Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said his players are excited to see center Marc Gasol back in the gym.
However, when asked Saturday afternoon if there is a timetable on when Gasol would be cleared to return to action for the injury-plague Grizzlies, Joerger simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know when he’ll play.”
Memphis, which posted its highest winning percentage and advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year, has struggled immensely since Gasol, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, went down with a sprain MCL he sustained early in the second quarter of a Nov. 22 game against the San Antonio Spurs in FedExForum.
An MRI the next day revealed that Gasol had suffered a Grade 2 sprain to the MCL in his left knee and that he would not require surgery, although the team announced a couple of days after his injury that it was uncertain about his return.
However, after Gasol was cleared recently to participate in light non-contact drills, Joerger said seeing the 7-foot-1 Spaniard slowly working his way back into playing shape has been inspiring for a team he believes can make up much ground in terms of securing a playoff spot for a fourth consecutive year.
Following Friday night’s 104-99 win against the Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies are currently four games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Once Gasol, a six-year veteran and 2011 All-Star, returns, Joerger said his presence will only add more resilience and assertiveness to a Grizzlies team that has earned a reputation as one of the NBA’s best defensive units in recent years.
“It’s different because you play and everyone’s reliant upon playing off of Marc,” Joerger said before Saturday’s workout at team’s practice facility. “He’s a facilitator and when you don’t have that, you feel as if you’ve got to make more plays on your own.”
Joerger was referring primarily to Grizz big men Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos, both of whom he said have filled in nicely in Gasol’s absence. Koufos, signed by the Grizzlies in the offseason after making 81 of 82 starts for Denver last year, has started 21 games since Gasol went down, averaging 7.7 points and 24-plus minutes. Davis, meanwhile, has made three starts, but is averaging better than 29 minutes while having appeared in 29 games this year.
“Both of these guys have stayed within themselves, with what they do offensively and defensively and rebounding and doing their work in the paint,” Joerger said. “What they’re doing defensively is blocking shots and rebounding well and starting our break and then getting down (the court) quickly and trying to spring Mike Conley free into a pick and roll. It’s been different, because you don’t see that a lot.”
Since Gasol, who was the team’s second-leading scorer at the time of his injury, has been sidelined, Joerger has switched to an assortment of rotations in hopes of atoning for the absence of arguably the league’s best young center. To no avail, however, the Grizzlies have struggled considerably without Gasol, having dropped 13 of 22 outings since his knee injury.
On Saturday, Gasol — who isn’t required to speak with the media — jogged out onto the practice court, wearing a protective brace around his left knee and took part in his customary conditioning drills while he continues to recuperate from his injury.
Like his players, Joerger appears optimistic that once Gasol is cleared to resume full contact drills, the Grizzlies can make a strong case for vying for a playoff spot.
“He’s been cleared for light contact,” Joerger said. “Part of it is continuing to heal his knee. He’s working hard to get back and certainly his teammates love to have him in the gym. He brings such tremendous energy and guys will be excited to get him back. But I don’t know when it’ll be.”
Also on Saturday, Joerger said isn’t sure when starting shooting guard Tony Allen will return after the nine-year veteran sustained ligament damage to his left (non-shooting) hand during a Jan. 3 loss at Denver, although team officials have listed Allen as “day-to-day.”
Prior to his injury, Allen was the Grizzlies’ third-leading scorer, averaging 10.2 points.
“He continues to get rehab on his hand,” Joerger said. “And as I know more as concrete or a timetable, whether it’s six days or six weeks, I’ll let everybody know, because everybody wants to know because it’s an obtuse kind of injury. The swelling is down which is good. You just go from there where his comfort level is.”