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Usually slow-starting Grizzlies lead NBA at 13-3

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Usually slow-starting Grizzlies lead NBA at 13-3

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Sitting atop the NBA standings is new territory for Memphis. Getting off to a winning start is just as unusual for the Grizzlies.

Memphis, which tends to stumble out the gate, is a league-best 13-3. The Grizzlies never have had a better record at this point of the season. They were 11-5 in 2005-06 and 10-6 last season, the only other times they have had a winning record after 16 games.

Coach Lionel Hollins and his Grizzlies list several reasons for this great start, ranging from scheduling to preseason preparation to better chemistry. Point guard Mike Conley said it started with the way the Grizzlies approached the beginning of training camp.

``Guys were already shape, using training camp to get ready for the first preseason game,'' Conley said. `` We were just taking it step-by-step. But the first game, I thought guys' minds were in mid-season form, and we were clicking in so many different areas as opposed to the past seasons where we started out sluggish and slow.''

So far, so good.

The Grizzlies are the NBA's best after a 108-98 overtime win over Phoenix on Tuesday night.

That's a stark contrast to some of their other starts. Some of the worst included a 1-11 start in 2001 and losing the first 13 to open the 2002-03 season.

Chemistry has been a big key. The starting group was set at the end of last season when the Grizzlies finished with the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

Forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol have been intact for more than three years, though injuries have caused first Gay, then Randolph to miss significant time the past two seasons. Gasol and Randolph give Memphis one of the NBA's more potent big men combos.

Conley has improved, and guard Tony Allen provides the defensive mindset that created the Grizzlies' grit and grind mantra.

``We didn't have too much to learn, and our bench came off great early, which we haven't had in the past,'' Gay said.

Jerryd Bayless, in Toronto last season, has provided sound help backing up Conley, allowing Hollins to play his starter fewer minutes. Wayne Ellington, a trade pick-up from Minnesota in July, hit a career-high 7 of 11 3-pointers against Miami to lead the Grizzlies to a win.

That started a week where they not only defeated the defending NBA champs, but Oklahoma City, last year's other NBA Finalist, and handed the New York Knicks their first loss this season.

Quincy Pondexter and Marreese Speights return from last year, and Memphis finally got forward Darrell Arthur back recently from a broken bone in his leg he suffered in September after missing last season with a torn right Achilles tendon.

``At every single position, they're a challenge,'' Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said before the Pistons' 90-78 loss at Memphis last Friday. ``There's a reason why these guys are the best team in the league record-wise. There's a reason why over the last, basically going on a year and a half, why they are one of the better home teams in the league.''

The Grizzlies now are a league-best 9-1 at home this season, the only loss coming to Denver 97-92 on Nov. 19. That snapped a 15-game regular season home winning streak for Memphis dating to last season.

The schedule also has helped because the Grizzlies haven't had to take a long road trip yet. Memphis opened at Los Angeles against the Clippers, then went to Golden State. From there, it has been one-night stops in Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and last weekend in San Antonio.

Memphis finished November with a five-game home stand - its longest of the season - by going 4-1.

``It's easier, better to start the season at home, regardless of who you play, and we've been fortunate to get those wins,'' said Hollins, named Western Conference coach of the month through November. ``We've come together as a team. We've matured. As to how and why we started quicker? It probably has a lot to do with scheduling.''

No matter the reason, the Grizzlies are enjoying themselves after so many losing starts.

``We've been good at that for the last five years,'' Gay said. ``Now, we don't have to do it. It's a lot easier.''

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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