For the Memphis Grizzlies, there has been nothing sweet about playing at home in recent weeks.
Given the Grizzlies’ lethargic play of late in FedExForum, what veteran shooting guard Tony Allen labeled the “Grindhouse” two years ago has become virtually an establishment that has brought about much criticism among spectators, given Memphis has found it difficult to protect its home court in what has become one of the toughest places for opponents in recent years.
The Grizzlies (8-7) have been dealt three consecutive defeats at home and have dropped four of their last five outings in FedExForum, this after managing a 32-9 home record last year.
“You know, we caught some boos early in the season,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said before practice Friday morning at the team’s practice facility. “That doesn’t feel very good. And I think there’s extra pressure playing at home and we want to do well at home. And our guys have played their hearts out the last three or four years or whatever and laid it on the line, so I’m sure that hurt them a little.”
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they will have a golden opportunity to erase the memory of their recent home court struggles beginning Saturday when they host the Brooklyn Nets at 7 p.m. CST to start a six-game homestand, their longest home stretch this season. While playing in their building proved to be an enormous advantage, of sorts, last year for the Grizzlies, which enabled them to generate their best winning percentage (.683) in franchise history by posting a 56-26 mark, Memphis surprisingly has enjoyed more success on the road, having won five of eight games away from FedExForum.
So how to explain Grizzlies’ constant woes in what had become an unfriendly environment for opposing teams in years past?
“We get out there and feel like it’s just us,” Joerger said. “We’re not worried about winning or losing. On the road, it’s just you. But you have that expectation on the road, to just go compete and we need to carry that into the homestand. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing an Eastern Conference team or a Western Conference team. It doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to keep plugging away and getting better. By and large, we’ve improved over the last couple of weeks, but we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
Before Jeorger switched to a tighter rotation during the Grizzlies’ recent West coast road trip that resulted in four consecutive wins, among Memphis’ notable issues was its inability to close out games and, most importantly, acquire the essential defensive stops that allowed the Grizzlies to blossom into one of the NBA’s most efficient defensive teams last year.
Also, before producing a season-best four-game undefeated streak, the Grizzlies’ struggles surfaced, in large part
because veteran big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the team’s top two scorers, were ineffective offensively, averaging a combine 26.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Additionally, Memphis surrendered 99.4 points to the opposition while committing 16.9 turnovers. However, during the team’s recent road trip, Gasol and Randolph returned to form, averaging a combined 43.8 points and 21 rebounds for a Grizzlies team that suddenly mirrored the proverbial “grit grind” squad that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year.
“I think consistent effort,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, explaining Memphis’ recent home struggles. “I think we’ll play great in a half, three quarters, and then one of those quarters, we let down and we don’t come with the same focus and consistency. We let team back in games. We let teams play harder than us and that’s not in our nature. And we can’t do that at home.”
The good news for a Grizzlies team Joerger contends is trying to find its identity with the key loss of Gasol — who is sidelined indefinitely with an MCL sprain to his left knee — is that there is still much basketball to play in a season that is only 15 games old, one in which the Grizzlies have an ample amount of time to atone for the scattered boos that have been heard throughout their building in recent weeks. After Saturday’s contest against the Nets, the Grizzlies then welcome Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Orlando, and Oklahoma City to FedExForum.
Of those six teams, four advanced to the postseason last year with Memphis eliminating the Clippers and Thunder in the playoffs’ opening two rounds before falling to the Spurs in the conference finals.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Joerger said of the unfavorable reactions from Grizzlies fans of late. “It was a small percentage of people, so it’s not something to go on and on about. It was what it was. We’re going to play as hard as we can. We certainly enjoy playing at home. We’ve had a nice advantage at home in the past. But we’ve caught some teams that had been playing very well. New Orleans came in and played a must-win game. Rudy Gay kind of had his revenge game, which is what most NBA guys will do, so hopefully he got that out of his system. And we played some good teams in San Antonio and Houston. Like I said, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Not to mention help re-establish the Grindhouse as a hostile environment for the opposition.