Grizzlies Shift Gears Into Playoff Mode

By Don Wade

Center Marc Gasol is never happy after a loss. Sometimes, he is not in a good mood after a victory because, like a coach, he sees the potential for future failure if the Grizzlies don’t play hard, focused and together.

But this night, a night that saw Gasol score just 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting, was different. The Grizzlies had just ended the regular season by winning their franchise-best 56th game, an 86-70 victory over Utah at FedExForum that also eliminated the Jazz from playoff contention.

In the Grizzlies’ locker room, Gasol grabbed a wad of dirty clothes and launched a high, arching shot over reporters’ heads and into a laundry basket. “I finally made one tonight,” he said with a laugh and maybe a sigh of relief on moving onto the season’s next chapter.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph will be called upon to deliver in the playoffs. The Grizzlies face the Clippers in the first round.

(Photo: AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

“Now it really starts,” super-sub Jerryd Bayless said.

Yes, it does. The playoffs begin at 9:30 Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles with the No. 5 seed Grizzlies playing the No. 4 seed Clippers. Over an eventful regular season the Grizzlies accomplished much as they compiled a 56-26 record and won a franchise-best 24 road games – something they hope bodes well for the postseason. If there is to be a Game 7 in this series, it would take place in L.A.

“This season has been unbelievable in the sense we had so many things thrown at us – trades, new ownership, trade rumors,” said point guard Mike Conley. “We easily could have had 40 wins. We fought through all of that.”

And it is that fighting spirit that most makes coach Lionel Hollins proud.

“There is an old line that says, ‘everybody has a story,’” Hollins said. “Successful teams are talking about all they had to overcome to win and all the teams that didn’t win are talking about what kept them from winning. We showed a lot of resilience and mental toughness.”

Yet the Grizzlies know as well as anyone that yesterday’s triumphs are worth nothing today. They lost Games 1 and 7 of their first-round series with the Clippers last year at home.

The team is different this time around – Zach Randolph is healthier, Rudy Gay is gone, the defense is even better and, believe it or not, scoring points is even harder.

“We have to find ways to score,” Hollins said. “We hang on our hat on defense. What we have done a little better lately is get up and down the court. We want to continue to stress that we have to get some easy baskets and we have to play in the flow a little more in order to get into the 90s.”

Conley’s scoring picked up after Gay was traded; he averaged 17 points per game during April. When Hollins has played Conley and Bayless together, Conley has taken advantage of the freedom it affords.

“It allows me to be more aggressive offensively and not always looking to make the pass,” he said.

A year ago, Randolph clearly was still bothered by a knee injury that caused him to miss more than half the season. Coming down the stretch this season he has seemed tired, distracted or both. In five of his previous 11 games, Randolph had scored 11 or fewer points before scoring a game-high 25 points with 19 rebounds (his 45th double-double) in the victory over the Jazz.

“I want to go (into the playoffs) with my confidence up, play the way I usually play,” Randolph said.

“I always like to see Zach when he has a little bounce,” said Gasol. “He was fighting and wrestling and that’s good. We need that.”

To be sure, there is a fight coming with the Clippers. And perhaps, at some level, within the Grizzlies themselves. For somehow they have to simultaneously remember and forget what happened in their last playoff series in order to be ready for this playoff series.

“Obviously, they kicked us out of the playoffs last year,” Tony Allen, alias The Grindfather, said. “We just have to bounce back, that’s it. The past is the past. This is a new year, a new start.”