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VOL. 130 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 30, 2015
Don Wade

Don Wade

Gasol An All-Star Starter; Conley, Z-Bo Just As Valuable

By Don Wade

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Center Marc Gasol has broken through the glass ceiling that forever has hung above Memphis and the Grizzlies.

The NBA’s fans, a global group to be sure, shattered that glass by voting Big Spain into the Western Conference starting lineup for the Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game. Naturally, there is pride about that in every corner of the Grizzlies’ locker room and in every corner of the city.

But what about Mike Conley and Zach Randolph? As this was being written, several hours before the All-Star reserves were to be announced, indications were that Conley was on the radar but might fall just short and that Randolph was an even longer shot.

Randolph, by the way, made clear his preference the other night after he flirted with a triple-double by scoring 24 points with 10 rebounds and six assists.

“I don’t care, honestly,” Randolph said when asked if making the All-Star team means a lot to him. “I want Mike to get it.

“I should have been an All-Star six, seven times, man,” he said. “It’s a lot of politics in it. When I was in Portland, I should have made it. I hope my young fella gets in there because he definitely deserves it.”

Coaches from the Western Conference not named Dave Joerger – you can’t vote for a player on your own team – were charged with voting, or not voting, for Conley and Randolph. The coaches select seven reserves from the West: two guards, three front court players, and two players regardless of position.

If you want to compare stats, well, that’s what the Internet is for – you can look up other point guards, such as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard – and hold their numbers and Conley’s side by side. Ditto with Randolph and other big men.

But the stats, be they traditional, advanced, or made up by nerd NBA bloggers, never tell the whole story. The Grizzlies have the second-best record in the West. That’s not just Gasol’s doing.

Randolph, who twice has been an All-Star with the Grizzlies, is sitting on a career-high 10-game streak of consecutive double-doubles. The latest one, a 22-point and 10-rebound performance as the Grizzlies thumped the Mavericks 109-90 in Dallas on Tuesday, Jan. 27, featured Z-Bo’s feathery jump shot at its best as he launched one jab-step parachute after another over a helpless Tyson Chandler, who once upon a time was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

It was reminiscent of some of Z-Bo’s finest playoff performances in series-clinching victories. It also came one night after he flirted with that triple-double. If Z-Bo had pulled that off?

“Man,” Conley said with a grin, “I’d had to stop everything we were doing and just bow down to him.”

Here’s the funny thing, the thing that gets overlooked: Randolph and Conley, different as they are, are sort of kindred spirits.

“We’ve gone through similar paths in the sense that we’ve had to earn everything we’ve got in this league,” Conley told me. “Nothing’s been easy. We’ve been talked about, criticized. He’s had to deal with a lot of things on and off the court and he’s overcome it.

“I’ve never been an All-Star and it’s been an uphill battle for me ever since coming into the league. It still is. It’d be a fantastic honor; it’d almost feel like we’d be sharing it if I was able to join that team. I know he really believes in me.”

Z-Bo’s past in Portland is just that, the past. Conley’s journey to earn Lionel Hollins’ trust as his point guard now feels like ancient history.

Gasol may be the international face of the franchise, but the truth is the Grizzlies’ fortunes ride with their Big Three. One is starting the All-Star Game and the others may or not join him in New York.

“We in the wild, wild West,” Randolph said. “There should be two All-Star teams for the West, there’s so many good players.”

True enough. But what matters most is that when the NBA All-Star Game is over, this Big Three comes home to Memphis.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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