Despite upside, Memphis Grizzlies ‘cubs’ will live, learn – and lose

Dillon Brooks explodes for 30 as Grizzlies storm back to beat Thunder in first preseason road game

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Lee Eric Smith

It’s not like Monday’s 120-99 preseason loss to the Charlotte Hornets was the first time these new-look Grizzlies have started sluggishly on the offensive end.

Against both Maccabi Haifa and the New Zealand Breakers, Memphis played sloppily in the first quarter, but were able to recover against their non-NBA opponents. They won both games going away.

Well, so much for that.

Playing without Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, Memphis rallied in the second half to beat Oklahoma City 124-119 on Wednesday. Dillon Brooks caught fire for 30 points, contributing to a 46-point third quarter.

Still the loss to Charlotte told us what we already knew:

This young, talented and inexperienced squad – led by a rookie head coach – is going to make mistakes. LOTS of them. And unlike Maccabi Haifa, NBA teams can and will exploit those errors.

So if you’re holding out hope that the Grizzlies will have a winning season or make the playoffs this year, exhale. Ain’t happening. There are just too many great players on good teams for this inexperienced squad to overcome.

In the realigned West, I’d put the ceiling at 28 wins. But even that might be optimistic. Then again, you knew that – if not because of the roster overhaul, then because the Grizzlies haven’t been a serious playoff threat for at least three years.

But unlike previous seasons, this time we all know what to expect going in. There’s no clinging to the past. It’s all about the future.

And the future won’t be boring – not with Ja Morant running the point. For the first time I can remember, the Grizzlies have a potential NBA superstar – a guy worth watching on League Pass even if he’s not on your team.

Against Charlotte, Morant struggled to score, but still managed to manufacture 15 points and six assists, mostly from the free-throw line. Even a failed dunk attempt still managed to wow the crowd.

“I had some good plays, but I had bad plays too,” Morant said after the loss. “So I’m not satisfied at all.”

Both Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been praised not just for their raw talent but for their humility and willingness to work to improve.

Improvement will come with practice, coaching and minutes. And given their talent, work ethic and team chemistry, it might not take long for the Grizzlies to morph into something.

But for this season, as weird as it sounds: Enjoy watching your Grizzlies – even when they lose.

GRIND ON . . .