Lionel Hollins points to favorable schedule as the reason for the Grizzlies’ strong start

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PHOENIX — Reality has set in on the Memphis Grizzlies recently. But that doesn’t negate the team’s stronger-than-expected start.

After a loss in Phoenix on Wednesday to a Suns club that had dropped seven straight coming in, Memphis has now posted just two wins against three losses over its last five games. This may be closer to the true Grizzlies team that we will see over the course of the season, but they did open with a blistering record of 13-2, with quality wins over the Heat, Knicks, and Lakers during that stretch.

Before facing the Suns on Wednesday, I asked Hollins what he believed was the reason for his team’s early-season success. He clearly wasn’t overly excited about it, and was fairly logical in concluding that a favorable schedule was as much a reason for piling up those wins as was anything else.

“We won a few games against some really good teams that we didn’t do the year before,” he said. “I think our schedule was similar, except for the number of road games. In the past we’ve had 11 out of 14 on the road, and we played all of those teams on the road. This year we’ve had most of the good teams [at home] — except for the Clippers and Oklahoma City and San Antonio. We beat Miami at home, New York at home, the Lakers at home. It’s always nice to be at home.

“I think that we haven’t played a lot of back-to-backs; we’ve had a couple of back-to-backs, and we haven’t fared well in them so far. The schedule’s been very favorable.”

Memphis has only had three back-to-back sets thus far, and has won only once in that situation, on Nov. 17 at Charlotte.

Hollins is measured in his optimism because he’s well aware that early-season wins don’t translate to playoff success. Too many things can happen over the course of the year — including injuries, as Memphis was forced to deal with last season that affected its chance at a higher seed in the playoffs, and along with it, a lesser first round opponent.

The Grizzlies do have the league’s top-ranked defense right now in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, and if that remains constant, good things will happen. But Hollins knows there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that there are simply too many factors at play for him to be idealistic about his team’s chances, especially with so much of the season’s games still remaining to be played.

“I don’t think we’ve played great every game by any stretch, but no team does,” he said. “What we want to do is continue to win, and get in a rhythm going toward the playoffs that lends itself to being successful. If we’re not playing well at the end of the year, we’re probably not going to be successful in the playoffs. But if we get to the point where we’re playing well, like we have in the past, things bode well.

“And then, you’ve got to have the right matchup.”

Possible top-10 pick Sekou Doumbouya declares for NBA draft

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Just three 18-year-olds have played in the NBA since the league instituted its one-and-done rule: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender and Devin Booker.

Sekou Doumbouya – who’ll remain 18 until Dec. 23 – could become the fourth.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

French forward Sekou Doumbouya has submitted paperwork to the league office to make himself eligible for the 2019 NBA draft, his agent, Bouna Ndiaye of Comsport, told ESPN.

Doumbouya projects as a potential lottery pick.

The 6-foot-9 power forward is extremely physically developed for his age. He’s strong and mobile, and he can elevate.

But he’s still early in his skill development. His shot, handle and feel all need work.

Doumbouya has plenty of tools. His rebounding is already impressive. The rest? It’ll be a project.

Report: Pelicans cut Lakers GM Rob Pelinka from Anthony Davis trade talks

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On Jan. 31, a report emerged the Pelicans hadn’t returned the Lakers’ calls about Anthony Davis. Later that day, another report said the Pelicans and Lakers discussed a Davis trade.

That sparked questions: Was the first report wrong? Did New Orleans and Los Angeles begin talking that day?

Maybe we missed an important distinction.

The first report said then-Pelicans general manager Dell Demps hadn’t returned Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s calls. The second report said Demps spoke with Lakers president Magic Johnson.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Pelinka was mostly cut out of trade talks between L.A. and New Orleans, with the Pelicans preferring to deal directly with Johnson, multiple league sources told ESPN.

Since Johnson stunningly resigned, Pelinka has assumed control in Los Angeles. The Lakers surely still want to trade for Davis.

Will having Pelinka running the front office impair their ability to do so?

We don’t know why the Pelicans rebuffed Pelinka. Different theories bring varying levels of present concern.

Maybe the Pelicans just didn’t want to waste their time with someone who’s not in charge. That’s often an issue when lower-level executives contact other teams. If that’s the case, Pelinka assuming the top job in basketball operations would solve the problem.

Maybe Demps was still bitter with Pelinka over Pelinka’s time as an agent. In 2012, New Orleans restricted free agent Eric Gordon – represented by Pelinka – signed an offer sheet with the Suns. Gordon lobbied hard to leave New Orleans, even saying his heart was in Phoenix. Though New Orleans matched, the saga caused animosity. But the Pelicans fired Demps and hired David Griffin, who’ll now oversee Davis. If this was a personal issue between Pelinka and Demps, that’s now irrelevant.

Maybe Pelinka is just that off-putting. I definitely don’t buy everything people say about him. Being a good agent often means ruffling feathers, and it’s easy for people he countered in negotiations to gossip about him now. But maybe there’s some truth to Pelinka being difficult to work with. If so, that’d come up again – not just with the Pelicans, but every team.

Report: Hornets not trading for Marc Gasol soured Kemba Walker on Hornets

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Kemba Walker has never had an All-Star teammate. For someone as established as Walker, that’s unprecedented.

The Hornets nearly paired Walker with a former All-Star, though. Shortly before the trade deadline, they reportedly nearly dealt for Marc Gasol. But talks stalled, and the Grizzlies instead sent Gasol to the Raptors.

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well with Walker, who was trying to lead a playoff push before entering free agency this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I got the sense in talking to people, that trade deadline really deflated him. When they were pretty close on a Marc Gasol deal, and it fell apart. It didn’t happen. He goes to Toronto. And he looks around and goes, “Come on, what are we trying to do here?”

The reported outline of the Gasol deal: Gasol for Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a protected first-round pick. The hang-up was reportedly on the specifics of the protection.

Which is important!

The Hornets shouldn’t have relinquished too high of a pick for a 34-year-old center just for a likely first-round loss.

Making the playoffs matters. Keeping Walker happy matters. But so does keeping draft picks to build the team going forward. Without knowing the exact line of the protection being haggled, I can’t say whether Charlotte erred by not making the trade. But there’s plenty of room to make passing the right call.

Shortly after the deadline, a rumor emerged Walker would likely leave the Hornets in free agency. This probably explains why.

But a lot has and will happen before Walker makes that call. Charlotte still made a strong late playoff push, though fell short. Walker could make an All-NBA team, which would make him eligible for a super-max contract.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he re-signs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves, either.

What’s clear: He wants to win right now. Though it certainly won’t be the only factor, the Hornets’ stagnancy looks like a real negative when Walker ultimately decides.

Ben Simmons on feud with Jared Dudley: ‘I don’t really have energy for it. It’s done’

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Jared Dudley called Ben Simmons great in transition and average in the halfcourt.

Simmons responded: “It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.”

In the 76ers’ Game 3 win over the Nets last night, Simmons did what he frequently does – create high-efficiency transition and semi-transition opportunities for himself and teammates. He was also good in the halfcourt, though one game doesn’t establish Simmons in that facet.

Simmons, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

As I wrote earlier, this beef will be only as big as Simmons makes it. Dudley’s scouting report was largely accurate. He didn’t really say anything inflammatory, except to people in Philadelphia looking for a slight.

Apparently, after one dismissive comment and one excellent game, that’s no longer Simmons.