Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Durant for league MVP: ‘I don’t care’

Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wasn’t in mood to talk about Kevin Durant on Thursday, particularly all the hoopla surrounding what has been an MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.

“I don’t care,” said Joerger, when asked if Durant is the frontrunner for league MVP.

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T --- Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant's MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, "I don't care." (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T — Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant’s MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, “I don’t care.” (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Whether Joerger’s remarks will serve as bulletin board material, of sorts, for Durant, the NBA’s most-talked-about player, remains a mystery. Regardless, when the Grizzlies (50-32) square off against the Thunder (59-23) Saturday night at 7:30 CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening round playoff series in Chesapeake Arena, the Memphis rookie head coach is fully aware Memphis will be facing a team that’s destined to atone for last year’s second-round upset.

Last year, the Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history after knocking off Oklahoma City four games to one. While Durant was as good as advertised in that series — he averaged 28.8 points and 10.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists through five games — his superb numbers weren’t enough to overpower a deep Grizzlies team, which won four straight after dropping Game 1.

Memphis extended its season, in large part because the Thunder were without All-Star point Russell Westbrook, who missed the remainder of the playoffs 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.

When the teams meet Saturday in what figures to be an intense, rugged postseason matchup for a third consecutive year, OKC will have Westbrook back in the fold. That, according to Joerger, will provide the second-seeded Thunder with something they missed in last year’s series — another efficient scorer to complement what has been arguably the best year in Durant’s six professional seasons.

“Oh, they’re much better (with Westbrook in the lineup), a much more potent team,” Joerger said. “They’re switching a lot of stuff defensively and they’re very athletic and their defense has gotten better and better.”

Still, despite all of the Durant-for-MVP discussions in recent months, Joerger elected to assume the hands-off approach when given the chance to assess the season of the league’s most explosive player. Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in an April 8 win at Sacramento.

PURE DOMINANCE ---Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami's LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

PURE DOMINANCE —Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

When asked if sense Durant will use the MVP award as motivation, or sorts, heading into this series, Joerger once again said, “I don’t care.”

Even if Durant isn’t using his MVP season as inspiration throughout the postseason, last year’s upset to the Grizzlies will almost certainly fuel the fire of the league’s premiere player.

“He’s not going to use the trophy as motivation,” Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince said. “He’s going to use us beating them last year as motivation. That has nothing to do with the MVP season. I don’t think that has anything to do with it at all. It’s more so, ‘These guys got us last year.’”

Earlier this season, Durant publicly pinned most of blame on himself for how last year’s playoff series against Memphis unfolded.

“Individually, I took a lot from that series and looked at what I could have done differently,” Durant told MemphiSport prior to a December 11 game against the Grizzlies. “But it was a learning experience for us all not having our point guard for that series and having to adjust on the fly.”

THUNDER STORM --- Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year's playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

THUNDER STORM — Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year’s playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Now with Westbrook back in the lineup, his presence will restrict the seventh-seeded Grizzlies from placing so much emphasis on Durant, who averages an NBA-best 32 points per game.

“The attention is going to be a lot more tougher with Westbrook being in there this time around, so our job is going to be much harder,” said Prince who, along with shooting guard Tony Allen and reserve swingman James Johnson, will likely be assigned to guard Durant. “The success we had on (Durant) last year, we had so many bodies we could throw at him, so many different things we could do, so many different aspects with Westbrook out.”

Which, of course, will make for an entirely different playoff rematch this time around, especially for a Thunder squad in which its featured player will be christened as the NBA’s No. 1 player in any day now, something about which Prince has paid close attention to.

“I don’t think he’s the frontrunner (for league MVP),” Prince said of Durant. “I think he’s already won it. I mean, they have the second best record in the NBA. He played well throughout the whole year. His basketball awareness went up another level as far as rebounding more, finding other guys, dictating the tempo on the floor.

“Every part of his game went up a notch,” Prince continued. I’m not just talking about putting the ball in the basket. I’m talking about other things on the offensive ends. I think that’s what people wanted to see from him this year and he’s done that. I think Kevin has won it pretty handily this year.”

Regardless of who isn’t in the mood to 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 rush to LeBron’s defense in his decline to meet with St. Jude patient

Memphis Grizzlies veteran swingman Mike Miller joined the Miami Heat the same year LeBron James bolted Cleveland for South Beach.

FULL PLATE --- Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with St. Children's Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

FULL PLATE — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

Among the things Miller deemed mostly intriguing about James is how he often went out of his way to give back to the community.

“He’s about as giving as I’ve ever seen,” Miller said of James.

 

Which, of course, is why Miller was among those who sensed there was more to James’ decision in declining to meet earlier this week with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient Josh Hardy as reported by Memphis’ WREG News Channel 3.

Hardy was a recipient of St. Jude’s Make A Dream Come True. Among his wishes was to attend Wednesday night’s Heat versus Grizzlies game so he could watch James, his favorite player, in action. However, after a request by WREG through a Heat media relations representative to have James meet with Hardy, the two-time reigning league MVP reportedly declined the inquiry.

Still, Hardy was among the 18,000-plus witnesses in attendance and sat in a luxury suite to watch Memphis outlast the two-time defending champs, 107-102, and keep alive its playoff hopes.

Though Hardy didn’t get to meet James, he was given paraphernalia by the Grizzlies organization and got to meet Quincy Pondexter, his favorite player on the team.

Pondexter, the Grizzlies reserve shooting guard who is sidelined with a season-ending tarsal navicular stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a December 7 game against Golden State, sat with Hardy during the game and gave him a basketball that was signed by his teammates.

Grizzlies All-Star power forward Zach Randolph was among the players who autographed Hardy’s basketball, although he said he wasn’t aware that James had declined to meet with the St. Jude patient until after shootaround Friday morning.

Memphis played host to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday at 7 p.m. CST.

Randolph, who in November was given NBA’s Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, said James’ decision not to meet with Hardy could have been because of a conflict in his schedule. Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies was the last on back-to-back nights for the Heat, who hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to  the community.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to the community.

“LeBron does a lot,” Randolph said. He probably was busy. LeBron is a great guy. You know, he does a lot for the community and for the kids. So that’s (Wednesday’s decline) nothing. He’ll probably fly the kid to meet him.”

Miller, who re-signed with the Grizzlies in July after a six-year absence, also rushed to James’ defense, saying the situation likely was a misunderstanding.

“Knowing LeBron as much as I know I him, I doubt the information even got to him,” Miller said. “He takes all of those requests.”

Asked if he believed because the Heat played on consecutive nights was a factor in James having turned down a request to meet with the patient, Miller said, “I think he would have met with him still. I think with that, it had to do with a situation where he probably didn’t get the information.”

While Randolph and Miller wouldn’t say whether they sensed the controversy surrounding James has been blown out of proportion, both agreed the 10-year veteran and four-time league MVP’s track record is such that he is committed to giving back to underprivileged individuals. “He gets those request a lot,” Miller said. Believe me, when it comes to St. Jude and children and giving back, he’s going to do that.”

That James was labeled a “punk” and “thug” by several WREG viewers was unwarranted, Miller said.

“The bottom line is no one knows anybody,” he said. “Until you get to know somebody, it’s difficult to judge them. I reserve judgment on everybody I know.”

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

LeBron appears ready to pass league MVP crown to OKC superstar Kevin Durant

HEADS UP --- Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night's 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant has been the "most consistent player" this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HEADS UP — Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night’s 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant has been the “most consistent player” this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Two world championships. Two NBA Finals MVPs. Two league MVPs.

Surely, the previous two seasons couldn’t have been any better for LeBron James, the NBA’s most celebrated player whom many have labeled the best on the planet.

However, when asked before Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies about this year’s MVP race, James sounded like someone who seemed inclined to deliver a concession speech for the first time in three years.

“I think KD (Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant) has had one heckuva season and if he’s rewarded with the MVP, that’ll be great,” James said. “I mean, it’ll be awesome for him, for his family, whose done a great thing for him. He’s played MVP-type basketball.”

Still, the 29-year-old James, who’s won the award four times in 10 NBA seasons, seemed reluctant to say whether the league’s premiere individual hardware is Durant’s to lose.

“I don’t really get caught up into what people say,” James said. “At the end of the day, they have their own votes and they’ll go from there.”

Heading into the final week of the regular season, it appears all signs point toward Durant being the heavy favorite to possess the league’s MVP award. Through 77 games, Durant undoubtedly has been the NBA’s most efficient player, averaging a league-best 32 points per game. In addition, the seven-year veteran and five-time All-Star is shooting .505 from the field, which is best in the NBA, and shooting .875 from the free throw line, second only to Golden State’s Stephon Curry (.878).

Second only to New York’s Carmelo Anthony in minutes played (38.5), Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone “King James” of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in Tuesday night’s win at Sacramento. While Durant appeared relieved to witness the streak end, James, meanwhile, was complimentary of Durant’s display in recent months.

Asked if he felt Durant is the frontrunner for MVP, James, the NBA’s third-leading scorer said, “I would say he’s playing the most consistent basketball as far as MVP this year. I mean, he’s put up some great numbers.”

James' game-high 37 points Wednesday weren't enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami's leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

James’ game-high 37 points Wednesday weren’t enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami’s leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

 

Indiana’s Paul George, whose Pacers appear to be on a collision course to meet Miami in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, said while the winner of the MVP award is of “no concern” for him, he hinted that James still has a chance to make up ground.

 

 

“It’s up for grab,” George told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “It’s a lot of guys who are doing a great job. (Durant) is having a heckuva year.”

James’ teammate, Heat center Chris Bosh, on the other hand, was rather candid while chiming in on the league MVP race following Miami’s 107-102 loss against the Grizzlies. Bosh, in fact, believes James’ streak of consecutive MVP awards will end in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think so,” said Bosh, when asked if James has a legitimate chance of surpassing Durant in the MVP race. “I think they’ve made up their minds. But you know, no matter what happens, it’s easy for me to say it’s a trophy and you can’t win it every year.”

Although Durant will likely win this year's MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

Although Durant will likely win this year’s MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

What the Heat can accomplish as they prepare to defend back-to-back NBA titles, Bosh said, is use Durant’s likely dethroning of James as motivation, of sorts, once the playoffs commence.

“You can look for anything as motivation for sure,” Bosh said. “When you’re on top, it puts a big X on your back. So it’s not just (motivation) for LeBron, but for everyone.

You know, it’s a unique situation. I don’t know how (winning MVP feels). I never will.”

Regardless of who is named league MVP, James said his primary focus is to help the Heat accomplish the necessary things to ensure the franchise maintain the NBA’s most covenant award for a third consecutive year. In doing so, he said Miami will need a healthy Dwyane Wade back for what figures to be another intense postseason run.

Wade ran sprints on the FedExForum court roughly 90 minutes before Wednesday’s game, but sat out while he continues to recuperate from a strained left hamstring. It was the eighth consecutive game Wade has missed. In all, he has missed 27 outings this year.

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Heat a half game behind Indiana for the top spot in the East.

“It’s very important,” James said of having a healthy Wade in the lineup. “He’s one of Big Three. We’ve won two championships for the most part because we had our Big Three on the floor. When he’s out there, we’re a dynamic team.”

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

AAU standout Kennedy Chandler learning from game’s finest point guards

MAD SKILLS --- Kennedy Chandler is only 11 years. But according to those who have followed him on the AAU basketball circuit in recent years, he boasts more experience at the point guard positions than his peers. (Photos submitted by Kylan Chandler)

MAD SKILLS — Kennedy Chandler is only 11 years. But according to those who have followed him on the AAU basketball circuit in recent years, he boasts more experience at the point guard positions than his peers. (Photos submitted by Kylan Chandler)

If you’re going to be the best, you might as well watch the best.

That is the message Kylan Chandler was trying to get across to his son, Kennedy, when he accompanied him to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.

For the 11-year-old Kennedy, that he was among thousands in attendance to witness mighty Kentucky shock top-seeded and previously-unbeaten Wichita State is something he will recall for some time.

“I had a lot of fun,” Kennedy said. “I learned a lot from watching those (college) players. I learned to always have a good attitude when you lose. I’m happy because God made a great person to play basketball. You should keep your head up no matter what.”

To Kennedy’s credit, he has gone to great lengths to become a fixture while playing competitive basketball, particularly on the AAU circuit, where he has skills have drawn rave reviews from his peers and coaches.

A fifth grader at Briarcrest Christian School, Kennedy has been playing AAU basketball since he was seven but, according to many who have followed his progress, his skills are more advanced then players his age. For starters, this 5-foot-2 speedy point guard has been successful as an amateur, in large part because he his relentless ball-handling skills, let alone his ability to become a facilitator.

In a nutshell, as Kennedy goes, so does those to whom he’s dishing nifty outlet and crosscourt passes.

That was evident Saturday when Kennedy checked into the game midway through the first quarter at Memphis University School. Playing reserve point guard for one of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s 11-and-under AAU teams, Kennedy was his usual reliable self as he wasted little time dictating the pace of the game.

He broke down opposing defenses with his blazing speed and breath-taking penetrations to the basket. He went for loose ball and converted baskets in transition. He routinely got other playing involved in an offensive rhythm while helping propel his team to a decisive 15-point win.

“At his age, God has given him a gift,” said Kylan Chandler. “His court awareness on the floor is impeccable. His court awareness on the floor is special. He’s all about getting his teammates involved. If he scores 15 points, you won’t know it because he’s so focused on getting others involved.”

Raheem Shabazz, Kennedy’s strength and conditioning coach, said among the things that separates Kennedy from other players is his relentless work ethic while preparing for competition.

Among the events in which Kennedy will participate in the coming weeks is LeBron James' Shooting Stars tournament later in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

NATIONAL STAGE — Among the AAU events in which Kennedy will participate in the coming weeks is LeBron James’ Shooting Stars tournament in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

“Kennedy has progressed tremendously during training,” said Shabazz, owner of Team Shabazz Speed And Agility Training. “He had become more explosive through speed, agility, and strength training through various techniques and explosive moments. He is an extremely hard worker and is eager to become stronger and more athletic everyday.”

Said Kennedy’s AAU coach Carlos Williams: “I have been watching Kennedy since second grade when he won the AAU nationals. It’s just a blessing that he’s playing with us now. Of all the talent I’ve seen, Kennedy is the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2021. There is nothing he can’t do. He can dribble under pressure. He can shoot from three or mid-range, play man defense, make plays for his teammates, and facilitate for his team. He’s just a point you would love to have.”

While Kennedy, in most instances, is the smallest player on the floor in many of his games, his skills essentially overshadows his small frame. Among the reasons is that not only this self-proclaimed “gym rat” works vigorously on his mechanics, but he spends an ample amount of time watching the brightest floor facilitators in the world.

Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul and Cleveland Cavaliers phenom Kyrie Irving to name a few.

“I always watch other point guards so I can learn their moves,” Kennedy said. “They’re really good and they work hard and so that’s what I need to do to get to the NBA.”

With the guidance of his father and his step mother, Rosalind Chandler, Kennedy has become a force in his brief time on the AAU circuit. As a member of the We All Can Go All-Stars 11-and-under team last year, he averaged a team-best 23.3 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals per game. In addition, he engineered the eight-and-under team to national championship in 2011 and guided the nine-and-under squad to 31-3 mark in 2012.

FATHERLY LOVE --- Kylan Chandler is arguably Kennedy's grandest fan, considering he travels throughout the country to watch his son perform on the AAU circuit.

FATHERLY LOVE — Kylan Chandler is arguably Kennedy’s grandest fan, considering he travels throughout the country to watch his son perform on the AAU circuit.

That he has developed a keen knack for winning and has proven to be unselfish at his age prompted one premiere college coach to applaud his rise as a young athlete, one whose best days are ahead of him.

“Coach (University of Memphis) Pastner told him to work on his assists-to-turnover ratio,” Kylan Chandler said.

He will have plenty of opportunities to do just that in the coming weeks and during the summer months.

Kennedy’s AAU team is scheduled to make trips to North Carolina, New Jersey, and Ohio over the next few weeks, most notably an appearance to play in Miami Heat star LeBron James’ James Shooting Stars Tournament in Akron, Ohio.

For the Chandlers, their son’s itinerary will allow him to generate more exposure, let alone add to his basketball repertoire on the AAU circuit.

“You should always have fun while playing and then take (what you learned) to the gym and work on them,” Kennedy said. “When I don’t have anything to do, I work on (my skills). But first, I do my homework and then I work on them.”

Yet another message about which his parents have taught him since he first picked up a basketball.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Marc Gasol shines against Pacers despite ankle injury he suffered against Miami

HUGE CENTERPIECE --- Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night's game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis' 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

HUGE CENTERPIECE — Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night’s game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis’ 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

During his pregame media availability session Saturday night, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger took all but 26 seconds to provide reporters with an update surrounding the latest injury to center Marc Gasol.

“He’s going to be a game-time decision, but we’re hoping he plays,” Joerger said. “But we’ll see how his warm-ups go and how comfortable he is.”

Though Gasol did not participate in pregame shoot around, the 7-foot-1 Spaniard underwent treatment for a Grade 1 left ankle sprain a source close to the team told MemphiSport before Saturday’s game versus the Indiana Pacers.

During pregame warm-ups, Gasol appeared unfazed by an ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter of Grizzlies’ 91-86 loss at Miami Friday. While it is unclear just how severe the injury was, the Grizzlies elected to hold Gasol out the entire fourth for precautionary reasons after he scored 14 points and managed six rebounds against the Heat.

However, the six-year veteran and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year was in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game, wearing a protective brace around his knee.

Gasol finished with 10 points on 4–of-11 shooting in 38-plus minutes as the Grizzlies earned a gutsy win against the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, 82-71, before an announced sellout crowd in FedExForum.

Late in the second quarter against Indiana, Gasol erased any doubts as to whether his ankle would be a concern for a Grizzlies team that entered Saturday’s contest eighth in the West and fighting for its playoffs lives.

With Memphis clinging to a nine point lead, Gasol fielded a backdoor pass from Zach Randolph, penetrated hard to the basket then converted a two-handed slam at the 2:44 mark. That play was followed by Gasol’s baseline jump hook over Indiana’s David West that increased the Grizzlies’ lead to 43-30 at the half.

Among those relieved to see Gasol return after he was limited to approximately 2 ½ quarters of action the previous night was Randolph.

“We need him,” Randolph said. “That’s our big fella. That’s our anchor. I was just praying he would be all right.”

Fortunately for the Grizzlies (41-28), who are seeking their fourth consecutive postseason berth, Gasol’s ankle injury didn’t cause him to miss a significant amount of time. For starters, Memphis got back into playoff contention, in large part because the 2012 All-Star returned to the lineup in mid-January after nearly a two-month absence. He had been efficient ever since.

Prior to suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee during a Nov. 22 loss to San Antonio, Gasol was the Grizzlies’ second-leading scoring, averaging 16 points per game. Since his return, his 13.8 points is third-best for Memphis, which went 8-2 in March with Gasol in the fold.

NO WORRIES --- Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday's game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

NO WORRIES — Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday’s game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose Pacers (51-19) entered Saturday’s game with a three-game lead over Miami for the top spot in the East, said having a player of Gasol’s caliber in good health is crucial at this stage in the season.

“Anytime a player like Gasol is out, it certainly weakens what they do,” Vogel said. “But certainly they’re capable of winning basketball games (without Gasol) as they’ve shown. They played a lot with him this year, so to me, there’s some familiarity there. In some ways, it’s rewarding for other guys to get a chance to step up. But anytime you have a key guy to go down, it challenges everything you’re doing.”

That Gasol’s ankle injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him out of the lineup Saturday caused the Grizzlies to breathe a collective sigh of relief with 13 regular-season games remaining.

With the Grizzlies well in command, 79-65, against the Pacers, Gasol left the game for good with 1:52 left in the fourth and was replaced by fellow big man Kosta Kufos, who started 22 games when Gasol went down in November.

“As the day went on, I was pretty confident I was going to be able to play,” Gasol told reporters afterward. “Everyone who got in the game contributed. Everybody played the right way. It was a really good win for us after a tough loss (Friday) night on the road. I thought we did a good job of coming in and playing our game.”

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

Grizz Mike Miller to receive second championship ring in his return to Miami

SOUTH BEACH BOND --- Four-time league and two-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James was among the players with whom former Miami Heat swingman Mike Miller enjoyed playing. Miller, now in his second stint with Memphis Grizzlies, returns to Miami Friday for the first time since helping the Heat win their third NBA crown last year. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

SOUTH BEACH BOND — Four-time league and two-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James was among the players with whom former Miami Heat swingman Mike Miller enjoyed playing. Miller, now in his second stint with Memphis Grizzlies, returns to Miami Friday for the first time since helping the Heat win their third NBA crown last year. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Mike Miller has two notable words for the Miami Heat organization when he enters American Airlines Arena for shoot around Friday morning.

“Thank you,” the Memphis Grizzlies swingman said prior to the team’s light workout Thursday afternoon at its practice facility.

To get a clear indication of why Miller is so appreciative of Heat management, look no further than what has transpired in his career in recent years. Miller’s 14 NBA seasons include three years in Miami, a stint by which the 34-year-old veteran will remember for the rest of his life.

Miller was a member of the Heat squad that has won consecutive NBA championships and is a heavy favorite to three-peat this year.

Come Friday night, moments before the Grizzlies face the Heat at 6:30 CST, Miller will receive his second championship ring.

For Miller, a former University of Florida star, while he contends that Friday’s pregame presentation likely won’t give way to him being overcome by emotions, he said acquiring his second ring will prompt him to relish the memories he established during his brief tenure at South Beach.

Signed by the Grizzlies weeks after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in seven games for the franchise’s third NBA title, Miller played for Miami from 2010-2013. His three seasons with the Heat are comprised of 139 appearances, including 58 postseason outings. In addition, he made 21 starts, including 17 last year during which he averaged 15.3 minutes per game.

Arguably his grandest moment in a Heat uniform came during the 2012 NBA Finals against Oklahoma City when Miller scored 23 points on the strength of an NBA Finals record seven three pointers.

Miami went on to defeat the Thunder in five games, giving Miller his first championship.

In assessing his brief stint in Miami, Miller said among the things he deemed mostly intriguing was playing alongside four-time league and two-time Finals MVP LeBron James.

“It was a lot of fun,” Miller said. “To see how hard he worked was humbling. And to be a part of what he was doing was exciting. So it was a lot of fun, made your job a lot easier. I missed that part of it for sure.”

As for collecting more championship hardware before squaring off against his former teammates, Miller said more than anything, he hopes the much-anticipated exchange will inspire a Grizzlies team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year.

WALKING IN MEMPHIS --- Miller reunited with Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol after signing with Memphis weeks after the Heat won the franchise's third world title. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

WALKING IN MEMPHIS — Miller reunited with Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol after signing with Memphis weeks after the Heat won the franchise’s third world title. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“I think more than anything, it makes you hungry,” Miller said. “Once you get a taste of it…it’s actually worse than not winning it at all. My whole goal now is to find a way to get another one. I know it’s not going to be easy because I realize how hard it was just to get (to the NBA Finals) the last three years. And winning it was definitely hard. So it’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely a mission of mine.”

If nothing else, Miller said the Grizzlies, after coming one round short of the NBA Finals last year, should view his pregame ring presentation as motivation, of sorts, as they continue to lobby for a playoff spot for a fourth consecutive year.

“They should be,” Miller said. “I think if they’re not, there’s something wrong. I feel it’s everybody’s goal to do that. You know, making the Western Conference Finals is a heckuva accomplishment. Just having that success should put a taste in their mouths to want to win a championship. But to make it to that next step, to the (NBA) Finals is harder, and winning a championship, it’s even harder than that.”

As Miller tells it, that he’s receiving his second championship ring Friday couldn’t have come at a better time now that he’s back with the Grizzlies (40-27), who currently own the seventh spot in the West with 15 regular-season games remaining.

It’s a great timing for this because it will inspire them,” Miller said. “Like I said, it’s the whole reason everyone’s out here. It’s the whole reason we put in all the hours now, to win at any level. When you see the championship and how it affects you as a person and player can only help.”

Come Friday night, the Mitchell, South Dakota native will not only show gratitude to his former employer for three memorable years, but he will be afforded the luxury of basking in championship glory.

Once again.

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

 

Memphis talk show host Tamara Thompson remembers Lorenzen Wright with video

Tamara Thompson describes Lorenzen Wright as a “hometown hero.”

'HOMETOWN HERO' --- Former NBA player Lorenzen Wright, appearing in a January 2009 game against Charlottle last played for the Cleveland Cavaliers before his gruesome death in July 2010. Memphian Tamara Thompson recently assembled a video in his honor, a two-part interview with Wright's mother, Deboran Marion, that is available on YouTube. (Photo by Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

‘HOMETOWN HERO’ — Former NBA player Lorenzen Wright, appearing in a January 2009 game against Charlotte, last played for the Cleveland Cavaliers before his gruesome death in July 2010. Memphian Tamara Thompson recently assembled a video in his honor, a two-part interview with Wright’s mother, Deboran Marion, that is available on YouTube. (Photo by Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

“He did so much for the community such as holding free basketball camps and feeding all of the kids free every day,” Thompson told MemphiSport. “He was there physically encouraging the kids daily.”

That Wright, a former University of Memphis basketball All-American who played 13 NBA seasons for six different teams, gave earnestly to the community is among the reasons Thompson deemed it essential to assemble a video in his honor in which she highlighted  Wright’s mother, Deborah Marion, during a two-part interview on her weekly show, Real Talk With Tamara.

The show airs every Sunday at 6:30 a.m. CST on Comcast channel 31.

Wright’s body was found on July 28, 2010 in a wooded area on Callis Cutoff Road just west of Hacks Cross Road, ten days after he left his ex-wife’s home in Collierville. Consequently, his family filed a missing persons report on July 22 and it was reported that a 9-1-1 call was made from his mobile phone on the morning of July 19 to a Germantown police dispatcher during which gun shots were fired. Nearly four years removed from Wright’s gruesome murder, the case is still being investigated as a homicide, although there have been no arrests.

According to Thompson, a longtime employee of a local law enforcement agency, she believes her recently-assembled video that features Wright’s mother discussing the events surrounding her son’s death and his contributions to his native hometown will convince authorities not to place the case by the wayside.

“I’ve always followed the case,” Thompson said. “It saddens me that a case with so many clues could go cold. To see his mother fighting for justice alone saddens me. So I wanted to use my show as a vehicle to help his mother keep his cold case out there until it’s solved.”

Also, Thompson hopes footage of the two-part interview with Wright’s mother would persuade authorities to raise more money for his reward fund, something she believes could force those who might perhaps have leads surrounding Wright’s death to come forth.

Since Wright’s shocking murder — which was highlighted on TV One’s Celebrity Crime files in September 2013 — Thompson has established a close-knit relationship with Wright’s family.

“She has been very welcoming,” Thompson said of Wright’s mother. “We have a common goal and that is we want to see this case solved. I’ve grown to really love her and even after justice is served — and I feel that it will be because I have faith — I still want to remain contact with her. She is definitely the epitome of a parent that’s a soldier for justice for their child.”

Wright's 13-year NBA career includes five seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2001-2006. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Wright’s 13-year NBA career includes five seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2001-2006. (Getty Images)

Besides the Wright family, Thompson said the video, which also is available on YouTube, will convince Memphians to keep an eye and ear out on a case she feels should have been solved years ago.

“I feel it would be positive, it will reignite the flame to want to see justice served, because this could happen to anybody’s loved one,” Thompson said. “We are able to put ourselves in Lorenzen’s mother’s shoes. She a grieving mother that just wants justice served for her son. This is somebody’s son. This is somebody’s father and brother. They all loved him and they want peace.

“I think Memphians will see this (video) and say it’s time that this case comes out of the cold case files,” Thompson continued. We want justice for our hometown hero. Because is someone as popular as Lorenzen Wright can be murdered and the case goes as cold as many clues as they have, what hope for justice does someone with less popularity have is this happened?”

An Oxford, Miss. native, Wright emerged as a McDonald’s All-American at Memphis Booker T. Washington before playing two seasons at the U of M. After declaring early entry into the NBA draft, the 6-foot-11 Wright was taken with the seventh overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1996.

His professional stint includes five seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2001-2006. Wright last played for the Cleveland during the 2008-2009 campaign and held a career average of 8.0 points and 6.4 rebounds while appearing in 778 games.

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

LeBron on his Mount Rushmore comments: ‘I don’t care what people say or think’

DALLAS — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James said before Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks that he has no plans to watch his taped delayed interview with NBA TV last week in which he revealed his Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.

HEATED FUED --- Miami Heat star LeBron James reacted to Shawn Marion's comments Tuesday in which the Dallas Mavericks swingman (right) said James doesn't belong on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats. Said James before Tuesday night's game at Dallas: "I don't care what Shawn Marion or anybody else says about the way I play basketball." (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

HEATED FEUD — Miami Heat star LeBron James reacted to Shawn Marion’s comments Tuesday in which the Dallas Mavericks swingman (right) said James doesn’t belong on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats. Said James before Tuesday night’s game at Dallas: “I don’t care what Shawn Marion or anybody else says about the way I play basketball.” (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

However, when asked his reactions to Mavericks swingman Shawn Marion’s comments following shoot around Tuesday morning in which he said James doesn’t belong on pro basketball’s version of Mount Rushmore because, “There’s a lot of guys who have done a lot more than he has done,” James was forthright with reporters, saying, among other things, “I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

In a nationally-televised interview that aired Monday night, James said that by the time his career ends, he would be considered one the top four players to ever play the game and that he should have a spot on the Mount Rushmore of NBA legends. Consequently, the four-time league Most Valuable Player was asked to reveal his personal Mount Rushmore, or whom he believed was the four greatest players of all time.

James quickly uttered what he deemed the “easy three,” which included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. After pausing momentarily, he named Oscar Robertson as his fourth choice, a development that apparently offended Hall of Famer and 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell, who addressed James directly about the subject before Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans. While James reiterated that his comments on NBA TV were misinterpreted, he didn’t refute his statements in which he said he would be amongst the NBA’s finest when he calls it career.

To his credit, the 29-year-old James demonstrated once again Tuesday why many have labeled him the best basketball player in the world. James scorched the Mavericks with a season-high 42 points on 16-of-23 shooting to lift the Heat to their straight win, 117-106, before 20,461 witnesses in American Airlines Center.

“I don’t care what people say or what people think,” James said in response to Marion’s comments. “That’s not my concern because I think once again it was blown out of context. But I feel like when it’s all said and done, one of my personal goals is to be one of the greatest who can ever play this game. And I won’t sell myself short, and I won’t stop and continue saying and thinking what I believe. So it doesn’t matter what Shawn Marion or anybody else says about the way I play the game of basketball.”

James addresses reporters in the locker room before Tuesday night's game against the Dallas Mavericks. Miami prevailed, 117-106, behind James' game-high 42 points.

James addresses reporters in the locker room before Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Miami prevailed, 117-106, behind James’ game-high 42 points. (Photo by Andre Johnson/MemphiSport)

Asked if Marion’s remarks will serve as bulletin board material as he aims to guide the Heat to a third consecutive NBA crown, James, who is seeking his third world championship, said, “No, I don’t need bulletin board material. My bullentin material is the name on the back of my jersey and the name on the front of my jersey and the youth and kids I inspire everyday, every time I go out on the basketball court. And I witnessed that Saturday when I had my foundation event in New Orleans, when I was able to give back to the Boys and Girls Clubs with about 30 to 35 or 40 kids smiling by my presence being there.

“And I can understand my calling is much bigger than basketball,” James, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, continued. “So when everyone else is focusing on basketball, I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

Of course, the 10-time All-Star and two-time reigning league MVP couldn’t resist ending  his pregame interview session without bringing reporters to laughs by taking a jab at those who sense he doesn’t belong on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.

“No one can guard me one-on-one,” James said.

With a straight face.

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

Shawn Marion says LeBron doesn’t belong on Mount Rushmore of NBA greats

STAR WATCH --- Miami Heat superstar LeBron James takes a break following Tuesday's hour-long shoot around in Dallas' American Airlines Center. During a nationally-televised interview last week, James said he will be amongst the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats when his career ends. (Photo by C. Lee Guy)

STAR WATCH — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James takes a break following Tuesday’s hour-long shoot around in Dallas’ American Airlines Center. During a nationally-televised interview last week, James said he will be amongst the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats when his career ends. (Photo by C. Lee Guy)

DALLAS — Shawn Marion says, “Not right now.”

That was the Dallas Mavericks swingman’s immediate response Tuesday moring when asked if he thinks Miami Heat superstar LeBron James belongs on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.

“You know, I think he’s a very talented and he isn’t done playing,” Marion said of James following the Mavericks’ shoot around in American Airlines Center as Dallas prepares to face Miami here at 7 p.m. CST. ”So right now, no. There’s alot of guys who have done alot more than he has done and they’re definitely going to be up there.”

Last week, James orchestrated an ongoing debate among media pundits when he said during an NBA TV interview, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure.” James who, in recent weeks, has spoked openingly about being one of the greatest players of all time, was responding to a question during the interview when asked to reveal his personal Mount Rushmore, or the four greatest players of all time.

Without hesitation, the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player called out Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson, referring to the Hall of Famers as his “easy three.” However, James paused briefly before deciding on Oscar Robertson as his fourth and decisive choice.

Such selections seemingly raised the eye brows of NBA legend Bill Russell who, according to TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, read a quote from the 80-year-old Hall of Famer and 11-time NBA champion, who personally addressed James about his Mount Rushmore choices.

“Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore,” Russell said to James before Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans. I’m glad you did. Basketball is a team game, it’s not for individual honors. I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college. I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship in my last year, and nine in between. That, Mr. James, is etched in stone.”

A seemingly fatigue James, who sat on the sideline with ice packs draped over both knees Tuesday but told MemphiSport, “I don’t know when was the last time I’ve actually got some rest,” wasn’t available to speak with reporters following the hour-long shootaround session. However, Heat All-Star center Chris Bosh wasted little time defending his teammate of three-plus seasons.

“Who else has four MVPs?” said Bosh, when asked to assess Marion’s comments. “You know, I can’t think of many guys. And if somebody else has, let me know. He’s one of the best players to ever play the game.”

James, who led the Heat to their third NBA title in franchise history last year, has won four league MVP awards in his 11-year career. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

PROVEN WINNER — James, who led the Heat to their third NBA title in franchise history last year, has won four league MVP awards in his 11-year career. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

While Miami coach Erik Spoelstra declined to take jabs at Marion’s dauntless comments regarding James’ Mount Rushmore discussion, he elected to take a somewhat unique approach in defense of the NBA’s most talked about player.

“It’s impossible to put faces from different generations,” Spoelstra said. “And I guess that’s what makes those arguments compelling. Somehow, we need to come up with some kind of three of youth, some kind of fountain of youth where guys can go back in their primes and play each other. And that would be the most interesting thing to see.”

If nothing else, the 29-year-old James undountedly is making a strong case that he could very well be deemed one of the greatest players to ever grace an NBA court. Not only is James — who is still in the prime of an NBA career that spans 11 seasons — years removed from having silence an array of critics in the aftermath of “The Decision” fiasco that erupted after he bolted Cleveland four years ago, but he’s continuing to construct what is shaping up to be an astouding resume now that he has consecutive world titles to complement multiple league MVP trophies.

So why not carve out James’ face amongest the NBA’s finest on the celebrated structure that is Mount Rushmore?

“At the end of his career, who know?” Marion said. “I’m not saying that’s not going to happen. But right now? No. You’ve got some heckuva players who played in this league. Alot of them got five or championships. That’ll be tough. Think about what legends that are already up there. Big Oscar (Robertson) will definitely be up there. Bill Russell. Wilt Chamberlain. You can mix and shuffle those around with a couple of more legends. It’s tough. We’ve got some great players that have played this game. So that’s a hard one to shuffle around.”

Which, according to Spoelstra, makes for a compelling argument.

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

Top 5 Moments Of Rudy Gay’s Grizzlies Career

Rudy Gay was traded in a three team deal that sent him and Hamed Haddadi to Toronto.

Rudy Gay was traded in a three team deal that sent him and Hamed Haddadi to Toronto. (Photo by Chris Evans)

It finally happen.  Rudy Gay has been traded, getting Memphis under the luxury tax, and making them more flexible financially.  Gay started his career in Memphis and was the longest tenured Grizzlies player on the team.  He was the face of the franchise, holding the all-time record for games played (479) and minutes played (17338) as a member of the Grizzlies. However, he was not living up to his max contract, and with Memphis on the verge of having to pay a luxury tax he had to be dealt.There is no more speculation about where he will go, or talk about how he is not living up to his max contract.  Gay gave fans several great moments, and now that he is gone, we should all take a step back and reflect on the good times Gay has given the fans on the court.

Charity game
With the NBA lockout in full force, Gay found a way to give fans some of the professional basketball action that they so desperately craved.  He put on a charity game highlighted by NBA superstars Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Tyreke Evans, with all proceeds going to his Flight 22 Foundation. Gay’s team lost 158-151, but he led all scorers with 45 points and countless jaw dropping dunks.  It might not have been a NBA game, but the fact he was able to bring his superstar buddies to Memphis showed how much he cared about the community, and it certainly gave us a very memorable moment.

The ”Make your own luck” game
His headband curse is infamous.  It seems like every time Gay wears one, he plays poorly.  However, on January 23, 2012, after trainers poked fun at him for his performance while wearing a headband, Gay decided to wear one against the Golden State Warriors.  The Grizzlies were down by 20 points with 3:43 left in the third quarter, and the Warriors were supposed to cruise to a big win.  Yet that is not what happened, thanks in part to Gay’s performance.  He led the team with 23 points (19 in the second half), and when Memphis needed a bucket to ice the game, Gay connected on a beautiful fade-away jump shot with just 22 seconds left in the game.  He did more than just score that night, he was a play maker and a facilitator.  It was one of those nights where he looked like a max player, as he helped lead a furious comeback to get a solid victory for Memphis.  Then after the game, with a grin on his face, he showed us that infectious charisma of his and uttered quite possibly the most famous words of his life, “Kids out there, make your own luck.”

“No not this guy!” shot against the Raptors
It is ironic that one of Gay’s most memorable moments has come against the team that he is now a member.  The score was 98-98 with just 18.1 seconds left the game with Gay inbounding the ball, which is all very routine.  He hits Mike Conley, gets a down screen from Marc Gasol, and catches the Conley pass at the top of the key, which is still very routine. With time dwindling on the game clock Gay takes two dribbles to his right, elevates, and hits his patented jumper with almost no time left, which is still part of the routine.  That shot is his go to move, his length makes it difficult to contest, and the Raptors should have expected it.  So why is this very routine shot against the lowly Raptors one of Gay’s most memorable moments?

Well unbeknownst to Gay, the Raptors, or any of us there was a fan recording the final seconds of the game.  When Gay touches the ball, you can hear the panic, fear, and general displeasure in the fan’s voice,  “No it’s Rudy Gay!  Not this Guy!  Not this guy,” as Gay hits the game winning jump shot. The fan’s reaction is hilarious (Watch the NSFW video), and it is a moment that will live on forever in Grizzlies lore.

UPDATE: Famous Raptors fan who went nuts on YouTube reacts to Rudy Gay trade on MSL

41 point game
On December 13, 2009 Gay scored 40 plus points for the first and only time in his career, setting a career high in points against the Heat.  He was unstoppable, hitting 15-28 shots from the field and 3-4 from three.  Memphis was a remarkable plus 35 points with him on the court, as he literally had his way the Heat.  It was one of those games where Gay showed why he was becoming one of the NBA’s top up and coming young talents, and why it might be worth paying big bucks to keep him.  Memphis did just that, signing him to a max deal, but he just never lived up to his contract and he is now a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Game winner over Lebron James
Another game winner tops the list of most memorable Gay moments.  This time it comes against one of the best players in the NBA, Lebron James.  After James tied the game thanks to a Gay turnover, it seemed like the contest was going into overtime.  There was just 5.5 seconds left on the clock, and momentum was strictly in the Heat’s favor.  It was a tough night for Gay, who James had effectively took out of the game on the offensive end.  Before the game winning shot, Gay was just 4-12 from the field and 0-3 from behind the arch.  However, that did not deter him, and with the game on the line Gay rose up over James and hit the game winner as time expired.  It was a good day to be Gay and a good day for Grizzlies fans everywhere.

CJ Hurt covers NBA basketball for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.

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