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VOL. 129 | NO. 24 | Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Playoffs Implications

Amid change, chemistry keeps Grizz moving toward postseason

By Don Wade

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The calendar says the Dallas Mavericks will be at FedExForum to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Just one game of 82 in the coast-to-coast marathon that is the NBA season.

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph goes to the basket around Mavericks center Samuel Dalembert in the two teams’ last meeting on Dec. 18. A spot in the playoffs could come down to the two teams, who face off Wednesday night at FedExForum. 

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

But it’s a game that has the potential to weigh heavily on the Grizzlies’ ultimate playoff fate. The Mavericks come in sitting in the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference with a record of 28-21.

The Grizzlies are right behind them, one game back, at 26-21.

The teams have already played twice in Dallas this season, with the Mavericks winning each time. After Wednesday, the Mavs and Grizz don’t see each other again until April 16, the Grizzlies’ last game of the season.

Memphis was 16-5 since Dec. 21, the best record in the NBA in that span, and was on a six-game winning streak until losing on Monday, Feb. 3, at Oklahoma City. It was their second game without point guard and leading scorer Mike Conley (18 points per game), who suffered a grade two ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of the Jan. 31 win at Minnesota.

Considering that the Grizzlies took on the Thunder and presumptive league MVP Kevin Durant without Conley, the 86-77 loss was pretty respectable – especially given that they were only down three points with 4:54 left in the game.

“They beat you up,” Thunder guard Reggie Jackson told The Oklahoman. “They play physical. They play their grind-it-out basketball and do well at it.”

After the Dallas game, the Grizzlies have four games before the NBA All-Star break. Two of those games are against Eastern Conference dregs Cleveland and Orlando. Which makes it tempting – and probably wise – to keep Conley on the sideline until the first game after the break on Feb. 18 here against the New York Knicks.

Since center Marc Gasol returned from a 23-game absence because of a knee injury, the Grizzlies have gone 9-2. They were a league-best 12-3 (.800) in January and Dave Joerger was named Western Conference Coach of the Month.

“We have a group of guys that are playing hard, playing together and like each other,” Joerger said. “Their chemistry is really good.”

Joerger’s comments came after the Grizzlies’ 99-90 win over Milwaukee here on Saturday, Feb. 1, when rookie Nick Calathes made his first NBA start and scored a career-high 22 points as the Grizzlies played without Conley. But the “good chemistry” has been building for weeks amid constant change.

Every Grizzlies starter – Gasol, Conley, power forward Zach Randolph, small forward Tayshaun Prince and shooting guard Tony Allen – has missed multiple games due to injury this season. Allen has been out with a sprained wrist since Jan. 5.

In sum, the Grizzlies have lost a total of 81 player games to injury. Meaning, the rotations have changed, changed and changed. Some players have seen their court time fluctuate wildly even within the same game.

“It’s been different guys on different nights with different finishing lineups,” Joerger said.

At Minnesota, after Conley’s injury, Joerger opted not to go with Calathes down the stretch and instead moved shooting guard Courtney Lee – acquired from Boston in early January – over to point guard and had Prince and swingman Mike Miller also help with bringing the ball up.

Against the Bucks, “Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis both played in the first half and have been playing,” Joerger said. “I didn’t go that way in the second half, but they cheered the whole time. Tayshaun had a rough night. He was helping guys and was the first guy running off the bench every time Nick hit a three.”

Lee has played for several other NBA teams and said: “This is one of the most unselfish teams I’ve been part of. Marc, Zach and Mike (Conley), they’re all willing to pass and make the right play.”

Forward James Johnson, the athletic energizer off the bench that the team signed out of the NBA Development League in December, echoed that sentiment.

“We just want to win,” he said. “Nobody cares who scores.”

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