When the lockout ends, the Grizzlies need to…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. You can also read up on all the teams in the Western Conference here, and on Tuesday we start with the Eastern half of the league.

Last Season: Well, that worked out nicely.

The Grizzlies had their best season in franchise history. Technically it was the third best in franchise history, in terms of wins and losses in the regular season, but when you factor in playoff wins, it was the best. It was the first time Memphis has ever really been excited about the Grizzlies and they responded with gusto. Tony Allen became the emotional leader. Zach Randolph became one of the top power forwards in the league and not just for numbers. Mike Conley evolved into a top-15 point guard. Lionel Hollins dragged absolutely everything he could out of the team. Sam Young was a contributor. O.J. Mayo had such a bad season that he was nearly traded after a fight on a plane with Tony Allen and getting busted for PEDs, but the deal fell through which resulted in Mayo playing a huge part in the team advancing to the second round. What more could have gone right?

Well, Rudy Gay could have not been lost for the season in January after a shoulder injury. But other than that, it was a tremendous year for the Grizzlies that not only showed that professional basketball can be successful in Memphis, but that this team has a nucleus that is on the rise and is locked in together, for the most part.

Changes since we last saw the Grizzlies: Zach Randolph simultaneously has more money owed him when the lockout ends after signing a massive extension after the first-round win, and managed to have his first real burst of trouble when a man was beaten with pool sticks at Randolph’s house during a pot deal. Rudy Gay has gotten healthy and is back on the floor. Mike Conley is organizing team workouts. And Marc Gasol beat the crap out of Europe again with the Spanish national team. Other than that, nothing really changes, other than Marc Gasol enters free agency which is going to be the deciding factor in whether the team moves forward or backwards. No biggie.

When the lockout ends, the Grizzlies need to: Re-sign Marc Gasol. So much. Very much. They need to over-sign him. They should throw gobs of money and whatever he wants on his doorstep.

Is Gasol a bigger star than Zach Randolph or even Rudy Gay or, hey, even Tony Allen? No. But he is the most important Grizzly. It begins and ends on both ends of the floor with Gasol. In a league where the great big man center has gone and died, Gasol brings a huge frame with great athleticism and tremendous skill. He has a versatile set of post moves offensively, but more importantly, he does the little things. He works exceptionally well from the pinch post as a passer. He sets solid screens and can roll effectively, drawing defenders. He rebounds well at both ends of the floor. He’s an excellent perimeter defender of the pick and roll on hedges, bodies up Tim Duncan enough to essentially shut him down in the playoffs, and is an intimidating presence that can also run the floor. Signing Rudy Gay was a must, even if he was overpaid. Extending Mike Conley was key, even if people like me thought it was suicide at the time. (People like me were wrong.) Extending Zach Randolph was the only thing that could be done after what he gave the team in the playoffs. But Gasol is the key to the Grizzlies going forward. Without him, the team falls apart.

You’re going to read a lot whenever the season starts about how the Grizzlies are going to adapt to Gay getting back on the floor. But it’s not like A. RG vanished when injured. He was on the bench for every game of the playoffs run. And B. the team went 9-5 in January before Gay’s injury. It’s not like they suddenly got better without RG, though that’s the perception. Having Gay back simply means less time for Sam Young, who’s still learning his role on an NBA team offensively, and gives them more lineup options. Gay’s return should do nothing but improve the team.

The team will have to come in focused, however. Accomplishing what they did last season was huge… for the Grizzlies. Everything was put into the context of the team that accomplished it. Collectively as an organization, they have to commit to building on 2011 and not settling. Otherwise a Clippers 2006-like step-back could occur.

Rajon Rondo returning to Florida to continue injury rehab

Rajon Rondo injury
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Rajon Rondo is coming back to Floria to continue his injury rehab — but not inside the bubble. Yet.

The Laker point guard fractured his thumb during practice before the season started, requiring surgery expected to sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced at the time. Three weeks into that, he is coming back to Florida for rehab, coach Frank Vogel told the media (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

Rondo is likely a few weeks from being back on the court. So long as he tests negative for seven consecutive days before returning to the NBA’s “bubble” campus, he will only be in quarantine for four days. While he can do some conditioning work during his rehab he’s still going to need some time to work back into game shape.

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court. Dion Waiters has stepped into that role, and the pairing of him with Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma has looked good so far (small sample size alert).

The Lakers have locked up the top seed in the West, they don’t need Rondo for the seeding games. However, when the playoffs start, Vogel and the Lakers will need all hands on deck to get through a deep and talented West.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker show bubble is for the young

Luka Doncic Devin Booker
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Devin Booker drains game-winner, bubble Suns undefeated

Devin Booker desperately wants to be mentioned among the best guards in the league — and he puts up the raw numbers to be in that club. It has been his defense and the fact his team is still woeful that has kept him from getting membership.

Not in the bubble.

Phoenix is 3-0 at the NBA restart after Booker drained a turnaround game-winner over Paul George — giving Booker 35 points on the night — to beat the Clippers.

The Clippers helped beat themselves. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers — Kawhi Leonard in particular — defended them well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Ivica Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot. Then, on that shot, Zubac came out high to double, giving a lane to Booker to drive, and the rest is history. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble and not impressing anyone.

The Suns and Booker are impressing everyone.

2) Luka Doncic‘s historic triple-double reminder Mavericks are playoff threat

Those stumbling Clippers mentioned above most likely will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs — and that has upset potential. In part because the Clippers have yet to find the chemistry and cohesion in the bubble — or have their key players all together — that they had the weeks before the league was shut down.

And in part because Luka Doncic can take over a game — and maybe a series. Doncic put up a ridiculous line of 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading the Mavericks to an overtime win against the Kings. Doncic, at age 21, became the youngest NBA player ever with a 30-20-10 stat line, beating Oscar Robertson (23).

Doncic will be an All-NBA player this year (first or second team) and will get bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes — he is an elite, franchise cornerstone player. Dallas is building a dangerous team around him (Kristaps Porzingis as the pick-and-pop partner, Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry as shooters, Dwight Powell doing the dirty work, and more) that seems a year or two away. But if youth is being served in the bubble, maybe not.

3) Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury changes feel of race for eighth in West.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered the restart with huge advantages — a 3.5 game lead for the eighth seed in the West, plus only having to win one-of-two games in a play-in series.

However, Memphis has started 0-3 in the bubble, and now this — young star center Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. It’s a blow to the Grizzlies, who have been competitive in those losses but now have lost their second-best player.

Memphis suddenly doesn’t feel safe as the eighth seed, not after Carmelo Anthony‘s dagger helped Portland beat Houston Tuesday night.

Portland is now just 1.5 games back of ailing Memphis for the eighth seed, with San Antonio (2 games behind Memphis) and New Orleans (2.5 back) lurking. Portland has three tough games coming up — Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers — while New Orleans has Zion Williamson playing more minutes and a soft schedule ahead. The race for the eighth spot in the West — the only real race in the bubble — feels wide open with five games to play.

And youth may be served.

Carmelo Anthony sinks dagger into Houston, Portland gets win

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony hit a big 3-pointer late to help the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The Blazers led by one before Lillard made one of two free throws. Anthony’s three then extended the lead to 107-102 when less than a minute to go.

Lillard raved about the contributions of Anthony, who found a home with the Trail Blazers after spending several months without a team last year following a brief stint with the Rockets.

“I think it’s more disappointing that people are surprised by it,” Lillard said. “He’s a Hall of Famer … he’s a great teammate and that’s what we expect from him.”

Coach Terry Stotts loves how Anthony has evolved to help his team.

“Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in his hands to start with,” Stotts said. “He has assimilated to his role and this team. He loves the game. He loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA.”

Lillard added two free throws and Anthony, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, made one in the final minute to secure the victory for Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.

“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

James Harden led Houston with 23 points and nine assists on a night he was slowed by foul trouble.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” he said. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those those it’s a different ballgame.”

Jeff Green added a season-high 22 points as the Rockets lost for the first time in the bubble after winning their first two games.

The Blazers were up by six midway through the final quarter after CJ McCollum and Lillard made consecutive baskets. But Green scored all Houston’s points in a 7-1 spurt that tied it at 98 a minute later.

McCollum finished with 20 points as the Blazers pulled within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Memphis.

“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and our defense was pretty slow to start,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The game was tied again later in the fourth when Gary Trent Jr. made a 3-pointer to put Portland up 103-100. A driving layup by Harden cut the lead to one with about 2 minutes to go.

Danuel House made a 3-pointer to get the Rockets within two midway through the third quarter. Lillard then scored all of Portland’s points in a 9-3 run that pushed the lead to 82-74 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third.

Lillard had a three-point play and then sank 3s on consecutive possessions to allow the Trail Blazers to build the lead. Harden spent the last five minutes of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fifth foul on the three-point play by Lillard.

Hassan Whiteside had four points for the Trail Blazers late in the third, but Austin Rivers capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to get Houston within 86-80 to start the fourth.

 

Jimmy Butler sits, Miami still beats Boston 111-106

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — With or without Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat felt they needed to send a message to the Boston Celtics.

Bam Adebayo had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and the Heat never trailed in beating the Celtics 111-106 on Tuesday to remain alone in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics had their lead for the No. 3 seed cut to 1 1/2 games over the Heat. Miami has a game lead on Indiana and improved to 2-1 so far in the seeding games, despite Butler sitting out with a sore right ankle after playing Monday in a loss to Toronto.

“A lot of guys stepped up,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “This couldn’t be two, three guys playing well. We’re going to need several guys playing well and doing it over the course of 48 minutes.”

Adebayo said this victory meant something more after losing twice to Boston during the regular season.

“Instead of being beat 3-0, we were like, ‘We got to make a stand. We got to prove a point,’” Adebayo said. “And like I said before, I feel like this team can battle with anybody … Who knows how the game could’ve been if had we had Jimmy?”

Duncan Robinson also had 21 points for Miami. Goran Dragic added 20 off the bench, Kelly Olynyk scored 15 and Tyler Herro 11.

Jayson Tatum led Boston with 23 points. Jaylen Brown had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker each added 15 points and Enes Kanter scored 10.

“We let our emotions play too much of a part today,” Tatum said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of just focusing on what we can control and not worry about other things.”

Walker, who beat the buzzer with a shot from mid-court at the end of the third, hit a 3 with 1:26 left to pull Boston within 108-101. Daniel Theis hit a pair of free throws with 19.8 seconds left, then Dragic traveled. Walker hit another 3 with 13 seconds remaining to pull Boston within 109-106.

Andre Iguodala hit a free throw, and Robinson hit two more in the final seconds in a win that meant a lot to someone who grew up 45 minutes north of Boston.

“I grew up going to TD Garden,” Robinson said. “We’ve played them multiple times, we haven’t done well. I haven’t done well, and I was reminding myself of that constantly.”

Miami scored the first bucket and led by as much as 10 before being up 33-28 at the end of the first quarter. The Heat pushed that lead to as much as 16 in the second quarter with a 10-point spurt capped by four free throws by Adebayo. The last pair, with 51.6 left, made it 63-47. Miami led 63-51 at halftime.

The Celtics went on a 16-3 run to pull within 69-68 on an alley-oop dunk by Theis off a pass from Tatum with 6:08 left in the third. The Heat answered with a 14-2 spurt capped by a three-point play by Adebayo with 3:20 to go for an 83-71 lead. Miami led 91-83 at the end of the third.

“We weren’t solid, and they exposed that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Our defense has to improve from what it’s been in the three games or so. Credit Miami. They played with unbelievable intensity and togetherness tonight.”