If there is a team in the NBA that needs to get some rest, it is the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has climbed their way back into playoff seeding after having been hammered with injuries throughout this season. On Saturday night they were finishing a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, with all four games being in different cities. After being beaten by the Toronto Raptors, because of a putrid fourth quarter Friday night, the Grizzlies needed some rest in a bad way.
Memphis had a game on Saturday night, but it was against the Philadelphia 76ers, so naturally they were able to get their starters some rest. Memphis pounded the Sixers 103-77, and didn’t have one starter crack the 30-minute plateau.
Finding a way to limit minutes on Marc Gasol’s bum knee, Zach Randolph’s old body, and Mike Conley’s multitude of ailments is going to be key for the Grizzlies down the stretch. But resting their star players comes at a price: winning. The Grizzlies were once 15-19, and the playoffs didn’t even seem possible, but after fighting and clawing their way back into contention, they are burnt out. You can see it late in games on the faces of Randolph, Conley and Gasol, but thanks to the recent surge from their bench, Memphis was able to hang onto games they would have normally lost.
Having a productive bench is a great asset to have, but the bench cannot outplay the starters. When that is happening it is because the starters are not being productive enough. Too many times, over the past two weeks, the Grizzlies have been bailed out by their bench. Tony Allen, Nick Calathes, Mike Miller and Kosta Koufos will come in off the bench, and create that spark that gets Memphis going. That is fine some of the time, but it should not be a regular occurrence.
The problem with the Memphis starters is that they are tired. Randolph and Tayshaun Prince are both old guys who don’t need to be playing 35 minutes per game during the regular season. Sure, big minutes are fine in the playoffs when you need them, and there are two or three days off between every game. Conley and Gasol have both missed long stretches of games thanks to injuries, so their consistency isn’t going to be there on a nightly basis, but they have both been back long enough to not have rust at the beginning of every game.
All those nicks and dings throughout a season start to take their toll as the season winds down. Memphis needs to knock out bad teams as quickly as possible so they can preserve their starters for the playoffs. Memphis had a similar chance to do this two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Grizzlies let a 19-point halftime lead evaporate, and they had to play their starters late in the fourth quarter instead of having them sit on the bench with ice on their knees.
Finishing off bad teams is a problem the Grizzlies have long dealt with thanks in large part to their inability to guard the three-point line, but after seeing the smiling faces of Randolph and Gasol as they rested on the bench, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take bad teams more seriously down the road, just to get a little more rest at the end of the night.