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Injury-riddled Grizzlies grinding their way into postseason

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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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Hall of Famer Paul Westphal diagnosed with brain cancer

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Paul Westphal, the Hall of Fame guard who played at the peak of his career with the Phoenix Suns (and earlier won a championship with the Boston Celtics) has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Longtime sportswriter Mike Lupica made the announcement.

Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive and difficult form of cancer to treat.

Westphal was born and raised in the South Bay area of greater Los Angeles and went on to play his college ball at USC. He was the No. 10 pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1972 NBA Draft and went on to play three seasons with the Celtics, winning a title with them in 1974.

After that he went on to Phoenix, where he was an All-Star player and was named to the All-NBA team four times. Westphal also played for the Knicks and Sonics during his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame last September.

After playing he became a coach, spending at least part of seven seasons as the Suns head coach, plus he coached the Kings for three seasons.

One of the best-liked people in NBA circles, there are a lot of people in Westphal’s corner today and going forward.


Draymond Green fined $50,000 for tampering with Devin Booker

Draymond Green fined
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“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck, but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.”

That was the Warriors’ always outspoken Draymond Green on Inside the NBA on TNT Thursday, talking about the play of Devin Booker and the fast start of the Suns in the bubble.

The second he said it, Ernie Johnson asked, “Are you tampering?” Green said, “maybe.”

The NBA said yes and has fined Green $50,000 for “violating the league’s anti-tampering rule.”

In past years the NBA has mostly ignored player-to-player tampering, but after complaints from owners last season the league is cracking down on — at the very least — public tampering by players. Going on a popular national show to say Booker should leave Phoenix qualifies.

Just a reminder for fans of a team desperate for a star and suddenly looking at Phoenix, Booker has four years left (after this one) on his max contract extension. The Suns are building around him and Deandre Ayton — and right now it looks like it’s working (coach Monty Williams should get a lot of credit for that). The Suns aren’t looking to trade, Booker isn’t looking to leave (and has no leverage anyway), and the Suns seem to be building something real down in the Valley of the Sun.


Watch Luka Doncic post 36-19-14 with just dazzling passing (video)

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The Bucks’ have one of the best defenses in NBA history, allowing 7.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than league average. The Mavericks have the highest offensive rating (116.5) in league history.

Something had to give.

And it was Luka Doncic – to teammate after teammate after teammate.

Doncic had 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds in Dallas’ 136-132 overtime win over Milwaukee yesterday. He was in complete control as a scorer and passer, showing just how far he has come.

The Bucks already secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But they played hard, forcing overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like the MVP with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.

Doncic was just better.

Report: NBA could play next season at multiple regional bubbles

Warriors star Stephen Curry
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Other than waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside – a possibility – the NBA faces MAJOR challenges next season.

The bubble is working for finishing this season. But that’s with just 22 teams rather than the full 30. And this is just for a few months, not a full season. Players are already bristling about how long they’re separated from their families.

Yet, what’s the alternative to a bubble? It looks like the only safe way to play professional sports.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated

We’re a ways off from next season, but league sources have told me that the NBA is looking at options that include creating regional bubbles, should the COVID-19 pandemic still prevent normal business in the fall. Teams would report to a bubble for short stints—around a month—which would be followed by 1-2 weeks off.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Orlando is a consideration, and Las Vegas — a finalist for this summer’s restart — would reemerge as a possible site too, sources said.

This is an interesting possibility.

Smaller bubbles would reduce the odds of a coronavirus outbreak that undermines the whole league. But what happens if one bubble has coronavirus issues? Teams’ schedules could get significantly unbalanced quickly.

The shorter bubble lengths would allow players to spend time with family more frequently. But how many players would contract coronavirus while between bubbles? Look how many players got coronavirus during this last layoff.

There are no easy solutions amid this pandemic. This is one of many imperfect ideas that should at least be considered.