Grizzlies need to control the boards, increase the pace to bounce back in Game 2 against Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — After the Clippers took Game 1 from the Grizzlies by dominating the glass, that was the area that Memphis seemed most focused on improving for the next game of the series and beyond.

Being on the wrong end of a 47-23 rebounding margin will do that.

But it wasn’t the big men of the Clippers who were necessarily doing the damage. While they did a good job putting a body on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph that helped limit them to just six rebounds in total, it was the guards and wings, especially off the Clippers’ bench, that were creating the most problems.

“They’re athletic, man,” Mike Conley said of the way the Clippers were able to crash the boards after Game 1. “They’ve got two and there guys going to the glass every time, jumping over us and just using their athleticism. We’ve got to do a better job of checking them, our guards have to do a better job of coming back to rebound and helping our bigs. If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win.”

Gasol said the same thing about winning the rebounding battle, and given the fact that the Grizzlies were second in the league in rebounding rate during the regular season, it’s expected that they’ll do a better job in cleaning up that mess in time for Game 2.

Closing the gap on the boards will definitely help the Grizzlies’ cause, but that alone won’t be enough. They’ll need to manufacture offense consistently throughout the course of the game, and can’t afford to go several minutes without scoring. Despite the rebounding disadvantage, Memphis was within one point of the Clippers with just over 10 minutes left in Game 1, before L.A. put together a 15-2 run to seal it.

Believe it or not, Memphis actually got the pace it wanted in Game 1, at least defensively. It was just an 85 possession game, though the Clippers’ efficiency ended up coming in at a blistering 129.3 points per 100 possessions.

Offensively, though, it would help if Memphis could speed things up, and get into the team’s sets a little sooner to exploit the Clippers’ defense for easier opportunities. Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins explained before Game 1 why he believes playing faster would be beneficial to his team’s offense.

“Everybody thinks we want to play at a slow pace,” he said. “We don’t. What I’d like to see us do better is rebound the ball, and then run off misses. But we don’t do that as often as we should. We have done it in the past, and we’ve done it in certain games, but it’s just a mindset of going out and doing it. We need our big people to run, we need our wings to run, we need our point guard to push the ball.

“I think they’re confident in playing the way they play but I’d rather play a little bit quicker,” Hollins continued. “I’m not talking about running up the court and taking the first three-pointer; that’s not what I mean at all. I mean, just get over half court [with 20 seconds still left on the shot clock], and explore it from there.”

On the Clippers’ side, they’ll need to continue to get production off the bench, but the Game 1 numbers don’t tell the entire story. Lamar Odom, for example, finished with seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, but was just 1-7 from the field and largely brutal for stretches on both ends of the floor.

Eric Bledsoe finished 7-7 from the field, but four of those shots and eight of his 13 fourth quarter points came in the game’s final five minutes, with the Clippers already up double digits and the game having already been decided.

To bounce back in Game 2, the Grizzlies will need to shore up the problems in the rebounding category, avoid any long scoring droughts, and limit the impact of the Clippers’ reserves. Do all of that, and the series will be tied at a game apiece heading back to Memphis.

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.

Kings will shut down veterans for some games, rookie Harry Giles for rest of season

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The Kings foolishly strayed from rebuilding last summer by signing George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to relatively expensive contracts. Those additions came despite Sacramento already having veterans Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.

The plan has predictably failed. The Kings have the NBA’s worst offense and worst defense and are 13-31.

That’s bad, but not quite bad enough. Not in the last year Sacramento has its own first-round pick before conveying its selection as a result of a ridiculous salary dump a few years ago.

So, in a transparent bid to break a tie with the Hawks and Magic for the NBA’s worst record and tank to the top seed in the lottery/develop young players already on the roster, the Kings are sitting those veterans on a rotating basis.

Sacramento is also shutting down No. 20 pick Harry Giles, who hasn’t played this season.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

“Going forward, what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there’ll be three. It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I’ve got it laid out…I’ve got about five or six games laid out, and every week I’ll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they’re not going to play. Other guys, they’ve got to be ready. If you’re in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play,” Joerger told the media after the Kings’ loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

This is smart, though it’s also an opportunity it would have been smarter not to sign Hill, Randolph and Carter in the first place. Though those veterans might not be thrilled with the direction of the franchise, at least they’re getting paid. And they should know their rest days far enough in advance to enjoy the reduced workloads.

Younger Kings – including De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere – should have a chance to spread their wings and grow. That could help down the road, when Sacramento has a chance to win meaningfully. This year, the difference between the fully operational Kings and tanking Kings is minimal on the court, but could make a huge difference in draft position.

As for Harry Giles, it’s strange how the Kings are touting him as fully healthy while shutting him down for the rest of the season. The best way to keep him his healthy is never play him. At some point, they must test him on the court. Perhaps, giving him even more time to strengthen his knee is the right approach. But if he needs this long, can really accurately be described as entirely healthy?