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.

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

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.