game and is shooting 48.4 percent (31-of-64).

Gasol, however, also tweaked his ankle Tuesday and is a game-time decision for Friday after participating in practice Thursday.

As for the Nets, they are hoping to avoid a third straight fourth-quarter fade. They were outscored 31-13 in the fourth and shot 2 of 17 in the final 12 minutes of Wednesday’s 101-91 loss to the Utah Jazz and it occurred three days after the Nets were outscored 38-23 in the final 12 minutes of a 127-125 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We just want to win,” Nets center Jarrett Allen said. “We were up two games in the fourth quarter, so we just want to learn how to close.”

The Nets are on a five-game home losing streak and a four-game skid overall since allowing 15 points in the fourth quarter Nov. 20 in a 104-92 win at Miami.

During its five-game home losing streak, the Nets are scoring 108.8 points but allowing 117.4 points on 49.7 percent shooting. The last two games were not the only time the Nets messed up a fourth quarter as it also occurred in a 127-119 loss to the Clippers when the Nets were blitzed 37-22 in the fourth.

During the fourth quarters against the Clippers, Philadelphia and Utah, the Nets were outscored 106-51. In those games, the Nets shot a dismal 36.3 percent (20-of-55) while allowing 64.4 percent (38-of-59) from the field.

The last two games are part of a 2-6 slide since Caris LeVert dislocated his right foot on Nov. 12 in Minnesota and Wednesday saw the Nets shoot a season-worst 34.9 percent and muster 11 assists, matching their lowest total since coach Kenny Atkinson took over in 2016.

“The ball stuck way too much,” Atkinson said. “We did not move it when we needed to, so that’s got to be a record for us, 11 assists — that’s just not good enough.”

Another problem for the Nets is being able to contain opposing starting centers.

On Wednesday, Utah’s Rudy Gobert totaled 23 points and 16 rebounds while shooting 10 of 14 and it occurred after Joel Embiid torched the Nets for 32 points. Opposing starting centers are averaging 17.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and have recorded a double-double 14 times.

Last year, Gasol scored 18 points on 6 of 17 shooting in his lone appearance against the Nets. For his career, Gasol is averaging 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 16 games against Brooklyn.