By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies have had just enough success the past two seasons that they are back and craving more.
The franchise that simply wanted to win a postseason game two years ago goes into this season with all five starters back and healthy with enough playoff experience to know how much harder they need to work. Knocking off the No. 1 seed as they did in 2011 against San Antonio is not enough anymore, and neither is landing home-court advantage to start the postseason.
“Our expectations are high too,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “We just want to take one game at a time. … We don’t want to talk about doing this, doing that. We want to take it one game at a time. … I think we do that and don’t look too far ahead, take steps, let it come to us, we’re going to be all right.”
The franchise once known for losing an NBA record 12 straight playoff games without a single win has been rebuilt around Rudy Gay, Randolph, center Marc Gasol with Mike Conley at point guard and guard Tony Allen bringing his defensive focus.
Now they want to put together a season where everyone remains healthy to try to see just what they can do together.
“We haven’t had everybody together for the start and finish,” Randolph said. “I think if we had that, it’d be a big difference. We’re going to have it this year and hopefully everybody stays healthy and shows everybody what we’re really like when we’re healthy.”
Gay missed the Grizzlies’ amazing playoff run in 2011 with a shoulder injury that had him cheerleading as Memphis beat the Spurs, then pushed Oklahoma City to seven games in the semifinals.
Last season, Darrell Arthur missed the entire season after tearing his right Achilles last December, and Randolph hustled back after tearing his right MCL in an injury that kept him out 37 games, yet the Clippers knocked Memphis out in seven games in the first round.
The Grizzlies went 41-25, setting a franchise-record 62.1 winning percentage and clinching the No. 4 seed in the West last season. They also led the NBA with 9.6 steals and 17.1 turnovers last season, becoming the first team to lead the league in both steals per game and forced turnovers per game in consecutive seasons since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
Michael Heisley announced in June he was selling the team to California tech company owner Robert J. Pera, a $350 million sale nearing approval by the NBA. Pera has been busy compiling an ownership group including four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning’s wife, Ashley, actor and singer Justin Timberlake, a former congressman and key local businessmen.
General manager Chris Wallace went about trying to fill the Grizzlies’ need for a backup point guard and outside shooting.
Wallace let guard O.J. Mayo leave as a free agent to Dallas, re-signed Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur to give Gasol and Randolph time to rest, signed guard Jerryd Bayless to help back up Conley and traded forward Dante Cunningham to Minnesota for guard Wayne Ellington for some outside shooting help. Center Hamed Haddadi is back as well.
Conley said the key is all the newcomers understanding the Grizzlies’ style as a physical team.
“We like to punch first and dive on loose balls, play aggressively,” Conley said. “Defensively, they’ve got to buy into that right away. We know we got great shooters in the guys we picked up and great players. We expect them to come in and contribute defensively just like everybody else.”
The Grizzlies open the season Oct. 31 at the Los Angeles Clippers with their home opener Nov. 5 against Utah, the same team they conclude the regular season against on April 17. They host the NBA champion Heat on Nov. 11 with visits from the Lakers on Nov. 23 and Jan. 23.
Coach Lionel Hollins, who is starting his fourth straight season with the Grizzlies, has heard them talk about how driven they are by the last playoff loss to the Clippers. Now he wants to see what they do about that feeling.
“It can make you more dedicated when you’ve gone through something like that,” Hollins said. “It’s definitely a positive, but you still have to go do it. You can talk about it. ‘I have a sour taste.’ You can talk about, ‘I’m more dedicated.’ You have to be that, and you have to go do it.”
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