Although the Memphis Grizzlies would prepare to face Shaquille O’Neal over the past several years, the star center was often unable to play against them. The injury problems that kept him out were a big factor in the Miami Heat trading O’Neal two months ago.
The Grizzlies won’t even have to worry about the possibility of O’Neal being in the lineup Friday night, when they conclude their season series with the Heat in a matchup of two of the NBA’s worst teams.
Memphis (21-57) lost 127-113 to Phoenix on Tuesday night even though O’Neal, dealt from the Heat to the Suns on Feb. 6, couldn’t play due to an injured right hip. On Jan. 6, the Grizzlies took advantage of O’Neal’s absence from Miami’s lineup to snap a four-game losing streak against the Heat with a 101-95 win.
O’Neal missed that game due to a left hip injury, and he has not played in seven of his teams’ last 13 games against Memphis because of injuries. The 36-year-old center struggled with health problems the past two years, and that factored in the Heat’s decision to change the course of the franchise and send O’Neal to the Suns.
Miami (14-64), owner of the league’s worst record, has gone 5-26 since then. The Heat also have been playing without Dwyane Wade since early March due to knee pain that will keep him out the rest of the season, forcing them to go with players that wouldn’t normally be getting much playing time.
Kasib Powell, MVP of the NBA Developmental League, scored a career-high 18 points to lead Miami to a 95-88 victory over Chicago on Tuesday night that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
“We got in such a habit of playing with talent only and thinking that talent was going to take care of the lack of effort,” said Heat coach Pat Riley, elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday. “These guys are just unadulterated. Effort is a big part of what our culture is.”
It was Powell’s first game back with the Heat after getting recalled from the D-League and signing a contract for the remainder of the season.
“Any time I go out there, I want to be full of energy and bring a boost up,” Powell said.
Memphis has manged to play relatively well down the stretch as leading scorer Rudy Gay has remained healthy, winning six of 12 games before losing to Phoenix. Gay, a second-year swingman, matched his career high with 36 points versus the Suns. He’s averaging 26.1 points in his last seven games.
Mike Conley, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, is coming off perhaps his best game, setting career highs with 19 points and seven rebounds while adding five assists against Phoenix.
“We’re just trying to get wins right now,” said Conley, the Grizzlies’ starting point guard. “We’ve gotten better over the year and we’re starting to play our best basketball of the year. We’re improving.”
The Grizzlies, though, played Tuesday without Javaris Crittenton, acquired in February from the Lakers in the deal for Pau Gasol, due to a sprained right thumb he suffered in Sunday’s win at Minnesota. He is listed as day-to-day.