Grizzlies still off to best season in team history


Grizzlies still off to best season in team history

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies are busy learning how to deal with success.

Sure, Memphis has been a good team reaching the playoffs the previous two seasons and even played in the Western Conference semifinals in 2011. The Grizzlies followed that up with their best winning percentage in last year's lockout-shortened season.

But their sizzling 12-2 start this season ratcheted up expectations enough that not even the Grizzlies' best record through 41 games and fourth in the West seems to be enough now.

``I think for certain outside the team, but somewhat inside the team as well,'' Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said about the expectations. ``I've had conversations with our group to remember who we are, when we were fortunate to get off to a good start and everyone was ranting and raving. But we're still the same team. We struggle to shoot at times and struggle to score at times.''

That the Grizzlies certainly do.

They beat the Lakers 106-93 on Wednesday night, just the 12th time they've scored at least 100 points this season and eight of those came during the 12-2 start. The good thing is their defense is so good that they are undefeated in those games because the Grizzlies rank second in the NBA giving up an average of 89.5 points per game.

Memphis now has held 37 of 41 opponents under 100 points this season, best in the NBA. That puts the Grizzlies on target to become the first team to hold opponents to a scoring average below 90 points over a season since 2005-06 when they did it (88.5) along with the San Antonio Spurs (88.8).

The Grizzlies also rank second in the NBA averaging 9.2 steals and forcing 16.2 turnovers.

Offensively is where they've been challenged most. They went into the game with the Lakers ranked 28th in the league averaging 92.9 points per game and just went through a six-game stretch where they didn't score more than 85 points in any of those games.

Center Marc Gasol said the challenge is teams know what the Grizzlies like to do with offensively getting the ball down low to himself and Zach Randolph, who has an NBA-best 27 double-doubles averaging 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, or over to Rudy Gay.

``We just have to play through it and find the other side of the court, move the ball better and get moving,'' Gasol said.

Point guard Mike Conley said the Grizzlies have faced an adjustment since that strong start.

``Not a lot of people thought we would start as quickly as we did, and now teams give us 110 percent effort every night regardless of who we're playing,'' Conley said. ``They're scheming us and trying to do different things to try to knock us off balance. We've tried to learn to play against it, and we're still learning. It's all new for us. We haven't started off this quickly and this well I think in history, so it's new territory for us, and we're still learning.''

The Grizzlies are three wins better through 41 games than ever before for this franchise. With 10 games left to the All-Star break, they are on target to top the 30-22 mark in 2003-04 that currently is the team's best at that point in a season.

Gay, averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game, has been the topic of trade rumors for weeks. He's not talking about that speculation and said the Grizzlies are looking to build as much momentum and consistency as they can heading into the All-Star break.

``We really need guys to pick it up and play hard ... and kind of get on a groove going into the break,'' Gay said.

What remains to be seen is how much Tuesday's trade helps Memphis. The Grizzlies avoided paying $4 million in luxury tax and got $2.4 million below the threshold by trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby to Cleveland.

Fans in Memphis are split on the trade. Many see the team's new owners giving up on the Grizzlies while others hope avoiding the luxury tax this season may keep those starters together for one more postseason run.

General manager Chris Wallace said only the move gives Memphis enough flexibility including trade exceptions that the team doesn't have to make a move by the trade deadline Feb. 21.

The Grizzlies host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night in the third of a four-game home stand looking to build on their big win over the Lakers.

``If we build in the right direction and keep getting better, this team can be very good,'' Conley said.


Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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