Losing in Memphis

It’s been a rough year for the Grizzlies. Even after last night’s win, their expected record sits at 5-10, and they rank near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive rating. For years, they’ve built a roster around gritty guys who get stops and scrap their way to victories, and by and large the strategy has succeeded, with the team making the playoffs each of the last five seasons, including a trip to the Conference Finals in 2012-13. With an aging core that just doesn’t have the energy of years past, however, there’s nothing particularly scary about this year’s Grizzlies. That didn’t stop them from walking all over the Mavericks last night.

From a personal standpoint, I was more disgusted with this performance than I’ve been all year, because now that six-game winning steak has turned into a two-game losing streak, and let’s not kid ourselves: with an upcoming battle against the Spurs in San Antonio tonight, that is about to become a three-game losing streak barring something that falls just short of a Thanksgiving miracle. Not to get ahead of myself here, but no rational fan expects a win against the Spurs, and that’s what made taking a game from the down-and-out Grizzlies so vital.

After shooting a robust 53 percent from the field against the Thunder on Sunday, the Mavs welcomed their shooting woes back into the equation on Tuesday night, hitting on just 39 percent of their attempts, and it only got that high thanks to a 10-for-18 fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach. For once, Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t summon his touch, as the gangly German hit on just one-third of his 15 attempts. He did, however post his second double-double of the season (14 points, 10 rebounds), and Zaza Pachulia (13 points, 10 rebounds) chipped in with his ninth — and fourth in a row.

No one aside from J.J. Barea and Raymond Felton could get it going, and that’s never a good indicator of a Mavericks win. Both guards came up with 16 points off the bench, and Felton even knocked down four three-pointers in as many tries, but they all came too late to matter. Wes Matthews also shot a respectable 3-for-7 from downtown, but he only took one other shot aside from that, making very little of an impact on the game overall.

Looking at the Memphis roster, there isn’t a whole lot there. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are decent options at the offensive end, but the Grizzlies are mostly known for their defense, and if the early stats are correct, the team is declining in that department. Without the smothering defense that defines the last five seasons of Memphis teams, this is just a club with little offensive bite and one of the slowest paces in the league. Not to disparage a roster that has seen its share of success in recent years and may just be off a rough start, but this loss is right up there as one of the hardest to accept of the season.

This isn’t going to be much of a write-up word count-wise, but last night’s contest wasn’t much of a game, so I think that’s only fitting. Another Texas rival awaits tonight, and the Mavericks could well head into Thanksgiving with a 9-7 record. A few posts ago, I pointed out that the metrics suggested such a stretch was in the works, and 9-7 may be a more accurate measurement of what this team is, but it sure feels disappointing after a 9-4 start. Then again, a win against the Spurs is technically possible, and even if the upcoming holiday arrives with the Mavs reeling from three straight losses, I’m still thankful for this team — and thankful that this fan experiment has been such a rousing success.

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