MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies are about to make NBA history in a season where they took their mantra of grit and grind to the extreme.
No team in league history has ever reached the postseason having used more than 23 players, and Memphis will be the first having already used a record 28 in an injury-riddled season. The Grizzlies head into Tuesday night’s game at the Clippers and Wednesday’s regular season finale at the Warriors with only their seeding in question.
In a season dominated by Golden State’s chase of the league’s single-season wins record, Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls what the Grizzlies have accomplished simply remarkable.
“I think it’s one of the most impressive stories in the NBA this year,” Kerr said.
A total of 12 different Grizzlies have missed a combined 291 games to injuries or illness this season, according to STATS, second only New Orleans.
“We’ve gotten hit over the head with everything you can get hit with,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said.
The unrelenting injuries have forced Memphis to cobble together a constantly changing roster through trades and moves including eight different players signed to 10-day contracts. Four of those started, while Jordan Farmar, Xavier Munford and now Bryce Cotton wound up signed for what remains of the season under the NBA’s hardship rules.
The biggest loss obviously was center Marc Gasol, who signed his big deal last July. Gasol broke his right foot Feb. 8 and had season-ending surgery Feb. 20.
Point guard Mike Conley, who still leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, hasn’t played since March 6 with tendinitis in his left Achilles tendon. Conley wore a boot with Gasol in a matching boot and still on crutches cheering on their teammates in a 100-99 loss to Golden State in Memphis’ home finale Saturday night.
Mario Chalmers, brought in via a trade to back up Conley, ruptured his right Achilles tendon March 9 in a loss at Boston. He doesn’t count against the games lost to injury since then because Memphis had to waive him to add another player.
“That one took our heart for a little while,” Joerger said. “For two reasons. I think one he was our point guard and two, every athlete’s scariest injury is an Achilles. You know it when you see it, and the guy knows it when he feels it.”
Yet the Grizzlies (42-38) are assured of a winning record for a sixth straight season – behind only San Antonio (19) and Oklahoma City (7) for the longest streaks in the league. That coincides with a franchise-record six straight playoff appearances.
Memphis sat in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference much of the season. Now the Grizzlies have lost two straight and eight of their last 10, dropping to the sixth seed going into Monday night’s games.
“Emotionally, there have been times where we are just kind of out of gas,” Joerger said. `You can’t be high for every single game. We took a couple hits in some games where you wish they had been closer or we had given ourselves a chance to win.”
With players coming and going, learning names has been a challenge at times, let alone Joerger and his assistants having time to teach more than a handful of plays to the newcomers. So many players have come through, several have never had a permanent locker, instead using auxiliary spots used during the preseason when the roster is expanded.
Joerger credits veterans Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Vince Carter for helping Memphis through the rotating cast both by playing better individually and embracing their new teammates.
First Barnes, then Randolph turned in the first triple-double of their careers in March. Allen knocked down all 12 shots in a win at the Lakers on March 27 for a career-best performance. Carter has averaged at least 10 points over the past 23 games.
Randolph said this season has been tough, yet the Grizzlies know nobody in the NBA feels sorry for them.
“We got to start the playoffs,” Randolph said. “We ain’t got our team, and we made the playoffs. Everybody count us out and look where we are now.”
AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report.
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