Grizzlies’ Mike Conley has his best season after record-setting deal

2 Comments

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley found the perfect way to answer all the questions about the Memphis Grizzlies giving an injury-prone point guard with no All-Star appearances a five-year, $153 million contract last summer.

He had the best season of his career.

“I knew people would be waiting for me to fail, and saying their opinion was right,” Conley said. “I knew that was out there, but at the same time, I was only worried about the good that has come out of it.”

The 6-foot-1 point guard usually goes unmentioned when the discussion turns to the NBA’s best players. With Conley’s history of injuries ranging from ankles to Achilles and even facial injuries in the 2015 playoffs , the contract just seemed way too much to pay to anyone outside of Memphis even if the guard has been a key piece of the longest playoff run in Grizzlies’ history.

Conley has provided Memphis fans – and ownership – quite a return on the team’s investment:

– Ten of his 15 career 30-point games have come this season.

– Scored a career-high 38 points against Phoenix in January.

– Averaging 20.6 pts a game. That’s seven points higher than his career average, while also averaging a career-best shooting percentage outside the arc (40.7 percent) and at the free throw line (86.1 percent).

– Became the career scoring leader for the Grizzlies, and also has made more 3-pointers than anyone else in franchise history.

– Joined LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook as the only players with at least 10,000 career points, 4,000 career assists and 1,000 career steals since entering the NBA in 2007-08.

“He’s been playing phenomenal,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. “He’s one of the top five point guards in the league. He’s definitely an All-NBA caliber kind of guy. He’s been showing that.”

Coaches and other players around the league often talk about how Conley is underappreciated for what he brings to the Grizzlies. After a 110-97 win over Indiana a couple of weeks ago, Pacers forward Paul George talked about Conley’s 36 points – including seven 3s, six assists, four steals and only one turnover.

“We allowed him to kind of orchestrate the whole offense, and he got comfortable early,” George said. “He’s a flame thrower. Once he gets hot, it’s over.”

It’s why Conley has nicknames from Captain Clutch to the Conductor – the last from a video the Grizzlies put together featuring minority owner Justin Timberlake and directed by Craig Brewer to ensure Conley re-signed with Memphis last summer.

Then first-year coach David Fizdale asked even more of Conley starting with having the guard coach a quarter in a preseason game. The switch in roles wasn’t a stunt or a lark. Fizdale wanted Conley to understand the role the coach wanted from him as a leader along with running the team.

“He’s really tried to embrace that for me and take his aggressiveness up another level,” Fizdale said. “He is truly the glue to this whole thing connecting everyone, and he does it without an ego.”

Injuries continue to be an issue for the 175-pound guard, yet he keeps coming back faster than anyone expects. Conley was back in three weeks after breaking vertebrae in his lower back in late-November , an injury expected to keep him out six weeks. He needed 13 stitches over his right eye after butting heads with Kawhi Leonard on April 4, which kept him out of one game only because he couldn’t see out of the swollen eye.

Conley said his thought process returning from injury is simple. If he can play, he’ll play. And he missed only the one game after cutting his eye to send a message of the urgency the Grizzlies need going into the postseason. Memphis has earned the No. 7 seed and will play the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the opening round.

Conley feels like he is ready.

The 29-year-old guard said, “I’m better for having had the pressure of the contract and having the opportunity and the responsibility to lead this team.”

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers, Warriors sweeps mean time to rest, get mental breather

Getty Images
Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant can take some pressure off that tender left calf. LeBron James has extra time to recoup after barely leaving the floor in the first round.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr scheduled some medical appointments as he deals with debilitating symptoms still affecting him nearly two years after complications from a pair of back surgeries.

The two star-studded teams expected by many to face off once more in the NBA Finals each swept through their respective first-round playoff series in four games, leaving ample time for the Cavaliers and Warriors to rest up, heal up and prepare for the next opponent.

“It gives me a mental break. As far as physically, I am who I am,” James said. “I’ve played so many games over the years, the best break for me is probably when I’m done.”

Of course guys like James and Draymond Green are already eager to get back on the court.

Cleveland now knows its next opponent is Toronto, while the Warriors were still waiting out the Clippers-Jazz series.

“Definitely have gotten antsy to play,” Green said Friday. “But you see that break and you’re excited about it, just to get that time to rest and get everybody back as close to 100 (percent) as possible for the next round. At the same time you do get antsy to get back on the floor and back in the rhythm of things. I think it’s been a good week for us to sweep and get this time off.”

Durant, still receiving treatment on his left leg and knee, spent Thursday at a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue threw a huge watch party Thursday night so players and members of the organization could see the Raptors close out the Bucks in six games.

Golden State scrimmaged Friday to stay sharp, while Cleveland players have competed in such ways as racing on cardiovascular machines in the weight room to stay fresh and motivated.

James led the league in minutes during the regular season then played nearly 44 per game in the first-round sweep of Indiana – familiar territory after the Cavs also swept Detroit in the first round last season, then followed by eliminating Atlanta in the minimum four games.

“I’m ready to get this thing going, but obviously I’m not going to rush the process,” James said. “… But, yeah, I don’t like the way I feel when we’re not playing.”

In 2015, when the Warriors captured their first championship in 40 years, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving suffered a freak Game 1 injury when he fractured his left kneecap, and Kevin Love was already lost to a dislocated left shoulder.

Last June, Stephen Curry had returned from a knee injury but never fully got healthy and the thought was the Warriors wore down after chasing and breaking the Chicago Bulls’ regular-season wins record with 73 victories.

“If you could sweep every series that would be perfect,” Durant said, “because you just want to play well and then you’ll worry about the rest afterward. That’s the situation we’re in. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, so it’s good to have a few days to get your bodies right and your mind right and just get back to the drawing board in terms of individual work, team work.”

In the Warriors’ case, it also has meant more time working with Mike Brown as acting head coach while Kerr is away. The reigning NBA Coach of the Year missed Games 3 and 4 at Portland because he was in such discomfort, having dealt with headaches, neck pain and nausea that recently became worse.

While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is most known for sitting several star players at once without regard to anything but his team’s best interest, others have caught on and replicated the strategy of spelling players in order to pace for the long haul.

In March 2015, the Warriors lost at Denver with Curry watching – along with Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut – in the first game of a back-to-back. Oh, did Kerr take heat for it, even personally answering a few emails. And the Warriors reached out to other upset fans and sent along care packages.

“As a coach your responsibility is to keep your players healthy and there are times when guys need a night off,” Kerr said.

In December, Cleveland caused an uproar by resting James, Love and Irving in a loss at Memphis. Lue then sat several starters for the final game of the regular season against Toronto, and the teams will meet again in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Monday.

Now, the Cleveland coach insists, James can handle the heavy minutes when it matters most.

“His body can take it,” Lue said, “so I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

 

Chris Paul told Paul Pierce: “You’re not ending your career in Utah”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

When the Clippers lose their final game this season — maybe Sunday, maybe not for weeks — the Hall of Fame career of Paul Pierce will come to an end.

It’s not why Doc Rivers was leaning so heavily on Pierce Friday night, that’s more desperation on a shorthanded (and not that deep to start with) lineup. The Clippers got away with 20+ minutes of Pierce on Friday and still got the win.

He even served as an inspiration for Chris Paul, as CP3 said in his postgame press conference.

The best part of that video? DeAndre Jordan‘s reaction.

You can be sure Utah Jazz fans will take this comment as a slight and let CP3 hear about it next season. As for the Jazz players, they are heading into Game 7, how much more motivation do they need.

John Wall’s chasedown block of Dennis Schroder, layup saved game for Wizards (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Washington had been up 22 points in the third quarter and seemed to be cruising to a win in Atlanta, and with it a trip to the second round… but it would not be that easy. The Hawks made their push back, knocking down threes and chipping away at the Wizards lead until it was all the way down to 93-90, a one possession game.

Then John Wall took over.

It started with the big play you see above — a chasedown block on Dennis Schroder, which turned into a Wall layup on the other end.

That play changed the momentum. Washington closed the game on a 22-9 run where Wall scored the final 13 points on his way to 42 for the night on just 25 shots. The end result was a 115-99 Wizards win to close the Hawks out 4-2.

Steve Ballmer loses control after Austin Rivers three, creates another meme

5 Comments

Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer has been a meme machine this series. First, there was the sad face after the Clippers Game 5 loss at home.

Then Friday, there was his reaction to an Austin Rivers three.

Ballmer’s reactions may be the best part of the Game 7 between these teams Sunday.