Grizzlies’ goal remain same chasing title in crowded West

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Grizzlies may be overlooked after all the offseason scrambling by Western Conference teams amping up their rosters in the NBA’s title chase, though Zach Randolph knows exactly Memphis can make people pay attention.

Win a ring.

The Grizzlies came as close as Cleveland did during the playoffs to knocking off eventual champ Golden State, missing a chance to go up 3-1 on the Warriors in their Western semifinal before losing in six games. Guard Mike Conley simply ran out of energy playing with a broken face, and Tony Allen couldn’t clamp down on the Splash Brothers with a bad hamstring.

“It’s time to win,” Randolph said. “I think the mature … guys are better. Mike got so much better. Of course Marc (Gasol), and our team’s so mature I think this is the time for us.”

Memphis has been to the playoffs five straight seasons, notching a .629 winning percentage in that span that is behind only San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami and Chicago in the NBA. The Grizzlies won 55 games last season, and their biggest move this offseason was signing the 7-foot-1 All-Star center Gasol to a five-year maximum contract.

They also traded for veteran Matt Barnes and signed Brandan Wright as a free agent. Vince Carter feels healthy after spending the summer working out and is part of 12 returning players for Memphis.

“We think we’ve got a good mix of young and old and we’re a team that was pretty close last year, so we’re hoping to kick the door down this year,” general manager Chris Wallace said.

Here are some things to know about the Grizzlies:

GETTING OLDER: Memphis has eight Grizzlies in their 30s if Ryan Hollins makes the team with four of those starters: Gasol (30), Randolph (34), Allen (33) and Courtney Lee (30). Conley, who turned 28 on Oct. 11, doesn’t believe that’s an issue. “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve gotten better.”

GRITTIER GRIZZLIES: Tony Allen, aka the Grindfather in Memphis, coined the phrase “Grit `n’ Grind” to describe the Grizzlies’ style, and he is coming off a season where he earned NBA All-Defense first team honors despite starting only 41 games. He tied his career-high with 129 steals and set a personal best averaging 2.05 steals per game. Now add Barnes to the mix, a veteran who has Allen’s respect for his defensive skills.

DEEP BENCH: After tinkering with the bench this offseason, coach Dave Joerger has to figure out exactly which Grizzlies work best with backup point guard Beno Udrih. Signing the athletic Wright gives Joerger the chance to put a fast lineup on the court, and Barnes can work in wherever needed after spending lots of time this summer honing his jump shot. Rookie Jarell Martin is busy healing up his left foot after surgery before training camp, but Memphis will have to see if any minutes remain for Jordan Adams, Russ Smith and Jarnell Stokes – a trio coming off their first NBA seasons who impressed veteran Vince Carter in summer league play.

OUTSIDE SHOOTING: As strong as Memphis is in the paint with Gasol and Randolph, consistent shooting from outside the paint remains the Grizzlies’ weak link. Only Minnesota attempted fewer 3-ponters than the Grizzlies (15.2 per game), though Memphis ranked 22nd hitting 33.9 percent outside the arc. The Grizzlies went 22-1 when hitting more 3s than their opponents and 24-4 when making at least 40 percent of their 3s. But they averaged just 26.4 percent from 3 in their losses. Memphis will need Lee to average 40 percent again but take more than the 224 3-pointers he attempted last season.

GOING HIGH-TECH: Memphis worked with a company in training camp to measure the Grizzlies to help devise the best workout for each player and identify areas that could lead to injuries. The team also has worked with another company to track the mileage of the Grizzlies in practices and games along with the force exerted on their legs. “We’re trying to turn over every stone,” Wallace said. Controlling owner “Robert Pera comes from Silicon Valley and obviously is very concerned about making sure we’re at the forefront of all the technological advances that can help our players.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”