MEMPHIS, Tenn. - He came to a fork and wasn't quite sure which direction to turn, stopping in his tracks along with general manager Billy King and Deron Williams before asking for help from whoever was around and listening.
"Which way," Lionel Hollins inquired, "is the locker room?"
Hollins had been in that area of FedEx Forum only once, going back to his days as an assistant under Scott Skiles in Milwaukee in 2008-09. So the Nets coach could be excused for needing a GPS to navigate his way into the cramped visitors' quarters.
But the Nets just couldn't give him a winning homecoming and find themselves entering the All-Star break riding a three-game losing streak, still creating questions about this collection of players, wondering if the roster will look the same when the team reconvenes in Los Angeles in a week. They were unable to come back from a 22-point deficit and succumbed to the Grizzlies, 95-86, Tuesday night.
Mason Plumlee and Alan Anderson had 15 points apiece for the Nets (21-31), and Deron Williams played much better, looking more aggressive and finishing with 10 points and four assists.
Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies (39-13) with 19 points and eight rebounds, and Marc Gasol added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Seeing the spark they provided in the second quarter to help the Nets climb back into it, Hollins switched things up in the second half, electing to start Williams and Brook Lopez with hopes they could ignite things. It didn't help much as Memphis raced out to a 22-point lead with 2:47 remaining in the quarter.
But the Nets scrapped their way back in the fourth, clawing within 91-84 on Williams' layup with 1:17 left. However, Randolph put the kibosh on any miraculous comeback, hitting a reverse layup with 35.7 seconds left to increase the Nets' deficit to nine again.
A touching video tribute played on the jumbotron as Hollins was about to be mentioned to the appreciative crowd, and they bellowed with glee when the Grizzlies' public-address announcer punctuated Hollins' return and introduced him as a spotlight shined directly on him.
Hollins soaked it all up, managing to keep his eyes dry even though hours earlier, he admitted he would probably shed a tear or two. This was the place he left an indelible mark from 2009-13, overseeing the growth and development of the likes of Randolph, Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen among others. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment was guiding them to a franchise-best 56 wins and a berth in the Western Conference finals against the Spurs in 2012-13, his final season here before his contract wasn't renewed after differing philosophical views arose between him and management.
It's those kinds of things Hollins chooses to cherish most, remembering his days here with a fondness.
"We had a lot of success here," Hollins said. "The franchise was at an all-time low and I was fortunate enough to get the call to get the job. We had a young core of guys that really wanted to win, and they allowed me to coach them so they could grow and learn how to win, and that's why they are where they are."