In Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins’ words, “We’re just trying to tread water.”
Hollins said this after the Grizzlies beat a literally defenseless Sacramento Kings team on Tuesday, Jan. 3, without power forward Zach Randolph, and before word got out that Randolph will be sidelined at least six to eight weeks with a torn right medial collateral ligament (MCL).
The news on Randolph’s injury feels like the Grizzlies were thrown a weighted life preserver. It’s difficult to imagine how they will successfully navigate the Z-Bo-less portion of their schedule and come out the other side with more wins than losses.
After beating Minnesota on Wednesday, Jan. 4, the Grizzlies are 3-3 and the road trip continues with a Friday game at Utah. This much seems clear: The goal of gaining a high playoff seed has been replaced with just trying to stay afloat until Randolph returns with the hope the team can then reach shore (the playoffs).
Darrell Arthur, who figured to be Randolph’s primary backup, is out for the season with an Achilles injury. Point guard Mike Conley just got back on the court and is still nursing a bad wheel (ankle).
“This is not a team that has one of those players who’s got commercials and a deal with T-Mobile,” said swingman Sam Young, who will have to play a huge role if the Grizzlies are to avoid falling out of the playoff chase. “This is a blue-collar team. You know on any given night you can depend on a different guy to snatch down that rebound or hit the big shot.”
In other words, it probably has to be a different guy every night. The Grizzlies relied on grit and grind a year ago and it has become the team’s theme/marketing slogan. But marketing slogans don’t win games. The Grizzlies will have to play even harder, and more together, than they did last season.
“To have fun and enjoy winning, you’ve got to go through adversity,” said center Marc Gasol. “Nothing’s been easy. But the team’s taken a nice approach and we’re getting closer and closer, like we were last year. We haven’t achieved (that togetherness) yet, but we’re coming closer.”