For the first time ever as a head coach, David Fizdale will have his hands full with an adversary that he’s never faced before.
Ironically enough, it’s an old friend of his that goes back to their time spent in South Beach–the recently named SI Sportsperson of the Year, LeBron James.
“I mean, it’s misery.” Fizdale said at shoot around Tuesday. “Are you kidding me? You don’t sleep. It was such a luxury for that time for four years. He really made my life a lot easier as a coach, but when you’re coaching against him you’re talking about the greatest in the world.”
Together in Miami, then-assistant coach Fizdale and James developed a strong bond and the hard work paid off when the Heat won two titles over that span.
It was a special time in his life that he feels got him on the map as somebody who could legitimately be a head coach in the NBA.
Now, as the leader of a tenacious Grizzlies bunch, Fizdale will be on the opposing side from the man he owes a great deal of gratitude to.
“For me, he’s the greatest for a million other reasons—who he is as a man, who he is from a character standpoint, what he’s done for me in my career,” he said. “I wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for him. He crossed in my path in Miami.”
Entering Tuesday night, Memphis has won six games in a row battling the injury bug, most recently a 110-89 thrashing of the defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.
Up next, it’s a home-in-home with the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, so how does one plan for the best the game has to offer?
“From a talent standpoint, it’s only so much you can do,” Fizdale said of limiting James. “You just try to make it as tough as possible on him. You try to limit as many opportunities in the paint for him. You try to not open up too many passing angles for him where he makes all of his teammates better.
“That’s easier said than done, but it’s going to be a great challenge for us and our guys will be up for it.”
The Grizzlies will be without two-time All-Star center Marc Gasol and potentially Vince Carter among others in the first matchup, but it’s nothing new for a team that’s persevered its way to a 17-8 record despite the key losses.
When asked what’s kept them going, Fizdale offered a simple answer.
“We’re tough man,” he said. “No way to work around it. We’re a tough team physically. We’re a tough-minded team. We’ve got great leadership. We’ve got guys that truly believe that no matter who we play against, that we can win the game.
“We win games in a lot of different ways, usually ugly, but they’re okay with that. We’ve got a very close knit group, guys that really care about each other. Our core guys have been together a long time, so it’s really a luxury for me as a first-year head coach to have that kind of leadership group to lead this team. We definitely have grit.”