Cavs try to shred Memphis defense again this season
The Memphis Grizzlies know they need to improve on offense if they are to contend, though they aren’t too sure they want to up the tempo against some of the NBA’s higher-scoring teams.
They’ll be tested right off the bat in Wednesday night’s season opener at home against a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team that swept them in 2014-15.
Memphis went 55-27 and knocked out Portland in the first round before falling in six games to eventual champion Golden State. The Grizzlies have made five straight playoff appearances and have yet to advance to the NBA Finals.
The club features seven players in their 30s. Point guard Mike Conley (28) is not in that group though top returning scorers Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are.
"It’s time to win," Randolph said. "I think the mature … guys are better. Mike got so much better. Of course Marc, and our team’s so mature I think this is the time for us."
The Grizzlies allowed 95.1 points per game a season ago to rank second in the NBA, but only averaged 98.3 on offense to rank 20th. That’s because Memphis played at the league’s fifth-slowest tempo, averaging 94.2 possessions per 48 minutes.
Coach Dave Joerger doesn’t expect that to change too much.
"I can’t go out and spend two hours a day on offense, and think that we’re going to stay an elite defensive team," he said.
Still, the Grizzlies feel they are more athletic with the additions of first-round pick Jarell Martin and free agent forward Brandan Wright as well as some expected improvement from second-year forward Jarnell Stokes.
"We’re going to play teams that have high-powered offenses; it’s very difficult to shut them out," Joerger admitted. "We’re going to have to score the basketball."
The club’s calling card will still be a defense anchored by 2012-13 defensive player of the year Gasol and Tony Allen, who was third in the NBA with 2.1 steals per game last season.
That defense was shredded last season by Cleveland, which shot 55.6 percent in two victories by an average of 18.0 points. James totaled 45 points and 16 assists in those games.
He and the rest of the Cavaliers’ starters all scored in double figures in a 111-89 rout at Memphis on March 25. That ended his personal four-game slide at the FedEx Forum – where James averages 32.6 points in 10 games.
His 30.9 scoring average at Memphis is his third-best in an NBA city.
Cleveland dropped its opener for the second straight season after falling 97-95 at Chicago on Tuesday. James scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out five assists, but his tying layup attempt with four seconds left was blocked by Pau Gasol.
James played after sitting out nearly two weeks since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection for his back. He practiced twice before Tuesday.
"I felt good tonight, I played 36 (minutes), I felt great, I had that bounce in my step until that last one Pau slapped out of bounds," James said. "But other than that, I had no restrictions."
Kevin Love had 18 points and eight rebounds in his first game since suffering a dislocated left shoulder in the first round of the playoffs. The Cavs remain without Kyrie Irving, who is recovering from surgery on a broken kneecap.
Mo Williams scored 19 points as he began his second stint with Cleveland.