Short-handed Grizzlies return home to face Magic
The Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic are enduring a reality check this week.
Heading into a Wednesday game at Toronto, the Grizzlies were cautiously optimistic. Under first-year coach, David Fizdale, they won six straight road games but faced the reality of playing without All-Star point guard Mike Conley.
After a 120-105 loss, the Grizzlies (11-8) realize how difficult life will be for the next six to eight weeks without Conley.
A day before, the Magic snapped a four-game losing streak when they posted victory at San Antonio. Reality for the Magic (7-11) is that with a new coach and a bevy of new players in different roles, they came away with an improbable, but impressive win, but know it still will take time to jell.
The Magic (7-11) had an extra day to admire their win, while the Grizzlies (11-8) must quickly forget about what might have been as they play host to Orlando on Thursday night at FedExForum.
And in reality, both teams face daunting tasks, but their coaches remain positive.
After the Magic toppled the Spurs 95-83, Orlando coach Frank Vogel had an easy explanation for his team's victory.
"Winning this night doesn't turn our season around, but it keeps us believing in what we're doing," he said. "If you commit to the defensive end, you're going to have a chance to win every night."
Leading the way for the Magic is Evan Fournier at 17.6 points per game. He scored in double figures 17 times and reached 20-plus points seven times, including a season-high 29 points on Nov. 3 against Sacramento.
Vogel stresses defense, so a young Memphis team without its primary ball-handler could have problems.
In their first game without Conley's leadership and 19.2 points and 5.7 assists per game, the Grizzlies played well but fell apart in the fourth quarter to the Raptors, who went on a 16-5 run late to put the game away.
Granted, Toronto is one of the tougher road arenas to play at and the Raptors have an All-Star backcourt in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
However, if the Grizzlies are going to stay afloat in the Western Conference, their young players will have to grow up quickly. Two of those players are second-year guard Andrew Harrison and 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin.
Against the Raptors, Memphis showed signs that it had plenty of fight.
"Considering the fact that we had nine players, not that much experience, we fought hard," Grizzlies forward Tony Allen said. "(The Raptors) are a good team, you've got to take your hats off to those guys. They played much better in the second half and beat us on the boards, they made key plays."
Fizdale echoed Allen's observation.
"The effort was fantastic," the coach said. "I thought we just had a bad stretch where we got careless with the ball and started turning the ball over."
Harrison scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Grizzlies and showed flashes of being able to lead the team, on and off the court. The former Kentucky star took the blame for the loss and didn't use any excuses.
"I know we were short-handed, but we've got a lot of tough guys on this team and we all believed that we could win this game," Harrison said. "Losing Mike was big, he's an MVP candidate in my eyes, but we know what we have to do, we have to bring it every night."