Nuggets, Grizzlies test big lineups against each other
The Memphis Grizzlies get a look at their past and the Denver Nuggets get a peek at their future when the teams play each other Tuesday night at FedExForum in Memphis.
The Grizzlies have bucked the recent trend of “small ball” in the NBA, one that the Golden State Warriors rode to the 2015 championship and nearly repeated in June. Memphis' success has been in employing two bigs in forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol.
The Nuggets are emulating that with a pair of 7-footers in Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.
“In the NBA there's a herd mentality. Golden State's doing it, so let's do it; San Antonio is doing it, so let's to it,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We don't want to be a team that follows the current trends. We look within, see what are strengths are and what allows us the best chance to have success. The team that comes to mind is Memphis. Memphis is the outlier. They play two bigs, and they've had tremendous success with that.”
The Grizzlies have changed things up this season, bringing the 35-year-old Randolph off the bench. That was Denver's plan last year with Jokic, but he started 55 games because of injuries to Nurkic. Jokic showed what he could do, including stepping out on the perimeter to knock down shots, so Malone has started the pair together and brought Kenneth Faried's instant energy off the bench.
The results have been mixed, but that says more about Denver's youth than the lineup. The Nuggets have impressive wins at New Orleans and Boston but threw away their home opener – their only game at Pepsi Center so far – and came out flat against Detroit on Saturday.
Emmanuel Mudiay stole the show against the Celtics Sunday, scoring 24 of his 30 points in the first quarter, tying a franchise record for one period, in a blowout win after a heart-to-heart talk with Malone after the loss to the Pistons.
“I was trying to be as aggressive as I can be,” Mudiay told The Denver Post. “Me and coach had a discussion, the whole team had a discussion, and we looked at ourselves in the mirror.”
Memphis is trying to find some consistency early in the season while Randolph is still adjusting to coming off the bench after years as a starter.
“We're not where we want to be as a team, trying to adjust to the new system and the way we're playing,” Randolph told The Commercial-Appeal. “We just have to stay positive and stick together.”
The Grizzlies have lost two in a row and are 3-4, while the Nuggets have a chance to end a five-game road trip at 3-2. They are nearly a complete team after getting back guard Gary Harris and forward Darrell Arthur, who spent his first five NBA seasons in Memphis before being traded to Denver in June 2013.
The Nuggets are missing guard Will Barton, who sprained his ankle in Toronto a week ago but is close to returning. With nearly everyone healthy, some may see playing time go down.
“It's great to get healthy, but now that we have more bodies available, tougher decisions have to be made, and when Will Barton comes back it's going to be even tougher,” Malone told The Denver Post.