Spurs star Tim Duncan on retiring from NBA: ‘I’m going to play it day by day’

Tim Duncan fielded the question as if he expected it.

 

STILL AIMING HIGH --- San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn't shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn't sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

STILL AIMING HIGH — San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn’t shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn’t sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I’m going to play it day by day,” the San Antonio Spurs superstar said following Tuesday’s shootaround in FedExForum, when asked how much longer he plans to play professional basketball. “I don’t know what the end of the year will bring. I don’t know what next year will bring. But I’m going to enjoy every game out there, knowing that it’s coming to an end.”

While the 37-year-old Duncan hasn’t shied away from discussing his NBA future, he appears to be in the best shape of a Hall-of-Fame career that spans 16-plus seasons. Duncan, to his credit, was the catalyst last year of a San Antonio team that came within seconds of capturing its fifth world championship since the 14-time All-Star was drafted No. 1 overall by the Spurs out of Wake Forest in 1997.

Having averaged the most minutes (30.1) in three years, Duncan registered 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.7 blocks per game last year in helping the Spurs to the NBA Finals, where they lost in the decisive Game 7 to the Miami Heat. Add to the fact that Duncan shot an impressive 50.2 percent from the field and a career-best 81.7 percent from the free throw line, and it’s no wonder a number of his peers contend that the 6-foot-11, Saint Croix, U. S. Virgin Island native hasn’t shown any indications he’s ready to call it quits.

“Man, how can you tell a guy to hang it up that’s averaging 17 and 10…18 and 10?” Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said of Duncan. “Tim can play until he’s 44 if he wants to. He’s one of the greatest of all time, hands down, period. He’s the type of guy you look up to and pattern your game after because he’s not a super athletic guy. He’s not a high-flyer. He plays off skills.”

During the Spurs’ remarkable postseason run last year, Duncan certainly performed as if he was in his prime. Displaying such poise and resilience that enabled him to evolve into one of the NBA’s premiere power forwards, Duncan witnessed his numbers soar significantly during the season’s latter stages as he logged 20.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per contest for a San Antonio team that swept the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. He was especially dominant during the NBA Finals much like when he engineered the Spurs to four NBA titles during an eight-year stretch between 1999 and 2007.

No doubt, he was the biggest reason San Antonio was seconds away from dethroning the Heat, particularly with his epic Game 6 performance, when he went on a tear by scoring 30 points and 17 rebounds, although the upset-minded Spurs sputtered in the waning seconds.

“We had another opportunity (in Game 7) to win it,” said Duncan, recalling his mindset after the Spurs had squandered a five-point lead over the game’s final 28 seconds. “That’s all that mattered at that point. We didn’t want to talk about what we had given away or what position we were in. We had another opportunity. We just came up short. But honestly, we gave it our all and we’re happy with that.”

If there were questions swirling as to whether Duncan’s effectiveness had been reduced for an NBA veteran, he silenced

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complentary of Duncan following Tuesday's shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he's one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complementary of Duncan following Tuesday’s shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he’s one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

an array of critics last year, particularly when it mattered most — on the NBA’s grandest stage.

“Tim will play as long as he thinks he’s helpful to the team,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has coached Duncan since he entered the NBA. “You know, that’s what he said to me. He really enjoys the competitiveness. He enjoys being around the guys. He likes the challenges. He really takes care of himself well. You know, he watches what he puts in his body as you can see just looking at him. As long as he feels he can help this team, he’ll be playing. If he feels he can’t do that, he’ll be the first guy to walk off the court.”

Duncan, just as he’s done on numerous occasions during his illustrious career, aided San Antonio mightily Tuesday night. He scored a 13 of his team-high 24 points (10 points better than his season average) in the second half for the Spurs, who outlasted the Grizzlies, 110-108, in overtime, despite squandering a 16-point second-half lead.

Whether the two-time NBA MVP will walk away from the game for good at season’s end is anybody’s guess. As Duncan tells it, however, his primary focus is not on how much longer his 230-pound frame can hold up with his 38th birthday just three months away, but rather he’s concentrating on savoring what’s left of an NBA career that will culminate with him being christened a Hall of Famer.

Asked how he would like his legacy to be remembered if he retires after this season, Duncan once again fielded the question as if he expected it.

“My legacy will write itself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I think of it. I’m just going to go out and play every night and see what happens from there.”

Judging by his display Tuesday night for a Spurs squad that boasts the NBA’s third-best record, it’s safe to assume Duncan still has gas in that 37-year-old tank.

More than people realize.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Zach Randolph ‘relieved’ after Grizzlies announce they have dismissed trade talks

It appears Zach Randolph will remain with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Whether his tenure with the team will last beyond the Feb. 20 NBA trade deadline is still uncertain.

According to multiple media reports, Grizzlies officials earlier this week said they have no immediate plans to trade their star power forward, a two-time All-Star who was the catalyst of the team’s postseason success in recent years.

WALKING IN MEMPHIS --- Grizzlies star Zach Randolph appeared relieved after learning Saturday morning that the team officials said they have no immediate plans of trading the two-time All-Star power forward. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport

WALKING IN MEMPHIS — Grizzlies star Zach Randolph appeared relieved after learning Saturday morning that the team officials said they have no immediate plans of trading the two-time All-Star power forward. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport

After learning of the latest developments surrounding his possible trade, Randolph said he’s “relieved,” reiterating, among things, that he wants to retire as a member of the organization.

“They know I want to be here,” Randolph told MemphiSport following the Grizzlies’ shootaround Saturday morning in the team’s practice facility. “I’ve been here. They know I want to retire here.”

Now in his fifth season with Memphis following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph initially became the subject of trade talks earlier this month when he reportedly was being rumored to be dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big Ryan Anderson.

Then, according to various media reports, “a reliable NBA insider” on Dec. 19 reported that the Brooklyn Nets were contemplating preparing a package that would send 16-year veteran Paul Pierce and future draft picks to the Grizzlies for Randolph, a two-time All-Star who is in his 13th NBA season.

While the Pelicans and Grizzlies have strongly denied having discussed a trade that centered on Randolph and Anderson, Randolph — who admittedly was “hurt” after learning the team reportedly was considering shopping him — said he isn’t sure why he is constantly being rumored to be dealt, although he believes his current contract might be the underlying factor as the trade deadline looms.

Randolph, 32, is in the third of a four-year deal that is worth $71 million. Although the Marion, Ind. native has a player option for next year, Randolph would generate in the neighborhood of $16 million if he returns to the Grizzlies for the 2013-14 campaign.

“I don’t know…money,” Randolph said, explaining why his name keeps swirling surrounding a possible trade. “Small market team. You know, money plays a part. It’s the money.”

Regardless of what transpires as the trade deadline approaches, Randolph said his primary focus in the meantime is help revitalize an injury-ridden Grizzlies team that entered Saturday night’s game against Denver four games below the .500 mark. Losers of six of their last nine, Memphis, which advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year after posting the highest winning percentage (.063) in franchise history, currently is 3 ½ games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Randolph scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting in 30-plus minutes Saturday to help lift the Grizzlies to their largest margin of victory this season in FedExForum, 120-99, over the Nuggets.

“Like I said, I’m going to be professional either way,” Randolph, the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, said when asked to assess the team’s decision to dismiss trade talks. “I’m going to play hard every night. It’s a job. I’m going to come out and be professional and do my job.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Kobe Bryant suffered knee injury against Grizzlies, expected to miss six weeks

Hundreds of purple and gold clad spectators turned out in FedExForum Tuesday night to witness the Memphis Grizzlies play host to the Los Angeles Lakers, many of whom wore Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 jersey.

FALLEN STAR --- Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant (right) appeared as of he was on track to returning to form after the 15-time All-Star suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury in April. However, during Tuesday night's win against the Grizzlies, Bryant sustained a fracture in his left knee and will be sidelined for six weeks, the team announced Thursday. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

FALLEN STAR — Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant (right) appeared as of he was on track to returning to form after the 15-time All-Star suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury in April. However, during Tuesday night’s win against the Grizzlies, Bryant sustained a fracture in his left knee and will be sidelined for six weeks, the team announced Thursday. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Whether they will get a glimpse of Bryant when the Lakers return to Memphis Feb. 26 remains a mystery.

That’s because on Thursday, the Lakers announced that Bryant will likely miss up to six weeks after an MRI revealed a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee he sustained in Tuesday’s 96-92 win against Memphis.

Bryant’s injury occurred at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter after he backed Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen in the post. He returned to the game following a timeout and ultimately steered the Lakers to their second win since his return to the lineup Dec. 8 against Toronto.

In what was his best shooting display since his return from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in early April, Bryant matched his season-high with 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting. His deep 3-pointer with 2:39 remaining in the fourth essentially preserved the win for the injury-plague Lakers, who were already without guards Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar, and Steve Blake to an assortment of injuries.

After the game, Bryant — who sat in front of his locker soaking both legs in an ice bucket — didn’t appear as if his knee injury was a serious issue.

“I feel alright,” Bryant told MemphiSport when asked how he felt after playing his sixth game since rejoining the Lakers. “You know, it felt good. I felt like I went out there tonight and was really, really assertive and played well.”

Given his inspiring performance against the Grizzlies in which he played 32-plus minutes but played sparingly in the final frame before making his clutch basket, the 35-year-old Bryant seemed on pace to re-asserting himself as one of the league’s most efficient scorers.

“We’ll see,” Bryant said when asked if he could be just as effective in the aftermath of his Achilles injury.

Now after news spread Thursday of his latest setback that could likely sideline him for up to two months, many around the league are wondering if Bryant’s best days as one of the league’s elite players are behind him.

As far as Bryant is concerned, he appeared unaffected by the fracture to his knee.

Said Bryant — the Western Conference’s second-leading vote-getter for the 2014 All-Star Game — via Twitter Thursday afternoon: “BrokenNotBeaten.”

Bryant went down late in the third quarter of Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies, but returned and matched his season-high with 21 points in 38-plus minutes.

Bryant went down late in the third quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies, but returned and matched his season-high with 21 points in 38-plus minutes.

Following Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies, Bryant spoke of how essential it is that he steadily works himself back into playing shape, in large part because center Pau Gasol is becoming more acclimated to coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Gasol, a 13-year veteran, publicly expressed dissatisfaction for how he was being used in the lineup, but has since made considerable progress although the 7-foot Spaniard is shooting a career-low 42.6 percent from the field.

“I’ve got to crank it up at some point and get back to being myself,” said Bryant who, in late November, signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. “I’ve got to get better, improving my timing and rhythm and things like that. It’ll come.”

However, given Thursday’s devastating news for the Lakers, who already were hampered by a slew of injuries at the guard position, whether Bryant will ever return to form remains a mystery.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Lakers center Pau Gasol says conflict with D’Antoni is a ‘dead issue’

Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said before Tuesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies that Pau Gasol’s recent public comments in which the veteran center expressed his displeasure with his role in the Lakers’ offense have been “blown out of proportion.”

So much, in fact, that D’Antoni jokingly took a jab at reporters when asked if the latest issues surrounding his star center are fixable.

MAKING UP --- Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (left) appears to be finding his offensive rhythm in coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Gasol scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in Tuesday night's 96-92 win at Memphis and said his recent conflict with his coach is now a dead issue. (Getty Images Photo)

MAKING UP — Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (left) appears to be finding his offensive rhythm in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Gasol scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in Tuesday night’s 96-92 win at Memphis and said his recent conflict with his coach is now a dead issue. (Getty Images Photo)

“Not that any of you guys will make anything up, which is good,” D’Antoni said with a grin. “But a lot of times, things get blown out of proportion. It’s a little bit blown out of proportion, but he’s fine.”

That certainly hasn’t appeared to be the case in recent weeks.

Before star Kobe Bryant returned nine days ago from a torn Achilles tendon injury he sustained in early April, Gasol struggled immensely, most notably on the offensive end of the floor, where the 7-foot Spaniard and former Grizzly is averaging 14.5 points and shooting a career-worst 42.6 percent from the field.

Gasol’s subpar performance of late seemingly has given way to much frustration off the court. Last week, for instance, Gasol pinned blame on D’Antoni for being “misused” in his system, remarks that subsequently forced his coach to publicly criticize his player’s effort on the court.

However, on Tuesday, D’Antoni reiterated that his public verbal sparring with Gasol is now a “dead issue” and that the Lakers are devising ways to get the 13-year-veteran more involved offensively.

Gasol and Bryant scored 21 points each for the Lakers, who dealt the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss, 96-92, Tuesday in FedExForum.

“I think they’re already fixed,” D’Antoni said of the conflict between him and Gasol. “He’s played well the last couple of games. You know, Pau is one of the best players in the league and we’re going through a transitional period where we don’t have point guards out there. We had that same problem last year, and sometimes the big guys get missed. It’s a different system, but we want him to get the ball close to the basket as much as he can get it.”

Gasol’s recent criticism of D’Antoni coupled with his inconsistent play have prompted the Lakers to consider making the four-time All-Star available prior to the NBA trade deadline, according to various media reports. However, when asked after the game if he believes he will remain with the team through season’s end, the 33-year-old Gasol said his future with the organization lies solely with the Lakers’ front office.

Traded by Memphis to the Lakers in February 2008 for younger brother (Grizzlies center) Marc Gasol after spending seven seasons with the Grizzlies, Pau is in the final year of a three-year deal and is owed $19.3 million.

“If I’m still here, I’m here,” Pau said after managing 9-of-12 field goals in 32-plus minutes. “I can’t keep pace with what the team wants to do. If they come up with a good deal or good offer, I’m sure they’ll think about it. I know that for a fact. But I can’t control that.”

As for his recent issues with his coach, Pau was in agreement with D’Antoni that cooler heads will ultimately prevail.

“It’s a dead issue,” Pau said. “There’s nothing going on, no tension or nothing. So many people made a big deal out of it the last couple of games. I took advantage of it by stirring the pot a little bit. That’s what happens in a big market. A franchise like the Lakers, you’re going to always have stuff like that, someone creating stories. So it sells papers and people will talk about it.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Grizzlies star Zach Randolph on latest trade rumors: ‘I want to retire here’

Zach Randolph said he will remain a resident of Memphis until he is “dead and gone.”

However, whether the two-time All-Star will remain a member of the Memphis Grizzlies until the end of the season is unclear.

ON HIS WAY OUT? Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (right) on Sunday said despite being the subject of trade rumors, he'd like to retire as a member of the organization, although the two-time All-Star is uncertain about his future in Memphis. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

ON HIS WAY OUT? Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (right) on Sunday said despite being the subject of trade rumors, he’d like to retire as a member of the organization, although the two-time All-Star is uncertain about his future in Memphis. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

According to various media reports, Randolph once again has emerged as the subject of trade rumors, this time involving a possible deal that would send the 13-year-veteran to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

When asked before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves if he expects to finish out the 2013-14 season with the Grizzlies, Randolph — who unlike last year before the trade deadline when he said publicly he’s optimistic he would end his 12th NBA campaign in Memphis — appeared uncertain about his future with the team.

“It’s a business, man,” Randolph told MemphiSport. “It’s a business. You know, we’ve just got to keep playing and I can only control what I can control and what I can handle.”

Randolph, 32, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, is in the third of a four-year, $71 million deal the former Michigan State star signed in April 2011. If Randolph returns to the Grizzlies for a sixth full season, the two-time All-Star would make around $16 million in 2014-15.

Selected with the 19th overall pick in 2001 by Portland, the 6-foot-9 Randolph was traded in July 2009 to the Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson and has since been a dominant force for a Grizzlies team that generated its highest winning percentage last year (.063) and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. However, despite emerging into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph on Sunday said he has no lofty idea why he’s constantly being rumored to be dealt away by an organization from which he hopes to retire.

“I want to be here,” said Randolph who, before Friday’s game at New Orleans, said he was “hurt” by the latest trade rumors. “I want to retire here. But it’s a business, man. I can only control what I can control.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said during his pregame media availability session that he isn’t concerned about the trade talks surrounding Randolph and that his team’s primary emphasis is to escape its current slump in which Memphis has dropped three straight and six of its last eight games.

“It’s not usually something I worry about,” Joerger said. “Our guys are pros. I’ve heard rumors talked about me. You

Last year, when former Grizz Rudy Gay (right) was dealt to Toronto before the trade deadline, Randolph sensed he would end his 12th NBA season in Memphis. Whether he will finish out a sixth full season in Memphis remains a mystery.

Last year, when former Grizz Rudy Gay (right) was dealt to Toronto before the trade deadline, Randolph sensed he would end his 12th NBA season in Memphis. Whether he will finish out a fifth full campaign with the team remains a mystery.  (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

 

know, people make up stuff all the time. So there’s a lot of stuff that’s not true. Most of it is not true at all, so to respond to it by me or any player, you know, it’s all internal, so I’ll move forward and it’s not something I worry about.”

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, the franchise’s longest-tenured player, said he hadn’t heard any trade discussions involving Randolph prior to Sunday and that at this point, “it’s just all rumors.” Also, Conley said he expects Randolph to finish out the year in Memphis and that news of a possible trade of the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer won’t serve as a distraction for Memphis as the season progresses.

The Grizzlies (10-13), who saw their winless streak reach three games in a 101-93 loss to Minnesota in FedExForum,

entered Sunday’s contest against the Timberwolves three games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

“Zach plans on being here,” said Conley, the Grizzlies’ leading scorer who managed a team-high 28 points against the T’Wolves. “And we plan on him being here, so we’re keeping it at that and concentrating on basketball. I think in any other case, it could be a distraction, but we’ve got guys who have been in this situation so many times that it’s just thrown by the wayside. We’re just worried about basketball. We’re not worried about trades or distractions or what not. We know that’s going to take care of itself and we got no control over it.”

With his future with the Grizzlies once again hanging in the balance, Randolph said if he is forced to relocate via a trade, Memphis will be his permanent home regardless.

“And I’m still going to be (an ambassador for the city), if I’m here and if I ain’t,” said Randolph, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds while playing a team-best 38-plus minutes. “I bought a house here, got business relationships here. So this is my home and I’m going to be here until I’m gone. You know what I’m saying?”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Kevin Durant says he blames himself for playoff loss to Grizzlies last year

LOOKING AHEAD --- Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said before Wednesday night's game against the Grizzlies that he took most of the blame for last year's playoff loss to Memphis. Now with point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury, Durant said his main focus is to help return the Thunder to the NBA Finals. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

LOOKING AHEAD — Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said before Wednesday night’s game against the Grizzlies that he took most of the blame for last year’s playoff loss to Memphis. Now with point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury, Durant said his main focus is to help return the Thunder to the NBA Finals. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

The way Kevin Durant sees it, he has only himself to blame.

Nearly seven months removed from having witnessed his sixth NBA season end in disappointing fashion against the Memphis Grizzlies in the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs four games to one, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar contends he assumes full responsibility for how the series unfolded.

“Individually, I took a lot from that series and looked at what I could have done differently,” Durant told MemphiSport before Wednesday night’s game versus Memphis in FedExForum. “But it was a learning experience for us all not having our point guard for that series and having to adjust on the fly.”

Durant was alluding to the absence of Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who was sidelined for the remainder of the postseason after he injured his right knee in Game 2 of OKC’s opening-round playoffs series against the Houston Rockets. Westbrook injured his knee after he collided with Rockets guard Patrick Beverly while attempting a steal.

Westbrook limped off the court, but continued to play and finished the game with 29 points. However, after having an MRI the following day, it was discovered that the former UCLA star had sustained a slight tear in his right meniscus. After undergoing surgery two days later, the team announced that Westbrook would miss the rest of the playoffs, thus providing Durant with more pressure to steer the heavy-favorite Thunder back to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year.

That he didn’t deliver, the 25-year-old Durant admittedly was fazed by last year’s playoff setback well into the offseason.

“We had an opportunity to win,” said Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer who averaged 28.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in the series against the Grizzlies. “We just didn’t come through late in the game. But that wasn’t on anybody else. That was on me. But injuries happen in this league. Of course, we missed (Westbrook), but we had to move on. He helped us out from the sideline. He’s a great teammate. But I’m glad we got him back now.”

Fortunately for Durant and Co., Westbrook returned this year to the lineup earlier than expected after having arthroscopic surgery on the same knee the first day of training camp. According to team officials, the three-time All-Star was expected to miss the first four-to-six weeks of the regular season.

The six-year veteran, nonetheless, made his season debut in a November 3 home game Phoenix and, given his stellar play in his brief time back, it appears OKC is starting to hit its stride as a legitimate title contender. The Thunder won in impressive fashion Wednesday night against the Grizzlies, 116-100, handing Memphis (10-11) its sixth defeat in its last eight outings in FedExForum.

Durant and Westbrook sat a majority of the fourth quarter as the Thunder led by as many as 24 and captured their fourth consecutive win. OKC (17-4) now trails first-place Portland by a half game in the Western Conference standings. Westbrook, who sat on the bench in the final frame with ice packs draped over both knees, managed a game-high 27 points on 7-of-12 field goals in 27-plus minutes.

“I’m great, man,” said Westbrook, when asked after the game about his health. “It feels good. I’m taking it one day at a time, taking care of my body, which is most important, and trying to continue to get wins.”

Durant, meanwhile, registered 18 points in 34 minutes, 11 points below his league-leading average of 29 points per

Durant averaged 28.8 points in last year's best-of-7 playoff series versus the Grizzlies. But that wasn't enough as Memphis eliminated the Thunder in five games in the Western Conference semifinals.

ONE-MAN SHOW— Durant averaged 28.8 points in last year’s best-of-7 playoff series versus the Grizzlies. But that wasn’t enough as Memphis eliminated the Thunder in five games in the Western Conference semifinals. (Photo by Chris Evans)

game.

Now with last year’s playoff series loss to the Grizzlies behind him, Durant said his primary focus is to help the Thunder vie for a championship, something about which he admittedly failed miserably last year.

Only this time, the Thunder hope to fulfill their championship aspirations with a healthy Westbrook, arguably one of the league’s elite point guards who seemingly hasn’t shown any signs of rust since his return to the lineup just nine days ago.

“I’m always inspired to get better knowing that I can get better,” Durant said. “I wanted to come back this year better knowing we’d have another opportunity to be a good team in this league first off and try to make the playoffs. It’s great to have him back. His energy and his leadership go a long way. People may not like what he brings to the table as a point guard, but we enjoy it. He’s changed so many games for us and he’s a blessing to have on the team.”

That was evident Wednesday night.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Jason Kidd responds to soda cup incident before Saturday’s game against Memphis

MOVING FORWARD ---Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach Jason Kidd said before Saturday night's game versus the Grizzlies that his soda cup incident that resulted in a $50,000 fine by the NBA is behind him. Brooklyn beat the Memphis, 97-88, to hand the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss in FedExForum. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

MOVING FORWARD —Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach Jason Kidd said before Saturday night’s game versus the Grizzlies that his soda cup incident that resulted in a $50,000 fine by the NBA is behind him. Brooklyn beat the Memphis, 97-88, to hand the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss in FedExForum. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Jason Kidd insists he has said all he’s going to say about the shady soda cup incident that forced the NBA to impose a hefty fine on the Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach.

“Well, I can only think about the Memphis Grizzlies,” Kidd told MemphiSport before Saturday night’s game in FedExForum. “So I’m just focused on what we can do. The league took care of whatever happened in the past, so we’re moving forward.”

Kidd, 40, who played 18 NBA seasons for four different teams before retiring last year while with the New York Knicks, was responding to Wednesday night’s incident against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he appeared to say “hit me” to point guard Tyshawn Taylor with 8.3 seconds remaining to force a stoppage of play so his team could draw up a last-second offensive play. The NBA on Thursday announced that Kidd was fined $50,000 for appearing to intentionally drop a beverage on to the court.

The Nets were out of timeouts at the time Taylor bumped into Kidd, whose cup tumbled on to the court in front of his team’s bench. While the spillage was being cleaned up, the Nets coaching staff drew up a play. But to no avail, veteran small forward Paul Pierce misfired on a potential game-tying 3-point basket with 2.2 seconds left and the Lakers escaped with a 99-94 win to drop the struggling Nets seven games below the .500 mark.

Although video footage appeared to show Kidd uttering the words “Hit me” to his reserve point guard, Taylor denied that Kidd said nothing of that nature. However, on Saturday, Taylor said the Nets’ primary focus is to break out their early-season slump and that they have put Kidd’s controversial incident behind them.

Brooklyn (5-12) seized its second win in its last three outings with a resounding 97-88 victory Saturday to send the Grizzles (8-8) to their fourth consecutive defeat in FedExForum.

“That’s a league matter for sure, man, so I can’t speak on that,” said Taylor, when asked if thought Kidd’s fine was excessive. “It was what it was. That’s a decision that they made. I mean, we can go back and forth about how I feel about it. It’s not going to bring the money back. Like I said, that’s a decision the league made, so we’ve got to live with it.”

Though Kidd’s apparent staged cup spill attracted national headlines — the incident was the lead story on ESPN’s SportsCenter following Wednesday night’s game — for a Nets team that made a number of notable offseason trades with the acquisitions of veterans Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, but have struggled immensely through the first month of the season, there were a number of NBA players who hastened to various social media sites, applauding Kidd for his intentional late-game stunt.

“I didn’t actually see it, but I heard the stories and from what they told me,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said of Kidd’s soda cup incident. “You know, it was pretty clever, a clever move. But obviously, I don’t think the league liked it pretty much because they fined him pretty heavy for it. But it is what it is.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger acknowledged before Friday’s practice that he heard about the stiff fine the league imposed on Kidd. However, he declined to comment further, saying Kidd’s situation isn’t remotely connected to the Grizzlies organization.

“I don’t really have anything to say about it,” Joerger said. “I’ve got enough issues coaching my own team.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Grizzlies hope to atone for home struggles during six-game stretch in FedExForum

For the Memphis Grizzlies, there has been nothing sweet about playing at home in recent weeks.

HOMEWRECKERS ---Playing in FedExForum hasn't been pleasant for veteran Tayshaun Prince and the Grizzlies in recent weeks. Memphis, which opens a five-game homestand Saturday starting with Brooklyn, has dropped three straight and four of its last five at home. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

HOME WRECKERS —Playing in FedExForum hasn’t been pleasant for veteran Tayshaun Prince and the Grizzlies in recent weeks. Memphis, which opens a six-game homestand Saturday starting with Brooklyn, has dropped three straight and four of its last five at home. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

Given the Grizzlies’ lethargic play of late in FedExForum, what veteran shooting guard Tony Allen labeled the “Grindhouse” two years ago has become virtually an establishment that has brought about much criticism among spectators, given Memphis has found it difficult to protect its home court in what has become one of the toughest places for opponents in recent years.

The Grizzlies (8-7) have been dealt three consecutive defeats at home and have dropped four of their last five outings in FedExForum, this after managing a 32-9 home record last year.

“You know, we caught some boos early in the season,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said before practice Friday morning at the team’s practice facility. “That doesn’t feel very good. And I think there’s extra pressure playing at home and we want to do well at home. And our guys have played their hearts out the last three or four years or whatever and laid it on the line, so I’m sure that hurt them a little.”

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they will have a golden opportunity to erase the memory of their recent home court struggles beginning Saturday when they host the Brooklyn Nets at 7 p.m. CST to start a six-game homestand, their longest home stretch this season. While playing in their building proved to be an enormous advantage, of sorts, last year for the Grizzlies, which enabled them to generate their best winning percentage (.683) in franchise history by posting a 56-26 mark, Memphis surprisingly has enjoyed more success on the road, having won five of eight games away from FedExForum.

So how to explain Grizzlies’ constant woes in what had become an unfriendly environment for opposing teams in years past?

“We get out there and feel like it’s just us,” Joerger said. “We’re not worried about winning or losing. On the road, it’s just you. But you have that expectation on the road, to just go compete and we need to carry that into the homestand. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing an Eastern Conference team or a Western Conference team. It doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to keep plugging away and getting better. By and large, we’ve improved over the last couple of weeks, but we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

Before Jeorger switched to a tighter rotation during the Grizzlies’ recent West coast road trip that resulted in four consecutive wins, among Memphis’ notable issues was its inability to close out games and, most importantly, acquire the essential defensive stops that allowed the Grizzlies to blossom into one of the NBA’s most efficient defensive teams last year.

Also, before producing a season-best four-game undefeated streak, the Grizzlies’ struggles surfaced, in large part

Dwight Howard (far left) and the Rockets overcame a 14-point deficit Monday night to hand the Grizzlies their lastest home defeat, which was Memphis' third in as many games in FedExForum. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

Dwight Howard (far left) and the Houston Rockets erased a 14-point deficit Monday night to hand the Grizzlies their latest home defeat, which was Memphis’ third in as many games in FedExForum. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

because veteran big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the team’s top two scorers, were ineffective offensively, averaging a combine 26.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Additionally, Memphis surrendered 99.4 points to the opposition while committing 16.9 turnovers. However, during the team’s recent road trip, Gasol and Randolph returned to form, averaging a combined 43.8 points and 21 rebounds for a Grizzlies team that suddenly mirrored the proverbial “grit grind” squad that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year.

“I think consistent effort,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, explaining Memphis’ recent home struggles. “I think we’ll play great in a half, three quarters, and then one of those quarters, we let down and we don’t come with the same focus and consistency. We let team back in games. We let teams play harder than us and that’s not in our nature. And we can’t do that at home.”

The good news for a Grizzlies team Joerger contends is trying to find its identity with the key loss of Gasol — who is sidelined indefinitely with an MCL sprain to his left knee — is that there is still much basketball to play in a season that is only 15 games old, one in which the Grizzlies have an ample amount of time to atone for the scattered boos that have been heard throughout their building in recent weeks. After Saturday’s contest against the Nets, the Grizzlies then welcome Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Orlando, and Oklahoma City to FedExForum.

Of those six teams, four advanced to the postseason last year with Memphis eliminating the Clippers and Thunder in the playoffs’ opening two rounds before falling to the Spurs in the conference finals.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Joerger said of the unfavorable reactions from Grizzlies fans of late. “It was a small percentage of people, so it’s not something to go on and on about. It was what it was. We’re going to play as hard as we can. We certainly enjoy playing at home. We’ve had a nice advantage at home in the past. But we’ve caught some teams that had been playing very well. New Orleans came in and played a must-win game. Rudy Gay kind of had his revenge game, which is what most NBA guys will do, so hopefully he got that out of his system. And we played some good teams in San Antonio and Houston. Like I said, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Not to mention help re-establish the Grindhouse as a hostile environment for the opposition.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley expresses support for Bulls star Derrick Rose

Mike Conley can’t recall the last time he played a regular season game against Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley was among the NBA players who expressed support for Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury he suffered last week against Portland. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

REACHING OUT — Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley was among a host of NBA players who expressed support for Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who will miss the remainder of the season with a severe knee injury he suffered last week against Portland. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

“It’s been a while,” the Memphis Grizzlies point guard told MemphiSport following Monday night’s loss against the Houston Rockets in FedExForum. “I got the chance to play against him in the preseason. But it’s not the regular season, so it’s weird not having played against him in the last two or three years.”

The Conley-versus-Rose matchup will be delayed at least until sometime during the 2014-15 season. That’s because the Bulls on Monday announced that Rose, the 2010-11 league MVP, will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear to his right knee.

Rose, a former University of Memphis star who led the Tigers to the 2008 national title game, injured his right knee in the third quarter of last Friday’s game against the Portland Trailblazers. The 25-year-old Rose had the medial meniscus repaired Monday in Chicago and the surgery was successful, according to various media reports.

Rose’s season-ending injury comes 18 months after the Chicago native tore his ACL in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. He missed the entire 2012-13 season, although he returned to full contact drills in January 2013 and doctors cleared him to play approximately two months later.

Rose’s latest injury sent shock waves around the league, most notably among a number of NBA players, who immediately turned to social media sites and posted complimentary messages and well-wishes to show support for the three-time All-Star.

Prior to his injury, Rose was the Bulls’ second-leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points and 31.1 minutes per game.

“You know, everybody was wishing him well,” said Conley, who also expressed his support for Rose via Twitter.

But after witnessing Rose play inspired basketball by scoring 13 points in the Bulls’ 106-87 win over the Grizzlies in Memphis’ preseason opener Oct. 7 in St. Louis, Conley sensed that Rose was on track to return to form much like his MVP campaign two years ago.

Besides the Bulls-Grizzlies preseason game last month, Conley said he can't recall the last regular-season meeting between he and Rose, who has endured a number of injuries in recent years. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Besides the Bulls-Grizzlies preseason game last month, Conley said he can’t recall the last regular-season meeting between he and Rose, who has endured a number of injuries in recent years. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

“I told him I was happy to see him,” Conley said of Rose. “I told him he looks like he’s getting stronger and getting better. He was happy; obviously, he was playing hard. It was good to see him out on the court.”

After word spread that Rose would miss the remainder of the season due to yet another devastating injury, Conley, like a number of Rose’s peers, found the news difficult to stomach.

“You know it hurts man,” Conley, the longest-tenured Grizzly, said when asked how he reacted after learning that Rose would be sidelined for the remainder of the year. “I don’t take injuries lightly at all. And for a guy like him with talent, it’s got to be frustrating. It’s tough. It’s got to be tough with him carrying so much on his shoulders. I mean, he’s carrying that franchise. He was expected to turn that franchise around and he’s done that, and because he can’t play because of his injury has got to be tough on him. We all feel for him, will pray for him, and hopefully he comes back healthy.”

The Grizzlies, who travel to Boston Wednesday night at 6:30 CST, will play the Bulls Dec. 30 in FedExForum. Memphis travels to play Chicago March 7.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Grizzlies reserve center Kosta Koufos is ‘ready’ to replace the injured Marc Gasol

It’s not as if this is all new to Kosta Koufos.

FALLEN GIANT --- Marc Gasol (left), the Grizzlies' second-leading scorer, sustained an MCL sprain to his left knee during Friday's loss to San Antonio. The 7-foot-1 Spaniard will be sidelined indefinitely, sources close to the team said, and six-year veteran Kosta Koufos will be Gasol's likely replacement. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

FALLEN GIANT — Marc Gasol (left), the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, sustained an MCL sprain to his left knee during Friday’s loss to San Antonio. The 7-foot-1 Spaniard will be sidelined indefinitely, sources close to the team said, and six-year veteran Kosta Koufos will be Gasol’s likely replacement. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

Having started 81 games last year for the Denver Nuggets, Koufos said he is eager to fill in for Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who is out indefinitely after a sprained left knee he suffered during Friday’s 102-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

“I’m always excited to play whenever I start or come off the bench,” Koufos said before the Grizzlies’ light workout Sunday morning at the team’s practice facility. “I’ve started many games in my career and I’ve been successful at it.”

Gasol, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, suffered the injury to his left knee with 10:24 remaining in the second quarter of the Grizzlies loss to the Spurs that snapped Memphis’ four-game undefeated streak. An MRI on Saturday revealed that Gasol — whose 17.2 points per game is second-best on the team — has a Grade 2 sprain to the MCL in his knee and that the 7-foot-1 Spaniard will not require surgery, the team announced.

Although there is no timetable for Gasol’s return from an injury Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said is reminiscent to the MCL sprain to his left knee that sidelined him 54 games during the lockout-shortened season two years ago, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger told reporters Sunday he does not have any long-term concerns about the injury to his All-Star center.

“It’ll be what it’ll be and they will let us know how it heals,” Joerger said. “It’s not something I can worry about if it’s going to be three months or six months.”

While Joerger said he will not announce until sometime prior to Monday’s game versus the Houston Rockets in FedExForum on whether Koufos or Ed Davis will get the start, Koufos appears to the be the likely choice to replace Gasol, given he boasts more experience at the center position.

Now in his sixth NBA season, the 24-year-old Koufos has made 114 starts for four different teams before he was traded in late-June to Memphis for Darrell Arthur. His most productive campaign came last year when he started 81 of 82 regular-season games for the Nuggets, averaging eight points in 22-plus minutes.

Joerger said among the things he deems mostly intriguing about Koufos is his assertiveness in the pick and roll offense, one of several key attributes he sensed prompted then-Denver coach George Karl to deposit the 7-foot, 265-pound center in the starting lineup last year.

“He’s a very good pick and roll player,” Joerger said of Koufos. “(The Nuggets) were a drive and kick team. And he was very good and smart enough to know when to stay out of the way. He created and allowed guys to make plays in the gaps so he could catch it and finish. He’s played a lot on the baseline down here, like hiding, so the bigs would step up and make plays on the drive. He’s played a lot of spread pick and roll. But we’re not made that way. We’re different.”

Despite playing in a much different system for a Memphis team that has enjoyed success in recent years, in large part because of its defensive adeptness, Koufos contends he welcomes the lofty challenge of filling in for the injured Gasol.

“I’ll just play into the system and establish myself on defense, just be there to make plays, block shots, stop penetrations to the rim, and get rebounds,” said Koufos who, in 2007, was named MVP after leading the Greek 18-and-under national team to the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship in Spain. “I want to start strong and finish strong, and whatever I can do to help the team win games, I will do that. With the mindset of coming off the bench, you know you have to do extra stuff.”

If Koufos is named the starter Monday against Houston, the first real test for the former Ohio State standout will be to stop Rockets newly-acquired center Dwight Howard, a seven-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

“He’s a great player who I’ve played against a lot,” Koufos said of Howard. “No disrespect, but he’s one of the top centers in the league. But I’m going to be ready for it.”

After all, it’s not as if this is all new to him.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist