MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – Life without Marc Gasol has been difficult for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now a franchise that was one step from the NBA Finals last season is fighting to stay out of the Western Conference basement, with a 12-15 record and a seemingly endless list of injuries.
That’s one reason the team’s current two-game winning streak — including Monday’s 104-94 victory over Utah Jazz — is a welcome burst of good news. It’s the first time Memphis has won two straight in more than a month.
“It’s good to feel good and they deserve to feel good because they’ve been working hard in practice and in games,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Maybe the wheels on the train are starting to roll for us.”
Climbing in the Western Conference has been difficult without Gasol, the NBA’s reigning defensive player of the year who is also averaging 16 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Memphis has a 5-10 record since Gasol limped off the court against San Antonio on Nov. 22 with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Joerger said on Monday that he didn’t know when the 211-cm center would be back in the lineup. Gasol tweeted a picture of himself last week throwing his crutches into the trash, but he hasn’t returned to practice.
That’s another reason the Grizzlies aren’t getting too giddy about the past two wins, which have come against the Knicks and Jazz. Those two teams have a combined 17-41 record.
“We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back just yet,” Memphis guard Tony Allen said. “Coming in, playing teams like New York and Utah, I believe we’re supposed to get those wins. We did a good job of doing that and now we’ve got a big test against the Houston Rockets (on Thursday). Those are the ones we need to climb up in the standings.”
Gasol’s absence has been the Grizzlies’ most glaring problem, but other starters have also dealt with nagging injuries. Mike Conley missed two games last week because of a thigh injury. Tayshaun Prince has missed the past three games with a sore left knee.
Even Allen — who is relatively healthy — is battling a sore ankle.
“It’s been tough because we’ve got guys with injuries who should probably be sitting down in all fairness,” Conley said. “But we’ve had so many guys with serious injuries, like Marc, who are going to be out an extended amount of time, that we can’t afford to sit out. It’s been tough on our bodies but we’re finding ways to get through it.”
Others have stepped up in the meantime, including forward James Johnson, who signed with the Grizzlies last week from the D-League. He’s started the past two games, and played 33 minutes against the Jazz on Monday, contributing nine points, five rebounds and four blocked shots.
Allen said Johnson’s athleticism and “young legs” have been a welcome sight.
“When we play hard and we play defense we have a chance to win games,” Conley said. “Hopefully this will start something.”
At one point earlier this season, the Grizzlies had a different leading scorer in eight straight games. It was the first time that’s happened in the NBA in over 10 years.