Grizzlies suffer setback with loss to struggling Bulls

Mike Conley posted his ninth 20-point game of the season against the Bulls.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies showed recent signs of resurgence, but closed 2013 with a 95-91 loss to the struggling Chicago Bulls, a loss not unlike many of the 16 others on its 2013 resume. The Bulls had been 0-6 against the West this season. 

Here are three takeaways from the 2013 finale at FedExForum.

1. Showing signs, just not enough of them

The Grizzlies (13-17) won 3 of 5 to close the calendar year, but while there are signs of improvement, there are more signs of regression from last season. The Grizzlies are the tough guys, but Monday were pushed around.

"They are a tough team. They are a power team," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You have to be ready for the physicality of the game. I thought our guys did that."

Memphis had its moments, like holding Chicago to one field goal in a span of 4 minutes, 41 seconds in a second-half rally.

It was a tough, physical game, and despite 21 turnovers, the Grizzlies were in it in the fourth quarter.

But the Bulls (12-17) had already gone on a 20-4 run in the third quarter to take an 18-point lead. Memphis cut it to a point in the final quarter, but never took the lead.

There were good things. Five Grizzlies scored in double figures, led by Mike Conley’s 26 points. But it isn’t a good sign for Memphis when its point guard is the points leader on the stat sheet. It took Conley until March last season to post eight 20-plus point games. He now has nine — also nine assists, six rebounds and six steals Wednesday.  

Center Marc Gasol is still out. Quincy Pondexter is done and power forward Jon Leuer left the game with back spasms, but newly-acquired James Johnson is doing his part to ease the pain. 

In his seven games with Memphis, the Bulls’ 2009 draftee is shooting 58 percent, a 50-50 split of shots at the rim and shots from deep. Before fouling out, he had 13 points and 10 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and two assists. Memphis coach Dave Joerger said Johnson tried to do too much early. He had five boards and no points in the first half.

2. Turn it on over

Both teams committed 21 turnovers. But Chicago found a way to win. 

"We played poor in the first half. We played worse in the third quarter," Joerger said. 

Twenty-one turnovers was a season-high for Memphis and also snapped a franchise-record tying streak of three games with single-digit turnovers.

Down 46-44 at the half, Memphis had back-to-back turnovers that helped the Bulls to their big run.

Holding onto the ball wasn’t the only problem. Memphis missed plenty from point-blank range, plenty as in enough to have won the game.

"The ball just didn’t go in at times," Joerger said. "I think that goes along with your turnovers, your level of focus."

It took the Grizzlies nearly 3 minutes to score in the third quarter, and despite how good the 52 points in the paint look, were troubled inside by Joakim Noah, who had four blocked shots and three steals — as well as eight points and 10 rebounds. Guard Jimmy Butler had a Bulls team-high and season-high 26 points.

Chicago had a season-high 10 blocks, also a season-high allowed by the Grizzlies.

Turnovers dig holes. Down five, there was a bad entry pass. Randolph was then caught camping in the lane.

"We threw the ball all over the place," Joerger said. "We lacked focus. We lacked screening, cutting … We were loose with the ball. We created nine turnovers in the first quarter I believe and we only had eight points to show for it."

3. Same old tune

Memphis has struggled at home, 7-11 thus far and four-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot. Until it gets healthy enough to play with the best of the West in the confines, beating struggling teams — like the Bulls — needs to happen. 

The Grizzlies have talked about the little things that need to improve. 

Turnovers have been an issue more than once this season, but Memphis had averaged a little more than eight the last three games.

The Grizzlies needed more 3-point capability last season. They got that with Mike Miller, but Miller was 0 for 1 Wednesday and the team missed all five attempts, the first team 0-fer since January 2011.

Chicago hit two huge 3s, the dagger from Kirk Hinrich for a 10-point lead with 3:33 left for a lead. D.J. Ausustin had hit one minutes earlier from 26-feet with the shot clock running down and Memphis within two points.

The Memphis bench had set season highs in the last two home games, both wins, but got only 27. Chicago went from the line 42 times, 33 makes. Memphis hit 21 of 28.

"They were the aggressors. They turned up the intensity," Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. 

That’s not the first time Allen has said that. And signs aren’t pointing to the last.