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Marc Gasol Reportedly to Return Earlier Than Expected

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | All-Star center Marc Gasol going down with an MCL injury last week was about the worst news the Memphis Grizzlies could have gotten.

Memphis had just come off a spectacular road trip in which it went 4-0 against the four NBA franchises in California. Losing arguably their best player after returning home to play the rival San Antonio Spurs was thought to be a season-altering event for the Grizzlies.

Thankfully, however, it now seems the news isn't quite as bad as first expected. According to Rotoworld (via the Associated Press), Gasol is expected to miss only 3-4 weeks. This is in contrast to some earlier reports of up to 10 weeks.

Although Gasol's absence may not be incredibly lengthy, it will still be a difficult month for the Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol is an invaluable asset on both ends of the floor. He is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of Year. In addition, he serves as one of Memphis' main offensive weapons with a superior low-post game complemented by the ability to hit long-range jump-shots. He is also commonly known as the best passing center in the NBA.

His absence has certainly been noticed over the Grizzlies' first two games since the injury. On Monday, the Grizzlies were embarrassed at home by the division-rival Houston Rockets. Despite playing without their own star in James Harden, the Rockets were able to overcome a double-digit Memphis lead and and outscore the Grizzlies 38-23 in the fourth quarter to come away with the seven-point victory.

Then on Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies looked sub-par yet again versus the Boston Celtics. Despite ultimately coming away with the 100-93 win, Memphis allowed a once 19-point lead to dwindle to just a few possessions in the fourth quarter. Perhaps even more distressing to fans, Zach Randolph, whom the Grizzlies are depending on for producing during Gasol's absence, looked bad. Randolph finished the night going just 5-16 from the field.

Despite the obvious concern, there is still good news for Memphis. The Grizzlies will play eight of their next 10 games at home with many of those against mediocre opponents. Another bright spot for the Grizzlies is the man who is currently replacing Gasol.

Kosta Koufos was rightfully thought of as the highlight acquisition for the Memphis Grizzlies this past offseason and is certainly up to the task of filling a starting position. Koufos started all but one game for the Denver Nuggets in the 2012/2013 season in which he averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds per game. In the two games since Marc Gasol's injury, Koufos has been averaging 7.5 points and a remarkable 13 rebounds per game.

It's also important to note that the Memphis Grizzlies have overcome adversity with injuries before. Memphis has lost starters to serious injury in both the 2010/2011 (Rudy Gay) and the 2011/12 (Zach Randolph) seasons, respectively. At the time, both situations were thought to be catastrophic for the Memphis Grizzlies, but, in the end, seemed to serve as little hindrance to the team's success.

Don't expect the Memphis Grizzlies to be the same without Marc Gasol. With a player of his caliber, that simply will not be possible. Yet at the same time, don't count Memphis out as an elite contender simply because Gasol will miss up to a dozen games.

Grizzlies fans have seen this story in the past, and if history proves correct (and Kosta Koufous continues to produce), fans will ultimately see a happy ending for Memphis.

Nicholas Naveiras is a lifelong Memphian, college student, and diehard Memphis Grizzlies follower. He has followed the franchise's on- and off-court progress since 2001.

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