The absence of star point guard Mike Conley has thrown a wrench into the postseason plans of the Memphis Grizzlies. After taking in inadvertent elbow in the third quarter of an eventual Game 3 win, Conley underwent surgery Monday to repair multiple facial fractures and has already missed Games 4 and 5 of the team's first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies have not provided a specific timetable for Conley's return, but it would not be surprising if he missed several more contests. Memphis has received strong performances from guards Beno Udrih, Courtney Lee, and Nick Calathes in this series (both before and after Conley's injury), but it's clear that the West's No. 5 seed would like their steady, capable floor general in the lineup as soon as possible.
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Conley provided a brief update on his status in an interview with TNT's Lewis Johnson during the first quarter of Wednesday night's Game 5 at FedEx Forum. He gave specifics on his condition — successful surgery that included inserting several plates into the area surrounding his left eye — but the most obvious takeaway was the badly bruised state of his face. You can take a look at the full interview here:
In practical terms, the news here is that Conley is taking a positive outlook on his recovery and plans to be back "sooner rather than later." That's not any sort of medical term, but it's notable if only because a player in really bad condition probably wouldn't have decided to give this in-game interview in the first place. Unless Conley and the Grizzlies are engaged in some sort of ultra-paranoid trickery directed at the Blazers and the looming Golden State Warriors (their second-round opponent, should they advance), we can probably assume that Conley plans to play with a protective mask as soon as his bruises clear up a bit and his eye becomes less swollen.
On the other hand, we can all plainly see that his left eye is really, really swollen. Conley told Johnson that it's in better shape than it was a few days ago, which is believable but arguably indicates that Conley is doubtful for Game 6 (or Game 1 vs. the Warriors). This is all speculation, mind you, and injured players have certainly experienced quicker-than-average turnarounds before. It's just hard to see Conley in this state and think that he's towards the end of the recovery process and not somewhere in the middle of it.
It's all a great big bummer, not just for Memphis but anyone who wants to see teams play each other at full strength throughout the playoffs. Conley came into the postseason having missed the final four games of the regular season with still-prevalent right foot issue, but quality showings against the Blazers suggested that he could occupy his usual role. Here's hoping he's able to get back on the court soon, if not imminently.
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