The Memphis Grizzlies have been a startlingly incomplete team in recent weeks, playing lineups featuring Matt Barnes as a primary facilitator and requesting several injury exceptions just to keep a reasonable amount of players in uniform. They have held onto their No. 5 seed in the standings but sit just three games ahead of the No. 9 Houston Rockets with five to play, creating new doubt that they can hold onto a playoff berth. If they do, though, it's feasible that they will be a tough out should certain players manage to make it back into the lineup.
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It now appears that the Grizzlies will not see the return of one of the players most likely to change their postseason fortunes. Star point guard Mike Conley, out since March 6 with Achilles issues, has effectively been ruled out for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story:
Is there any expectation for Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Jordan Adams and P.J. Hairston to play for the Griz again this season?
"I think we'll see P.J. again," Joerger said as he walked away. [...]
Hairston represents a relative upgrade to the multiple players on 10-day contracts that the Griz have called on over the past two months. But don't hold your breath for the return of Conley (Achilles), Wright (knee) and Adams (knee). Marc Gasol was ruled out for the rest of this season with a broken foot before the All-Star break.
The Commercial Appeal independently confirmed that Conley was re-evaluated last week by team doctors. It was determined that it is in Conley's best interest to not return to action until the 2016-17 season. [...]
Barring a miraculous recovery by the time the postseason begins, Conley still walks with a limp, experiences soreness in the Achilles and requires a walking boot. The franchise and Conley, who will be a free agent this summer, are taking a cautious approach to his long-term future.
Conley is a free agent this summer, but it appears very likely that he will return to the Grizzlies on a long-term deal.
Tillery's article features more details on the statuses of Wright and Adams, but the Conley news is the big story here. His ability to control tempo and create shots would give the Grizzlies a chance to pull of an upset despite a significant talent gap. They have no real chance without him, much as the Portland Trail Blazers looked entirely overmatched against the Grizzlies in last spring's first round with a decimated rotation.
Of course, it's possible that Conley's availability will be irrelevant. The Grizzlies' final five games come against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, at the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, vs. the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, at the Los Angeles Clippers on the following Tuesday, and at the Warriors on the final night of the season. The first two will factor into the playoff race, the third could involve the pursuit of the single-season wins record, the fourth is mostly irrelevant but could see the Clippers playing everyone in an effort to get Blake Griffin fully comfortable, and the fifth could be the Warriors' final attempt to win 73 games. The Blazers, Mavericks, and Utah Jazz also have reasonably difficult schedules to end the season, but it wouldn't be a terrible shock to see the Grizzlies continue their current six-game losing streak and drop their final 11 games of the season.
The Grizzlies have already exceeded the expectations many placed on them when Gasol was ruled out for the season, let alone when several other key players suffered meaningful injuries. Losing out on the playoffs wouldn't be the worst outcome, even if the franchise would like to make it no matter the state of the roster. This latest bad news isn't a game-changer — it just continues a terrible string of bad luck for Memphis.
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