By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – A week ago, the Grizzlies were piling up victories amid their longest winning streak of the season. Unfortunately, they’re now adding more bodies to the injury report.
Mike Conley and Vince Carter left Monday’s game in the second half with injuries and did not return as the Grizzlies were dealt their second straight home loss in a 104-85 setback to Charlotte at FedExForum.
Conley sustained a lower back injury with 8:25 left in the third quarter when he landed awkwardly after drawing an offensive foul call on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As he was falling backwards to the court, Conley’s head and neck bent the opposite direction as he appeared to strike the leg of Hornets’ forward Frank Kaminsky before landing on the floor. The Grizzlies’ leader in scoring and assists would lay on the court for several moments before teammates and trainers escorted Conley to the locker room.
Carter left with 11:24 remaining in the fourth quarter with an apparent hip injury, although he remained on the bench for the rest of the game and was later seen in the locker room. Conley, however, was receiving treatment and was not available for comment after Monday’s game. Grizzlies’ coach David Fizdale said he didn’t have much information on Conley’s status and that he would be reevaluated Tuesday before the team traveled to Toronto for Wednesday’s game against the Raptors. Memphis has lost two of its last three after winning six consecutive games.
“Not sure yet,” Fizdale said when asked about Conley after the loss. “It’s a lower back injury, but we don’t know the status yet. We’re waiting to hear.”
The Grizzlies (11-7) are already decimated by injuries and would be in a devastating spot should Conley miss much time. The 10-year veteran was off to the most prolific start of his career, ranking among the NBA’s top three-point shooters and averaging 19.5 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds a game this season.
The Grizzlies are already without Chandler Parsons, James Ennis and Brandan Wright because of various injuries. Zach Randolph has also been away from the team the past three games following the death of his mother last week. Gasol said Conley informed teammates that he would be “alright” as he left the court.
Conley was in the process of bringing the Grizzlies back after they trailed 56-39 at the half. He scored seven points in the first four minutes of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 11 before he was injured. Conley finished with 14 points, five assists and two steals in 20 minutes.
“There was another setback with Mike leaving the game,” guard Tony Allen said. “A lot of guys looked like they were worried. I think the game got away from us at that point.”
This one got away in the second quarter, when the Hornets outscored the Grizzlies 31-14 and held Memphis to just 26.1 percent shooting from the field. Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions accounted for 17 of Charlotte’s points, including a parade of scores in the lane. The Hornets closed the quarter with a 19-2 run before Conley scored the final basket of a 39-point half for Memphis.
What is it about the Hornets that has Allen channeling his inner Earl Monroe? For the second time in a week, Allen delivered a highlight spin move to score in the lane against the Hornets. His latest offering came at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter, when he caught a pass on the block and spun baseline around Jeremy Lamb for the bucket that tied the game at 33-33. Last week in Charlotte, Allen made a similar move that drew a chuckle from Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan, who sat near the Hornets bench.
Jarell Martin. One of the few encouraging takeaways from Monday’s performance was the play of Martin, who finished with his first career double-double by collecting 11 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. The Grizzlies didn’t totally intend for this to be a developmental season for many of their younger players. But with the slew of injuries and the minutes’ management plan impacting the availability of some veterans, Martin is one of a handful of first or second-year prospects who are getting ample opportunities to contribute early this season. Only Gasol attempted more shots on Monday than Martin, who was 5-of-13 from the field but made his only three-point attempt. It’s Martin who is getting the bulk of the action as the second-unit power forward in Randolph’s absence.
It wasn’t too long ago when the Grizzlies were the last remaining Western Conference team yet to win a road game. Now, they’re doing their best work away from FedExForum and are struggling at home. Some disturbing familiar trends were developing even before Conley was injured early in the second half. Memphis got off to another slow start, this time trailing 13-3 right out of the gate before falling behind 56-39 at the half. Exactly a week prior, the Grizzlies torched the Hornets with a season-high 69 points in the first half of a 15-point victory in Charlotte. Memphis is now just 5-4 at home after consecutive lackluster losses to the Heat and Hornets. Meanwhile, its six-game road win streak remains intact heading into Wednesday’s game at the Raptors.
Even before the game, Fizdale described the frustrating challenges that have deeply impacted his rotation decisions in recent weeks. “Now, it’s out of desperation – just sheer desperation,” he said of the constant lineup adjustments and search for chemistry. “We have so many guys down or away from the team that now I don’t have that luxury. There’s only a couple of guys down there that I can rotate around. All of these guys getting experience, being counted on now, will help us at the end of the year.” For now, the Grizzlies remain in a grueling stage of growing pains. That left Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin, Troy Daniels, Deyonta Davis and Martin on the court for extended stretches in Monday’s game.
Grizzlies vs. Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, 6:30 pm (TV: TV: Grizzlies Live! Pregame Show FOX Sports Southeast 6:00 p.m./Radio: Grizzlies Pregame Show 92.9 FM ESPN, 6:00 p.m.)
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