The Grizzlies, 12-13 after Monday’s 89-94 home loss to the Spurs in FedExForum, have played a little more of a third of the games in the strike-shortened 66-game season.
And one game below .500 isn’t bad for a team missing 30.1 points and 16.5 rebounds from last year’s squad. All-star forward Zach Randolph tore a MCL on Jan. 1 and is out until early March, while sixth-man Darrell Arthur tore an Achilles on Dec. 18 to end his season before it started.
But with the brutal schedule, trying to incorporate new faces and Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins admittedly leaning heavily on his four returning starters, fatigue is taking its toll.
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“This season is more about being mentally tough than physically tough,” Griz F Rudy Gay said. “We know we’re playing a lot of minutes. We know the makeup of our team has changed. It’s something you have to fight through.”
But when you average 37.6 minutes like Gay, or 38 minutes like C Marc Gasol, or 35.3 minutes like G Mike Conley, you have nights like Monday when you can’t conjure the mental toughness and sustain energy.
Gay was 9-for-26 and had no pop in his legs at critical stages late in the game. Gasol battled to exhaustion, but didn’t get a shot to drop late. Conley wasn’t much better, and sixth man O.J. Mayo looked gassed and shot 3-for-15.
Since the Griz bench has five of eight new faces from a year ago, Hollins admitted it has been hard to tap into his reserves that were outscored 35-21 by the Spurs, including 24-2 at halftime.
“I have to do a better job of managing the minutes,” said Hollins, whose team continues a five-game homestand Wednesday night against Minnesota. “I have to have more confidence in some of perimeter people that they can do the job so we can cut down the minutes on our guys a little bit.”
It hasn’t happened so far. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
Memphis is 0-6 this season against the Spurs (0-3) and Oklahoma City (0-3), the two teams it faced in the playoffs.
“We have to get more disciplined in the second halves of games,” G Mike Conley said. “We can’t come out lackadaisical with the ball or the way we play defense. You can’t do that against good teams like the Spurs.”
The Griz used all their energy coming from 13 points down with 8:44 left in the third period against San Antonio, to leading by six (73-67) at the end of the quarter.
Because in the fourth period, Memphis scored just 11 points — its lowest scoring quarter of the season. The Grizzlies made just 5-of-25 shots in the game’s final 12 minutes.
“We just weren’t making any shots, we were a step short,” F Rudy Gay said. “We’ve got to find a way to pick it up. We’re not asking for sympathy.”
Memphis fell below. 500 for the first time since Jan. 14, but have four more games in this five-game homestand to get back over .500. The five consecutive road games is the team’s longest stretch at home since it played five consecutive (going 2-3) in FedExForum from Dec. 12-22, 2008.
C Marc Gasol had team highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Grizzlies against San Antonio on Monday night, including five rebounds in the fourth quarter. But he missed 3-of-4 shots in the final period, including a layup that was blocked with 25 seconds left and the Griz trailing by three points.
“We’ve got to finish games like these, especially with these stretch of (five) games at home,” Gasol said. “It’s really important we play well, because we miss home and we miss our fans.”
F Josh Davis, who had 5 points and 4 rebounds in 13:37 of playing time, was an unexpected bright spot off the bench. Included in Davis’ points was his fourth three-pointer of the year with 1.4 seconds left in the third quarter for Memphis’ six-point advantage heading into the final period.
“That’s a shot I can make,” Davis said. “Quincy (Pondexter) found me in the corner and I had a good look.”
QUOTE TO NOTE
“I think at first everybody was just happy to be back playing basketball after the strike. You didn’t realize that you were going to play every other night for several months. It’s much harder than I thought it would be.” — Griz G Mike Conley on the grind of the season