Point Blank – March 13, 2017
On the Grizzlies bringing blues to Beale Street…Will the Wizards order one more on “Last Call” or just head home…Yes, the Timberwolves really have been the NBA's best team in March (how's that for Madness)...
Yes the NCAA brackets are dancing around the heads of most folks in the sports betting arena like visions of sugar plums at Christmas time (I’ve honestly never had one but it does allow for a somewhat literate opening). But today it is time to detour to the NBA for some key talking points, the final furlong of that regular season schedule having become so much more interesting.
Tomorrow will be Bracket Tuesday, and it is in the early stages of filling one out that this particular NCAA tourney brings such a fascination – it really is that wide open. The NIT has also been able to put a quality field together, and I will touch upon one of the key issues for that tourney tomorrow as well (to get a head start on that one you can begin looking up which of the first round home teams are on spring break, an item that can have a significant impact on the crowds). I can also save you the time of typing if you have questions about the CBI or College Insider tourneys – I do not follow them at all.
Now time for the Monday NBA hardwoods, and I’ll begin by revisiting Memphis, where the struggles of the Grizzlies were first detailed here last Thursday. Since then things have gone from bad to worse…
Item: It got even more grisly for the Grizzlies since our last visit
Memphis opened 36-25 in the first campaign under David Fizdale, and off of the injury-riddled 42-40 of last season there should have been plenty of optimism, and the consideration that the Grizzlies were being successful. Yet back-to-back losses led Fizdale to make that major lineup change last Monday vs. Brooklyn, JaMychal Green and Tony Allen out of the starting lineup and Andrew Harrison and Brandan Wright in, and it led to a dismal 122-109 loss to the Nets, who were +10.5 point underdogs.
A winning team on the way to the playoffs does not lose at home to the Nets by 13. Hence the focus last Thursday on the “why” behind Fizdale’s move, and whether it was a coach that had lost patience with his team, perhaps not accepting their true realities. Then things got worse.
Fizdale stayed with Harrison/Wright as starters for Thursday’s game vs. the Clippers, and instead of having Green step back in for the injured Chandler Parsons it was James Ennis starting. The Grizzlies got routed 114-98. On Saturday vs. Atlanta Parsons was able to return, but it was Wright back to the bench and Ennis staying in the starting lineup. The Hawks played without Dwight Howard, yet rolled 107-90.
Add the three games up from a market standpoint and it is about as bad of a week as a team can have – in going 0-3 SU and ATS Memphis lost to the projections by 65.5 points. The question now becomes what happens next – is there an inevitable pendulum that should have them swinging back in a positive direction, or is that general rule something that has been shattered by Fizdale potentially not having a good grasp right now?
The HC offered a rather troubling - “We’re just bad right now and for whatever reason we can’t get it together” in the aftermath of the loss to the Hawks, when I would have been more comfortable hearing him talk about the tweaking having backfired. More to the point is this from Mike Conley -
"We're in our own heads right now. Individually, we are hesitant and we are doubting ourselves. We have to look in the mirror and figure out what we can do to be better individually and as a team. We have to get this thing in the right direction and not let go of the rope."
If we want to make it more tangible from a purely basketball standpoint, the downfall has been almost entirely about defense and rebounding, and the numbers are rather alarming -
Def PP100 Reb
Pre-Break 102.8 (#4) 50.5 (#10)
Post-Break 114.5 (#30) 48.6 (#24)
Last 3 117.3 (#30) 45.5 (#30)
That is a shocking decline. Some of it can be attributed to the shuffling of the rotation, and the impact that has on chemistry. This team was going to compete best by scrapping on defense and hitting the boards. But might there also be some lack of effort that is a part of it, perhaps what can happen when a team loses faith in their coach?
There is plenty to focus in on here, and there will also be an interesting case study in effort taking place in Minneapolis this evening…
Item: Will the Wizards place an order on “Last Call”, or have they already had enough
The Wizards close out a difficult cycle of five road games in seven nights this evening, playing in the third different time zone, and having been through a pair of the toughest back-to-back cycles a team could face. On Wednesday they had the difficult setting of a second night being at the altitude of Denver, and Saturday they had to play in Portland after a draining rally from down 15 to win in overtime at Sacramento the previous night. So what did they do vs. the Trail Blazers? They fell down by 21 but rallied again to win in OT (* - sort of) setting some NBA history in the process – no team had ever rallied from 15 points down on the road to win in OT on back-to-back nights.
So now as they take on the Timberwolves to close out this most adventurous week, let’s focus in on the minutes for the key cogs across those Friday/Saturday marathons -
Wall 40:39 40:21
Beal 42:44 32:52
Porter 39:22 39:44
Morris 25:44 42:46
(* as for that sort of, Markief Morris stepped out of bounds before making the game-winning shot, but according to league rules that particular aspect of the play was not reviewable).
It isn’t like there is a lot of downtime ahead – they only get Tuesday off before a home game vs. the Mavericks on Wednesday. Hence it brings up a key notion – instead of ordering another round for the Last Call of this trip, might Scott Brooks opt to get his team home while they are still sober, and back off a bit this evening?
Here is part of the problem facing the HC – 11 of the last 17 Wizards games are on the road, and there is yet another difficult trip out to the west coast ahead. Brooks has to be well aware of that in the back of his mind, especially since there won’t be consecutive days off for another two weeks. Yet that must also be juggled with the coach’s own words before the game vs. Portland tipped off -
“We all have 82 games to play and coach, and you have to do your best each game. You can’t give into the schedule. If you don’t, you’re going to be embarrassed. There’s going to be nights when you don’t have it, and I get that. You have 82 games, and some teams are just going to have a hot game. You have to at least give yourself a chance.”
Would bucking the Wizards tonight fly in the face of that? Perhaps, although the draining nature of the win over the Trail Blazers might also impact Brooks and his game plan going forward. But there is also a pertinent handicapping point to be made – Washington already looks like a tired team (Wall is #5 in the NBA in minutes per game and Beal #20).
In going 5-1 SU over the last six games there may not be much reason for anyone to be thinking that way, but there was some bad basketball out there. They lost 114-106 to the Lowry-less Raptors as a home favorite, then had to chase down Orlando to escape 115-114 as -12.5, trailing by 10 points with 10:00 remaining. In the first game of the road trip they trailed Phoenix by 11 points midway through the third quarter. The win at Denver the following evening was made much easier by Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Juric and Kenneth Faried not be available for the Nuggets. And I have already recapped what happened over the weekend at Sacramento and Portland.
The bottom line for the Wizards is that they have trailed in double figures in the second half in five of the last six games, none of it vs. top-flight competition, yet had the talent and the will to claw back and win four of them. Some of that is the grit they bring, but those rallies were also made possible by the competition being poor.
Tonight it might be a tougher challenge than many will perceive…
Item: Minnesota may be "getting it" on defense
Let’s start this with a fun contrast – take those Washington deficits over the past six games, and factor them based on the competition, and then look at this four-game sequence for the Timberwolves last week, measuring their best scoreboard moment in the fourth quarter, all against difficult competition –
A. Led by 29 at Utah
B. Led by 9 at San Antonio
C. Led by 20 at home vs. LAC
D. Led by 12 at home vs. Golden State
You have to be playing some damn good basketball to do that, and except for a late-game fail vs. the Spurs, they won the other three. Following that victory vs. Golden State was a clunker at Milwaukee on Saturday, but that can be excused to a degree – play those four Western powers consecutively and you are entitled to a physical letdown, and after beating the Warriors you can also be emotionally drained a bit as well.
So let’s start with one premise – in the month of March, Minnesota has been the NBA’s best team. Factor the scores and the competition and it is an easy case to make. But now the second part – after focusing in as a lead topic here earlier in the season about whether or not Tom Thibodeau could get this ultra-talented young roster to learn defense, they may indeed be “getting it” -
Minnesota Defense PP100
Pre-All Star Break 108.3 (#23)
Post-All Star Break 100.0 (#2)
And again note how challenging the schedule has been over that time, not only the four game cycle noted above, but also a road game at Houston, the single toughest defensive challenge in the league right now (in truth, they did not handle that one particularly well, yet still rate #2 in the league since the break).
So you can probably figure out where I am going with this – I will have #510 Minnesota (8:05 Eastern) in pocket at -1. This price point shows that the markets have not accepted how well the Timberwolves are playing right now, nor how sloppy the Wizards have been. To put the numbers into perspective the net Offense/Defense PP100 for Minnesota has been a +7.2 since the All Star break, #4 in the NBA, while for the Wizards it is a +0.5, for #15. And the T’Wolves have done that against a far tougher schedule.
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