Tag Archives: Memphis Grizzlies

A Conversation about the Western Conference Playoffs

Maybe next year, Ricky

Doyle Rader and Travis Huse discuss the basketball world, namely the Western Conference playoff picture (We can’t think of a creative name for these segments. Help us out.):

DR: I wrote briefly on the race to get into the playoffs and how cluttered it is yesterday with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be relevant today. It isn’t. In fact, it was smashed to pieces (not really). Right now, though, the West is stacked up from the sixth through tenth seeds and there will be a lot of position jockeying over the next week and a half to see who will actually make it into the postseason. Even the third through fifth seeds aren’t set in stone and the Spurs could win the Western Conference outright. It’s cray, essentially. Tonight the Rockets and Nuggets face off once again as both teams fight to keep their playoff chances alive. Last night Denver came out in the second half and ran rough shot all over Houston, getting out in transition for easy buckets. Corey Brewer, Arron Afflalo, and Ty Lawson were seemingly everywhere. It was an impressive win. If they can do it again tonight, Houston’s chances at making the playoffs will certainly begin to dwindle. How do you feel the West could pan out?

TH: I actually envision the conference standing pat from here until the playoffs, unless a team tanks for better positioning, like the Grizzlies did last year.  The Jazz have been playing fantastically as of late, but they’re still a game and a half behind Houston, and frankly, there’s no way that the Suns manage to squeeze in.  If there is any movement at all, I feel it’ll be upward movement from either the Mavs or the Spurs.  Dallas has been playing much better since the departure of Lamar Odom, which goes to show exactly how poisonous he was to that locker room; in fact, it seems as if the team has been brought together by kicking him out.  So there’s a distinct possibility they can overtake Memphis, in my mind.

In a typical year, San Antonio would be heavily resting their stars, so a few losses this week and next wouldn’t be surprising.  But with the increased workload Tiago Splitter‘s been able to handle, as well as the addition of Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan‘s been kept to 28.4 minutes a game.  Talk about cray.  Gregg Popovich is now in a situation where he might actually increase the minutes for Duncan and Manu Ginobili, to prepare for their roles in the playoffs.  For entertainment’s sake, I really, really, REALLY hope the postseason matchups stay as they are, though.  Clips-Grizz would be one of the most exciting, physical series of all time.  Blake Griffin can dunk over anyone, but if anyone can contain them, the Memphis bigs could.  Posters galore.  Lakers-Mavs would be a wonderful rematch of last year’s stomping, but a Bynum-Haywood matchup could be problematic for Dallas.  Spurs-Nuggets could be a highlight of the importance of depth, with each team being able to run 3 full squads at an opponent.  The 7-game format would be a dream for those interested in NBA coaching tactics, and George Karl against Pop is as close to the best as we can get in the first round.  The 8th seed is going to get reamed, though.  No question.

DR: Yeah, the fate of whoever lands in 8th has had their fate sealed. I hope Utah can sneak in there, though. The Jazz won their last meeting with the Thunder so that gives me the slightest bit of hope that if they make it to the playoffs they won’t be swept. Tyrone Corbin has done a fantastic job with Utah and should be rewarded with a playoff berth.

As for Memphis, doom and gloom is in the air as they head into the postseason. Marc Gasol hyper extended his left knee on Sunday and the entire city of Memphis is holding its collective breath. He will have an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury. For the sake of Memphis, who I see as a “dark horse” (what a cliché term) in the playoffs, I hope he is going to be able to come back quickly.

TH: Derrick Favors! I still love that kid, but he needs a role with a different team, or they need to get a guard out of one of their bigs.  The Jazz will rocket right back into the playoffs in the next season or two, their front office is too smart.  Which team missing out on the playoffs this season do you think will make it next year?

DR: I honestly feel like it’s the Blazers. They have been a steady playoff team over recent years but they blew it up this year. They are rebuilding and if they can get one or two solid players around LaMarcus Aldridge I don’t see any reason why they should miss out on the playoff party next season.

Also, the Timberwolves are right there. When Ricky Rubio went down you could hear that team’s balloon burst. Everything changed. Their defense collapsed, their offense grew stale. Nothing was working right for them except for Kevin Love. He’s the man. If the NBA had an NIT, these two teams would be a lock for it.

TH: See, I’ve got two possibilities, and they hinge on one signing.  If Steve Nash stays in Phoenix, it will signify some roster moves to improve the team.  Therefore, they’ll be able to make the playoffs.  If they don’t, Nash is gone and they’ll be looking at a major rebuilding.  Which, to be fairly honest, might be the best thing long term for the Suns.  In this very-likely scenario, I like the idea of the Timberwolves next year.  That roster is filled to the brim with underrated talent, and Rick Adelman’s already done wonders.  It’s the funniest goddamned thing that David Kahn actually set up a pretty complete basketball team.  Imagine if we’d told ourselves in 2009 (or 2010, or 2011) that it could all fit together.

DR: Well, the Wolves still have their issues. Michael Beasley still has yet to find a defined role on the team and it looks as though he isn’t even going to get a qualifying offer from Minnesota, so he will be playing elsewhere next season, and Adelman just doesn’t seem to like Darko Milicic. What will be interesting to see is how much Nikola Pekovic can improve his game during the offseason and whether Martell Webster will get a haircut. Above all else, they need to stay healthy. Rubio, Love, Barea, Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Darko, and Pekovic all missed serious time this season. No matter how well the team is playing at any given point, injuries are a team’s death knell.

Maybe David Kahn is craftier than we all thought, or maybe he just got lucky. I’m going with the latter.

As for the Suns, BLOW IT UP.

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Thunder Escape

Still besties?

The Oklahoma City Thunder may have won their triple overtime game against the Memphis Grizzlies last night 133-123, but there was no need for the game to drag on as long as it did. Oklahoma City could have won the game in regulation but did not execute well enough offensively to secure a victory until very late in the evening. This lack of execution is centered around the team’s seeming disinterest in off the ball movement, lack of execution, and what appeared to be a lack of trust/communication between the team’s two best players.

Kevin Durant was openly frustrated during the game. Shane Battier was draped all over him. That in itself is frustrating for Durant. Yet, it is not the only reason that Durant was frustrated. He was particularly upset with his lack of participation in the game. For a stretch of nine minutes in the fourth quarter and into overtime Durant did not even have an opportunity to shoot the ball. “Why didn’t he give me the fucking ball,” Durant said to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks after Westbrook again did not look to give up the ball. This is not entirely on his teammates, however. Durant is also to blame for not seeing the ball come his way.

Durant became a spectator at times, standing around the arc on offense and simply watching the ball. Watching the ball is fine for someone to do at home that does not want to have a greater understanding of the game, but for a player it is a mortal sin which helps the other team to load up against the ball handler. That is exactly what Memphis did when Durant began to loiter.

Oklahoma City’s offense was stagnant at best throughout the game. They totaled only 16 assists in a triple overtime game. Westbrook had to score, or at least he thought he did, based on the situation the team found itself in being down 18 points early in the game.

Much of the offensive stagnation falls on Scott Brooks’ back. When a head coach sees that his star player is standing idly around the three-point line without making a concerted effort to get open or move to the ball it is up to them to go to a play in which the star, in this case Durant, can get open. Also, it appeared as if, too often, the Thunder did not come out of a timeout with any particular set in mind offensively. Their ball screens around the perimeter broke down easily as the shot clock wound down. These situations forced Westbrook to drive or take low percentage mid range jump shot. Westbrook shot just 33.3 percent from 10 to 23 feet.

Should Westbrook have looked to involve his teammates more in the game? Probably, but the Thunder likely do not win the game without Westbrook in hero mode. Westbrook had 1.02 points per possession, which is a solid number, during the game, the same number as Durant, however, Westbrook’s usage was 42.5 percent compared to Durant’s 31.6 percent of possessions. That belies an inefficient evening and his 15 made field goals on 33 attempts supports that. Westbrook’s 11 free throw attempts are what really help to alleviate his hero mode tendencies in the game but they cannot wash them clean completely.

In fact, it was the ability of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden to get to the line that saved the Thunder. Combined they took 39 free throws and made 36 of them. The Grizzlies, as a team, only had 40 free throw attempts.

Yes, the Thunder won the game. It was an ugly affair that had no business keeping everyone up as late as it did. Yet, maybe this is the type of game that the team can use to learn from going forward. Oklahoma City played terrible, relied too heavily on one player, and suffered emotional breaks. All of these should be points of emphasis where they can improve. If they do not focus and learn from their mistakes, this will be an even longer series than it already has been.

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A Wall of Thunder

Like a mongoose on the Black Mamba.

Thabo Sefolosha is an essential part of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting 5, doing wonders for this team’s efficiency.

I often wonder whether the Thunder would be better served by placing James Harden, now rounding out his second year in the league, in his stead.  Harden packs quite an offensive punch (16.4 points per 36 minutes of play), and with Russell Westbrook’s recent ball-hogging woes (see: Joe Johnson), a more prominent role for Harden might be able to incite ball movement.  But Sefolosha exemplifies the “Intangible Defensive Player” that championship teams need in order to survive in the playoffs.

There are a few examples of this type of player within the surviving contenders, and the grit of these players is more beneficial than their stat lines show.  The Dallas Mavericks often use DeShawn Stevenson to guard opposing guards, and Tony Allen has demonstrated that determination can lift a middle-of-the-pack team like the Memphis Grizzlies shockingly deep into the postseason.

Sefolosha’s numbers aren’t impressive in the slightest, but as any baseball fan can tell you, it’s very hard to quantify defense.  Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging the lowest in points for his career, and this season his usage rate dropped to under 10% for the first time since entering the NBA.  But watching the Thunder on Saturday in their 101-93 loss to the Grizzlies, I was able to note a few ways that Sefolosha is paramount to the success of his team.  Some examples:

1st Quarter

10:24- Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka fight hard against taller Grizzlies players for a defensive rebound underneath the basket.   Thabo secures the ball and takes it coast-to-coast for an uncontested layup.  With defenses occupied with preventing offensive production from Kevin Durant and Westbrook, Scott Brooks should bring Sefolosha into the offense in much the same manner as he has Ibaka.

8:42- On a cut from Durant under the hoop to the corner, Sefolosha sets a hard screen that knocks Tony Allen to the ground.  The pick is set well, his feet planted firmly, and Allen goes down like he hit a brick wall.  With his defender incapacitated, Durant knocks down a three.  Sefolosha’s become incredibly adept at creating contact, yet only fouling when it’s beneficial to do so.

6:26- With a chase-down block, Sefolosha prevents a fastbreak layup from Sam Young, creating incidental contact that throws Young to the ground. At the same time, the Thunder gains possession after the ball goes out-of-bounds off of the Grizzlies.  This play was all heart, and indicative of the positive play Sefolosha can provide, though the stat sheets will only show a block.

3rd Quarter

11:09- Sefolosha prevents an easy tip-in from Zach Randolph, leaping across the paint, over four players.  At this moment, I truly begin to realize how athletic this player is; his speed and jumping ability is rarely lauded in the way that they are with Westbrook and Ibaka, but they should be.

Always the first to get set on defense, Sefolosha can pose problems when guarding opposing stars.  Against Sefolosha, Kobe Bryant’s points per 36 minutes drop to 20.4 from 30.7 when he’s on the bench.  His FG% is 40% against Thabo, and 57% against the rest of the Thunder.  Dwyane Wade’s FG% plummets from 53% to 27% against him, and his defense causes NBA MVP Derrick Rose’s +/- to dive from a +49.7 to a -12.8.  Across the league, stars are drastically affected by his play.

Never again will I doubt his skill set, no matter how many times I see Westbrook wave him off.  He’s a perimeter defender in the vein of Ron Artest and Bruce Bowen, and as the Thunder become an increasingly more dangerous opponent, his play will be likewise respected.

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Going back to Memphis

Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies head back to Memphis having stolen game one and home court advantage from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Z-Bo will likely put on a show in front of his blue-collar faithful in the River City. After a mediocre performance in game two, where he went just 2-13 from the field, Randolph will be motivated to play better in an attempt to take the series lead. Z-Bo will be ready, will you?

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Tony Allen’s Grizzly Haircut

The legend grows

Tony Allen has spent his career making a name for himself as a dogged defender who is more than willing to get under the skin of his opponents. He has a reputation that follows him everywhere. To go along with that reputation he had the Memphis Grizzlies’ logo shaved onto the back of his head. Unfortunately he shaved it off before game four.

Image via @ChrisVernonShow

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Western Conference Playoff Predictions: Spurs vs. Grizzlies

It all comes down to the youth.

This is possibly one of the most blue-collar series of this season’s NBA Playoffs as both lack the star power of other teams heading into the postseason.

1. San Anonio Spurs vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis didn’t exactly start the season out on the right foot.  It was marred by lengthy losing streaks matched by minimal winning streaks that never extended further than four games.  In fact, their longest winning steak of the season was only five games right before the All-Star break.  However, they haven’t lost three straight since December and were able to rack up enough wins to hold that eighth and final spot in the West.

The Spurs have been just as confusing.  This formerly defensively minded, full-court team was actually set to turn into an offensive machine.  With a Frenchman and Argentinean both leading the way, a transformation was due.  We never saw it happening this quickly nor with the same result as San Antonio essentially coasted to the No. 1 seed in the West.  Kudos to Greg Popavich.

Key Matchups:

When the Griz’s lead scorer, Rudy Gay, went down for the season with an injured shoulder back in February, we all thought it was over for Memphis.  However, they didn’t need to look any further than Zach Randolph for an option to fill in for scoring.  In fact, Memphis has gotten better since losing gay.  In the 54 games in which he played, they outscored opponents by two points per 100 possessions.  In the 28 games without Gay including the last two games that they didn’t need to win, they outscored opponents by 3.6 points per possession.  They haven’t fallen in any other category without highest paid player either.

The veteran Randolph will be key in keeping the Griz’s head above water.  The Spurs love to score and it will be up to him to lead the offense that already doesn’t score a ton with only 99 points a game (12th in the league).  Z Bo has only been to the playoffs three times in his entire career and only amassed a dismal six wins without a trip to the second round yet.  It may be a lot to ask for this 29-year-old veteran who was essentially thrust into his first leading role ever in his career.

Tim Duncan has been playing less minutes than ever before in his career and his numbers have declined too.  With such a green team going into the playoffs, it’s really going to come down to Manu Ginobili to spark the offense in San Antonio.  The guy really flourishes when asked to step up and he works well in this new offense that has developed there.  However, he was injured in the Spurs’ last game of the season against the Suns last night.  He hyperextended his right elbow when Phoenix’s Grant Hill fell on it.  X-rays were negative for a more serious injury but it has yet to be determined if he will be missing any games.

If the injury turns out to be something worse, it will come down to Tony Parker utilizing some of the younger players in San Antonio.  George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner will all have to step up.  Richard Jefferson found his way this season in his second year as a spur and he will have to step up well.  However, none of them perform on the same level as Ginobili does in the post season.

X Factors:

For the Spurs, it comes down to the young guys.  Hill, Blair, Neal and Bonner have proven that they can compete all season but the playoffs are a different story.  Memphis’s Lionel Hollins will have at least four games to adjust his defense appropriately.  Additionally, Tony Allen made a name for himself as a defender on the Boston Celtics and is the only player on Memphis with a ring.  He will shut down one of the players listen above and it will be up to the rest to step up and adjust around him.

The same applies to the Griz who have a ton of younger guys who have never seen the playoffs.  Overall, Memphis has never won a playoff series but if the greener players step up around the vets, that could change.  Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur and O.J. Mayo will get their first taste of the playoffs and how it works.  Sadly, they are doing this against a team that has been there and done that with rings to show for it.  Veterans such as Shane Battier and even Leon Powe need prepare these guys for a rough series.

Predictions:

San Antonio will win in five games.  Memphis will shake its post season losing streak but will end this series with a 1-16 playoff record as a franchise.  Even though they did beat the Spurs three times this season, they just aren’t ready for the playoffs.  They have plenty of good veterans but they don’t know how to lead a team.  San Antonio will roll and other than one loss in Memphis, this series will be theirs.  Expect some good games but the Griz just got their head stuck in the wrong honey pot.

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Southwest Turning Sour

Some ugly moments from the Southwest Division's season.

The mighty Southwest Division looked like the powerhouse group of teams going into the All-Star Break but a bit of wind has been knocked out of the division since.

Dallas, New Orleans and San Antonio were the teams to beat with impressive win streaks and records against the NBA’s elite teams.  Now, it’s looking like the trio is falling into the playoffs rather than rushing in full steam ahead.

Together they amassed a 51-34 record against teams set to make the post season in both conferences before the All Star Game.  The Spurs built the best record in the league.  Dallas could beat anyone in the NBA and New Orleans had experienced two of this season’s best winning streaks.

Things were going well in the South but things have changed in the last few weeks.

New Orleans has fallen to seventh in the West and is set to square off against the hot Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs. Defense is still their game but no offense has marred their play since they have fallen to 27th in the league in scoring with only 95 points a night.  They have only scored 100 points or more five times since the break and are 6-20 this season when their opponents score 100 or more.

Ouch.

Essentially, it’s a case of too little depth down in the big easy, which is a problem that can infect every aspect of a team’s play.  Their bench is ranked 19th in the league with only 16 minutes of play a night and are only putting up 28 points a game (17th in the league).

It doesn’t help that David West tore his ACL against the Jazz on March 24th.  He was the leading scorer for the Hornets at the time and that’s not saying a lot.  It’s really been a case of Monty Williams opting to start a more defensive lineup there in New Orleans but regardless of what your system is, you need scorers.

Chris Paul is averaging fewer minutes per game than most of his previous seasons but they really lost a lot when Darren Collison left for Indiana and when they shipped Marcus Thornton to Sacramento.

Jarrett Jack is the only other point guard on the squad but to call that depth is a serious overstatement since the rest of the guard core is garbage (Marco Belinelli and Willie Green).

Now, it appears that Paul has tweaked something in his knee and hopefully it won’t turn out to be something serious.

Luckily, Carl Landry is finding his place in NO.  He started his time there scoring in the single digits against some of the NBA’s elite teams but is starting to get comfortable in the offense.

Trevor Ariza is having a very forgettable season in his first year playing for the Hornets.  He has only scored 20 or more points once this season and that was a mere 21 against the Knicks back on December 3rd (they lost that game).  Call him adjusting or  just call him an overrated player.  Whatever he is, he isn’t helping New Orleans win with his offensive game.

They started the season off 8-0 and on top of every pundit’s power rankings.  Since, they have essentially fallen off the face of the Earth outside of a few impressive stretches.  Don’t expect them to cause an upset in the first round.

They are set to face off against the Lakers who are on fire right now and it’s mainly due to the heightened play of their big men.  Andrew Bynum looks confident and Lamar Odom is providing increased depth for the defending champions.  Emeka Okafor and the rest of the frontcourt will have their hands full defending the big guys in LA.

Let’s move to San Antonio who has the best record in the NBA at 58-19.  Regardless, they have won one of their last seven games.  That just so happened to come against the struggling Suns on Sunday where they entered a must-win situation having lost their previous six.

Yes, Tim Duncan did go down with an ankle sprain and the Spurs were due for their annual injury.  They really lucked out when Tony Parker missed two games instead of two weeks at the beginning of March but their luck really ran out when they lost the four games that Duncan missed and the first two he returned for.

However, Duncan is getting old and it shows.  He is playing fewer minutes than ever before in his career and the season has dragged on for him.   He has only been the top scorer for them once this season and that was only 21 against the Thunder on New Years Day.  This new run and gun San Antonio team has incorporated the big guy well but it’s obvious that they are moving in a different direction that can sometimes leave the NBA veteran huffing and puffing up the court.

It’s interesting to see a team such as the Spurs change the way they play in such a short amount of time and it’s fared well for them so far.  Regardless, it has been shown that this style of play really doesn’t work for an 82 game season and playoffs.  Just look at the team they ended their losing streak against.

The Phoenix Suns faded every season under Mike D’antoni and that was with a team that was in much better shape.  Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash were in their prime.  They had good depth with Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion as well.

The Spurs have the depth with Richard Jefferson finally finding his stroke, DeJaun Blair getting more comfortable and George Hill developing into a well-rounded scorer.  They are known for building and even rebuilding quickly down there in San Antonio but this one may be too soon.

If the playoffs started today, they would be matched up against Memphis that is experiencing a resurgence of their own.  They split their four games against the Spurs this season by losing the first two in San Antonio before winning the rest at home.

Surprisingly, they are playing very well without their lead man Rudy Gay and it’s mainly due to the heightened play of Zach Randolph and Tony AllenShane Battier’s return to the Grizzlies is helping out a lot as well.

We aren’t saying that the Spurs are going to lose in the first round but the Griz will give them a good run that will further wear them down.  The second round wont be easy at all with possible matchups against the hot Lakers and a Mavericks team that might develop a strong taste for blood.

Additionally, there is a slight chance that they will loose that No. 1 seed to the Lakers that are only two and half games behind them.  The Spurs still have to play the Hawks at home, the Lakers in LA and even face the Suns in Phoenix.  Things could get interesting for this perennial playoff contender.

Next, we have the Mavs.

They look bombed out and depleted.

Injuries have plagued the boys from Dallas and that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.  Caron Butler was looking to have a full season in Mavs to really contribute on a contending team.  Tough luck when he tore his patella tendon against the Bucks on New Years Day.

It was very untimely since Dirk Nowitzki was already missing games at the time with a sprained knee that he suffered against the Thunder on December 27th.  They lost seven of the nine games he missed and the Mavs lost a key opportunity to catch up with the Spurs by losing to them twice in that time span.  They began the All-Star break without the same determination and energy they had entering the season.

Since, they are 3-7 against teams set to make the playoffs and all of those loses are against teams set to make it in the West.  The Mavs have slipped to the third spot in the conference and they look tired as head coach Rick Carlisle is trying his hardest to get them pumped up.

It isn’t working.

Jason Kidd is looking older and older as his minutes are staying in the 30s per game.  He went 0 for 10 in their last two games from beyond the arc and just can’t keep up at times.  The team has even opted to rest him as much as two of their remaining five games.

Jason Terry is set to play in all 82 games this season but even he is beginning to fade.  His fourth quarter game has slumped and his frustration sparked last week when the Lakers completely embarrassed the Mavs.  A fourth quarter shove by Terry against LA’s Steve Blake attracted a bit of unwanted attention from both Matt Barnes and the media in general.  Since, Dallas has been called soft, a term that shouldn’t be new to anyone on the team.

Even Tyson Chandler himself admitted that the Mavericks were a team that could easily be pushed around and he knows it from his days as a Hornet.  All the fight did was draw criticism and ignite the feud between Dallas and LA, which could carry on into the playoffs if the Mavs even make it to the second round

Right now, they are poised to start the playoffs againstthe Trail Blazers.  An unlikely hero has emerged in Portland with LaMarcus Aldridge making a strong case for most improved player.  He’s averaging 27 points against Dallas this season and we don’t expect that to let up once the playoffs begin.

Dallas will have their hands full against a surprisingly deep Portland squad.  Outside of Aldridge, they will have to game plan against Nate McMillan’s myriad of options.  Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller form a dynamic duo in the backcourt while Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace offer their own set of problems up front.

Every player on the Mavs will have their hands full come playoffs and their wont be any room to be tired.

Butler has stated that he will be ready for the playoffs but we need not look any further than Portland to see how players with injured knees do once the postseason begins.

Brandon Roy underwent surgery on his right meniscus after he tore it towards the end of the regular season last year.  He returned to Portland’s lineup for game four against the Suns in the first round but was essentially ineffective as Phoenix won the series 4-2.

With Butler, he is returning to a team that has changed a lot since his departure.  His minutes have been shared amongst Peja Stojakovic, Rodrigue Beaubois and Marion.  It might take more time than is available for him to find his place back in the Mavs’ offense.

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