Monday, November 19, 2007

Opposing View: 11/19 at Memphis

I didn't get out my five questions in time to get responses today, but we had Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer talk about the Grizzlies less than two weeks ago, and his responses remain relevant. Don't forget to give Herrington's Beyond the Arc blog a look.

At, Graham Kendrick has a good preview of tonight's game. One-time Seattle P-I Sonics beat writer Ron Tillery, now covering the Grizzlies for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, discusses Memphis' close losses. Wrap up your Grizzlies trip around the Interweb with 3 Shades of Blue's preview.

UPDATE: Spoke too soon. Despite some e-mail issues, Kendrick answered some questions for me in time for tonight's game.

How are the Grizzlies responding to some heartbreaking close losses early in the season?
The Grizzlies have responded extremely well to some recent heartbreaking losses. Consider the Grizzlies’ last week: they began with a big win at home over the Rockets last Tuesday, then took went down to the wire the next night in Milwaukee before losing a tough game by three. Friday night they came home to take on the streaking New Orleans Hornets, and were down five with 13.5 seconds left, before making three straight three-pointers and forcing overtime. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies couldn’t score in the last three and a half minutes of the extra period and lost by two. So with two straight close losses they headed to Dallas Saturday for their fourth game in five nights. They hung tough for most of the night, but went down by 10 midway through the fourth. At that point it seemed like a done deal, but they battled back to within three with two chances to tie the game on the last possession. They ended up losing by three, but all things considered it was a strong showing. What that tells me is that this team is able to quickly put tough losses behind them and move on to the next game, which is an important trait for a young, emerging team.

Is it fair to call this a breakout season for Rudy Gay?
Definitely. Rudy has improved leaps and bounds in his sophomore NBA season. While many people will just point to his scoring average and make that determination, there’s much more to it than that. Last season he often seemed lost and indecisive on the court. He’d get the ball on the wing, dribble a few times, then take a wild shot or make an ill-advised foray into double coverage in the paint. This season is a whole different story. His decision-making has improved greatly, and while his ballhandling still needs work, it’s better than last year. More importantly, he’s developed a consistent enough three-point shot (38.1%) that defenses have to respect him when he’s on the perimeter. While most people would like to see him pull down more than 3.8 rebounds and dish out more than 0.7 assists, Gay is definitely a vastly improved player over last year.

With Juan Carlos Navarro playing so well in addition to Pau Gasol, is it time to start preceding games at FedExForum with the Spanish National Anthem?
If Navarro can continually hit eight of nine three-point attempts like he did Friday, then Memphians will be happy to learn the melody to “La Marcha Real”. After a slow start to the season, La Bomba went crazy against the Hornets Friday night. He drained five straight three-pointers in the first half and basically carried the offense in the second quarter, before hitting three more in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies battled back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime. He has a lightning-quick release that makes it appear as if he’s just flicking his wrist when he shoots, which means he needs very little room to get his shot off. Against Dallas Saturday the Grizzlies were down by three late in the fourth quarter. They could have run a play for an established veteran like Mike Miller or Damon Stoudamire, but instead they ran a play for Navarro, who the Mavericks inexplicably left open. He missed two chances to send the game to overtime, but has proven that he has adapted to the NBA game. As for Gasol, he’s off to a bit of a slow start, by his standards anyway, but he’s battled a stiff back early in the season. At this point in his career the team knows what to expect from Gasol, and everyone’s confident his numbers will come back up.

What don't we know but should about the Grizzlies?
It’s not what you should know, but who you should know. If you asked fans around the country which point guard among Stoudamire, Michael Conley and Kyle Lowry was getting the bulk of the minutes, how many would say Lowry? He only played 10 games last year before suffering a broken wrist and he doesn’t start, but he does get 25 minutes a game, usually including crunch time in the fourth quarter. Former MLB closer Mitch Williams used to say he “played like his hair was on fire”, and I think that applies to Lowry as well. He doesn’t look like a traditional speedster in the mold of Tony Parker or T.J. Ford, but he routinely blows by defenders and gets into the lane and changes the pace of the game. Defensively he’s a disruptive force who terrorizes opposing guards with relentless effort. He’s a fan favorite in Memphis, with many people calling for him to take over starting duties from Damon Stoudamire. Whether that happens or not, NBA fans around the country will get to know Lowry soon.