To say the basketball gods have been harsh on the Memphis Grizzlies in the last couple of years would be an understatement, but that hasn’t kept them from fighting.
They may have a brand new head coach with a new system, but it’s been business as usual at “The Grindhouse” thus far — scrapping for bodies, untimely injuries and a short rotation.
Looking for a fresh start, Memphis parted ways with Dave Joerger in the offseason after he led a heavily-depleted roster into the playoffs that had no business being there. I was stunned by the move, yet we found out it was a mutual agreement.
The organization brought in David Fizdale, a highly sought-after assistant in Miami, as its new leader. Fortunately for him, the 28-man circus act the team had to endure was a thing of the past.
With a returning talented core, along with the addition of Chandler Parsons, the scenario set up for immediate success entering the season.
However, the injury bug that seemingly resides in southwest Tennessee has already sunk its teeth into this promising squad once again.
The first victim, who’s had problems staying healthy in the past, was Parsons. He bruised a bone in his left knee in mid-November and hasn’t seen action since. In the six games he’s played in, Parsons has only gotten 21 minutes per game on a limited basis and it’s clearly affecting his production.
Two days later, promising athletic third-year wing James Ennis went down with a right calf strain. It was a bad break for both the team and the 26-year-old that had easily been playing his best ball defensively and on the glass.
Then, a week after, came a really unnerving piece of news for the team. Mike Conley, who had been shooting the lights out in the first year of his record deal, had suffered a transverse fracture in his vertebrae. The veteran point guard is expected to miss action until at least January, but you never know with back injuries.
Add in the fact that a rejuvenated Vince Carter has been dealing with a right hip flexor strain and it’s been nothing but a dark cloud over the Grizzlies health-wise.
But there’s a light that shines through it that I’ve especially grown to admire this year.
It’s an element that this group has always possessed regardless of personnel, but it’s particularly shown in tight situations (10-0 in games decided by five points or less ) and over this past stretch of games in which they’ve ripped off five straight.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 7, 2016
It all starts with the leadership of Marc Gasol. The 2-time All-Star center has taken it upon himself on both sides of the floor. He’s scored at least 25 points in four of the last five games in addition to blocking at least two shots per game.
Gasol’s also sharing the ball with his teammates. He’s averaging over four dimes per game and recently had an 11-assist night en route to a triple double.
His contributions have resulted in a domino effect that’s fallen all the way through the short-handed Grizzlies.
The most notable difference to me has been an instilled confidence into the younger players.
Troy Daniels, most known for his playoff heroics in Houston some odd three years ago, has new life as a volume scorer on the perimeter. Another Troy, rookie forward Troy Williams, has been thrown into the fire playing extended minutes as the team’s starting three and has been brilliant defensively.
The inexperienced pair of Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin have been inconsistent on offense, but you can see the improving discipline with each game. Okay, maybe not so much with the not-so-bashful rookie Baldwin quite yet—but hey, at least he’s confident.
Then there’s the bigs — JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin. These two seem to take turns with big games. They’re both physical in the paint, they both crash the boards and they’re just fun to watch in their aggressive mindset.
How about new addition Toney Douglas on Thursday? In only his third game with Memphis, he propelled them to another close win with clutch shooting and ice in his veins at the free throw line in the closing moments against Portland.
Of course, we can’t forget about the mainstays of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, right? Two guys that have earned a well-respected reputation in the league. You know what you’re going to get from them every night.
Both have been relatively healthy this year, but Randolph recently lost his mother Mae over the holidays and missed seven games. On Tuesday, Z-Bo returned to the team like he never missed a beat and even pulled down the game-securing rebound in a win over the Sixers.
What happened after was one of the most touching moments I’ve ever seen. With the ball in his grips, a huddle of Grizzlies went to hug him. Gasol wrapped them up with Randolph in the middle and smiled at him. It was an amazing embrace and a moment I’m sure he’ll never forget.
It’s bigger than basketball. pic.twitter.com/EzbhICXlIz
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 7, 2016
That’s what makes it so easy to root for the Grizzlies — they’re a family. You can just see how genuine the relationship they have with one another is. You can see how much the city of Memphis appreciates them.
They’ve been through the ups and downs so many times over the years, so why should these injuries and hardships deter them from their goals?
Many pundits believe the success was due to a softer schedule and it won’t last long, especially with a tough lineup of games coming up against a pair of conference champions. They might be right. I might be wrong.
But one thing’s for sure — the grit and grind won’t ever quit.