Memo to CP3: Do the Right Thing, Lobby for Conley as All-Star

Memphis fans love to hate LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Well, CP3, here’s a chance to earn some love (OK, like) and respect in the Bluff City by doing the right thing.

Coaches chose Paul to be a reserve on the Western Conference All-Star team. Normally, no issue with this. He is, though I hate to say it, probably the best in the game. But he has been out with a separated shoulder for weeks and his return is pegged for around the All-Star break. Clippers coach Doc Rivers has said he has no problem if Paul’s first game back is the All-Star Game.

Well, I do have a problem with that. And I’m guessing some of Paul’s teammates might, too.

Conley is having a career year — 18.2 points, 6.3 assists — and has carried the Grizzlies for much of the season. “Carried,” by the way, was exactly the word Zach Randolph used. The Spurs’ Tony Parker and Portland’s Damian Lillard also made the team as reserves. Parker is an easy choice. I’d take Conley over Lillard,but it’s close and the Blazers have a better record.

So, CP3, the ball is in your court. Decide not to play, then put a call into new NBA commissioner (as of Saturday, Feb. 1) Adam Silver, who will select the replacements for injured players. Tell Silver you’ve been competing against Conley for years and he is deserving of your spot.

It’s the right play.

 

 

Marc Gasol returns as Grizz beat OKC

The Grizzlies had defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-87 at FedExForum on the night of All-Star center Marc Gasol’s return.

Now the media, tape recorders and cameras in tow, were crowded in front of Gasol’s locker. His next-door neighbor in the locker room, Zach Randolph, loved it.

“Big Fella’s back!” Randolph said.

After missing 23 games with a left MCL sprain – the Grizzlies went 10-13 – Gasol returned to the court wearing a big knee brace, a larger smile, and with the same focus on winning as always.

Forget about the 12 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, though he had a four-point run in the third quarter that gave the Grizzlies (18-19) a lead they would never lose, and focus instead on the charge he took late in the fourth quarter from scoring machine Kevin Durant (37 points).

“In the first half we got out of the way of four or five opportunities to take charges, and I was not real happy about that,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “That was a big play for Marc. We were begging for guys to step in and take one.”

Point guard Mike Conley said they were all “surprised” when they found out Gasol was in the starting lineup Tuesday night. After all, a couple of weeks ago Gasol wasn’t even running and he practiced with contact for the first time on Monday.

Gasol’s explanation for the fast recovery?

“The barbecue sauce,” he said.

 

 

 

Tigers prove they’re strong title contenders in new conference

Having sat courtside at FedExForum for the Tigers’ 16-point loss to Cincinnati in their first home game in the American Athletic Conference, I was impressed with No. 24 Memphis beating No. 12 Louisville 73-67 on the road.

Impressed, but not really all that surprised.

The Cardinals play a fast tempo that suits the Tigers. They also are getting too much credit for being the defending national champions. Their current team, though still talented and coached by Rick Pitino, should not be confused with the superior version from last season.

Put simply: Memphis was good enough to beat Louisville and did. By the way, they’re also 2-2 vs. ranked teams. They split their two games with Oklahoma State, lost a well-played game to Florida and, of course, beat Louisville. The Cardinals take their shot at revenge at FedExForum on March 1.

I’m also impressed with the follow-up win at Temple two days after beating Louisville in prime time. This was a perfect set-up for a letdown. And yes, the Tigers allowed the Owls to stay close before grabbing a 79-69 victory. But they found another gear when they needed it and they looked a lot like a team that realizes they have as good a chance to win the AAC league title as anyone else.

Now 3-1 in league play – 3-0 on the road and 0-1 at home – the Tigers can take another step this Thursday by defending their home court when Connecticut comes calling. UConn is a legit team but already has dropped two AAC games. In other words, the Huskies aren’t quite living up to their brand.

All this bodes well for the Tigers. Coach Josh Pastner said before the season the Tigers are not a “smashmouth” team and that remains true. Still, they took a punch from Cincinnati and have come back with victories in two games that offered very different physical, mental and emotional challenges.

I predicted the Tigers would go 14-4 in the AAC.

Four games in, they’ve shown they just might be capable of better.

 

 

Miller Time: Grizzlies reportedly lure sharp-shooter back to Memphis

Mike Miller, a sweet-shooting guard who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2006 while playing for the Grizzlies, reportedly is returning to Memphis.

Miller, 33, played for the two-time NBA champion Miami Heat and shot 61 percent from 3-point range during this year’s NBA Finals. But the Heat amnestied Miller in an effort to save as much $17 million in luxury tax penalties; the Heat still have to pay Miller almost $13 million over the next two years. The Grizzlies, ESPN.com reported, are believed to be signing Miller to a two-year deal.

Over his career, Miller has averaged 12.3 points and 40.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. The former Florida Gator has been plagued by back issues in recent seasons, but did play 59 games for Miami last season.

Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Mike Conley reached out to Miller as he considered several landing places, including the Oklahoma City Thunder. Conley even joked that he’d provide Miller “golf on me for a year” if Miller returned to Memphis.

 

Day 3 SEC Media Days: Alabama dominates and Les Miles says goofy things

HOOVER, Ala. – The third, and final, quarter of SEC Media Days began with LSU coach Les Miles speaking of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and concussions – no one saw that coming – and also included Miles talking about the language barrier with his Australian punter.

“You can’t just speak to those guys,” Miles said. “You have to know how to speak Australian.”

No, you could never script Les Miles. Nor tame him. He finished his opening remarks by saying, in so many words, they had as good a chance to win the SEC championship – and perhaps the one over the next horizon – as anybody else.

“Our culture, bring it on,” the Mad Hatter said. “It’s what we do … I like us in any game.”

So, well, game on.

But the featured attraction on Thursday was two-time defending national champion Alabama, coach Nick Saban, and quarterback A.J. McCarron. Hours before the Crimson Tide’s scheduled appearance at the Hyatt Regency Winfrey Hotel, Bama fans packed out the lobby. Held back a black stretch rope – that’s about the only thing that apparently can hold back Bama – they were hoping for autographs, high-fives, or maybe just a little eye contact with their heroes.

Shannon Villa, 23, was there decked out in a Bama jersey and a gold foam replica of the 2009 national championship ring perched atop his head, an item for which he said he paid $300 on eBay. He wore a Big Al elephant necklace and buttons that read “Roll Tide” and “Beat LSU” and carried a football he was hoping to get signed. But autographs or no, Villa said the day would be worthwhile.

“Just hoping for anything,” he said. “Just enjoying the experience.”

Saint Nick, that jolly old elf, does not suffer these experiences well. Dressed in suit and tie, he marched past his throng of admirers and accepted a young boy’s high-five. Once on the stage in the main ballroom before hundreds of credentialed media members, Saban said he had a great summer vacation but that he was happy to be here to see “1,200 of my very closest friends.”

Who says the man doesn’t have a sense of humor?

More seriously, looking toward to this season and seven returning defensive starters, he said, “One of the concerns is who will step up on the defensive side of the field and provide the leadership? That’s going to be very critical how players respond and come together on defense.”

Given that Alabama has won three of the last four national titles, the “D” word – Dynasty – is being thrown around. The quarterback threw it back.

“Coach Saban doesn’t say it’s a dynasty so I’m not going to say it’s a dynasty,” McCarron said.

Asked about scheduling and Miles’ comment that not every team has an equal path to the championship, Saban said he believed it important that a player have an opportunity to play every SEC team at least once in his career. He also said rivalries with teams in the East are important, noting, “Our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans.” Also a game Tennessee hasn’t won since 2006.

Saban deflected a question about comparisons to Bear Bryant now that Saban has won three national titles at Alabama (plus one at LSU), saying Bryant is the greatest coach in college football history. Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith might disagree, considering his answer to a question about the difference between the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in the SEC title game boiled down to two words: “Nick Saban.”

Oh yeah, Saban also reminded media of their record in correctly picking the winner of the SEC championship over the last two decades.

“Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach I’d be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy’s gas station, which we don’t really want to go there,” Saban said, a rare smile following his words.

 

Dansette

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