The Memphis Grizzlies, it’s safe to say, have a fair amount of heart and soul. It’s hard to peg one contributor as the team’s spiritual leader of sorts, but as is often the case in the NBA the guy that gets to handle the ball the most is usually accurately credited as that influence.
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As it stands currently, the Grizzlies could be without that driving wheel. And while the Grizzlies might be heavy on the heart and soul, they’re not exactly rich in time to heal as the NBA playoffs move on.
Grizz guard Mike Conley left Game 3 of his team’s first round series with the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday evening following a frightening shot to the head. Conley was conscious and able to communicate via Twitter …
… after the shot from Blazer guard C.J. McCollum, but that doesn’t mean the bad news is over. Conley will reportedly undergo facial surgery on Monday, and will be out for an as-yet undetermined amount of time.
The Grizzlies will be without Mike Conley for at least one game and possibly longer after the starting point guard returned to Memphis and will undergo surgery Monday to repair multiple fractures in his facial bones, according to TNT’s Lewis Johnson.
There was no immediate prognosis on how long he could be out, the team said, only that he will be missing as the Grizzlies try to close out the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the first round Monday night at Moda Center.
Beno Udrih, who did not play Saturday because of a sprained right ankle, said after practice Sunday he will play, at least providing additional depth at the position after the loss of Conley, one of the Memphis emotional leaders as well as an integral player on the court.
As Howard-Cooper noted, Udrih (one of the more surprising game-tilters in the postseason prior to missing Game 3) did have to duck out of the first Portland-hosted game of the series with that bum ankle. As a left-hander, Udrih relies on his right foot to push off of, and even though he’ll be available to sop up minutes, Beno will likely be performing at less than full strength.
Conley (who averaged 15.8 points and 5.4 assists in the regular season) had been performing at the same rate for a goodly chunk of the final six weeks of the season due to what can be a debilitating foot injury – one that necessitated he wear a right sneaker two full sizes above his typical size due to the swelling and also heel supports necessitated by plantar fascia and tendon flares.
This didn’t mean Conley isn’t structurally integral even when working at an approximation of full health. From USA Today and Associated Press reports:
"He does so much for us, with the ball, with the defense, setting us up. He shoulders a huge amount of responsibility for us," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "So everybody else has to just pick it up, keep getting better, and be a little bit more focused in every single area. Every single possession is going to matter."
That’s just against the Portland Trail Blazers, mind you, a team that is suiting two injured rotation players in Arron Afflalo and Chris Kaman that probably wouldn’t be on the active roster were it February, while working without a healthy Wesley Matthews, all while minding what appears to be an ever-anxious LaMarcus Aldridge as he enters his free agent turn.
The Grizzlies, up 3-0 in what seems like an inevitable series win even without Conley on board, won’t end its season after topping Portland four games in a potential seven tries. The team has concerns that go beyond the Blazers.
Memphis, who lasted for most of the season as the Western Conference’s second seed in the playoff bracket, will have to take on the fearsome Golden State Warriors in the Western semifinals after downing Portland – and the group is already on record as having their tails handed to them when lining up against the W’s without Conley in the lineup. That game wrapped up as a two-possession affair, but only after Golden State sat its starters for the fourth quarter.
The Grizz feature the capable Nick Calathes as Udrih’s potential backup, and rookie (and D-League call-up) point guard Russ Smith did manage 25 regular season points in 36 total minutes with the Grizzlies this year, but this is a bad blow. Even if Conley returns ahead of schedule, as Oklahoma City point man Russell Westbrook did earlier this season, the combination of a protective facial mask and his lingering foot woes could hamstring his performance.
Even if Conley, ever the gamer, keeps his typical form. This is bad luck at the absolute worst time.
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