Join MSL and HardBashin producer CJ Hurt and Sports 56 producer and WUMR Sports Desk host Drew Barrett as they take you on a sports odyssey full of twists, turns, and a good time during MSL‘s Playing Hurt Podcast.
Join MSL and HardBashin producer CJ Hurt and Sports 56 producer and WUMR Sports Desk host Drew Barrett as they take you on a sports odyssey full of twists, turns, and a good time during MSL‘s Playing Hurt Podcast.
EDITOR’S NOTE: When Mike Conley, Jr. entered the NBA ranks in 2007, he was widely viewed as an unproven rookie and the son of Olympic gold and silver medalist triple jumper Mike Conley, Sr. Now in his seventh professional season for the Memphis Grizzlies, Conley, the longest-tenured player on the roster, has emerged as arguably the most underappreciated point guard in the NBA. No doubt, the 27-year-old Conley is the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that boasts the league’s best record and is a legitimate contender to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year. During a recent exclusive interview with MemphiSport NBA Southwest Division reporter Andre Johnson, Conley spoke about the lofty expectations for this year’s team as well as assessed what has been a stellar career for the native of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Here are 11 questions for No. 11.
ANDRE: A lot has been said about the organization drafting Memphian Jarnell Stokes back in June. What’s so special about his presence on the team?
MIKE: Jarnell’s done a great job for us since Day 1. He has brought energy to our team. You know, he’s a hard-nosed worker and he wants to get better. He has two great big men to learn from in Marc (Gasol) and Zach (Randolph) and even Kosta (Koufos) and Jon (Leuer). You know, those guys have a wealth of experience and can help Jarnell. I think he’s done a great job with the minutes he’s been given. He really hasn’t been able to show much out there as he wants to. But for the most part, in his short time, he’s done a great job, knowing the plays, where to be on the floor, being in the right spots and capitalizing off that.
ANDRE: Zach Randolph decided in the offseason to return to the organization. There were many speculations as to whether he might move on, but he’s back in a Grizzlies uniform. In your estimation, how special is it having Zach back?
MIKE: It is huge. He’s the head of this ship, man. He always will be. He’s made this team what it is today. So without him, we wouldn’t be here. With him, we’re like family, so it’s awesome to have him back.
ANDRE: Did the Grizzlies get better in the offseason?
MIKE: I thought we did get better in the offseason. And not only because of (the acquisition) Vince Carter and the rookies, but a lot of guys have added a little bit more to their game. So we’re looking forward to a lot of guys stepping up and taking on different roles. They’ll have more on their plate, so hopefully that’ll improve our team and give us a chance to make a deep run.
ANDRE: Much had been said about your constant progress last year, particularly before the All-Star break. In fact, there were a lot of national media prognosticators who sensed you should have gotten serious consideration to represent the West in the All-Star Game. But because the West is so deep at that position with the Chris Pauls and Damian Lillards of the world, you weren’t selected. Do you feel at this stage in your career you’re getting the respect you deserve?
MIKE: Um…slowly. You know, it’s a journey, man. It’s been a journey for me just trying to get better every year and getting attention by adding more to my game and proving that I can play. So I think people are starting to understand my style of play and I just want to keep getting better and not worry about whether people will respect me or not. I just want to go out there and play the best basketball I can.
ANDRE: Obviously, this team would like to finish in the top three or top four in the Western Conference standings heading into the postseason. But what are your personal expectations in this, your seventh NBA season?
MIKE: I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better leader for this team, want to be someone everybody can count on. Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance. You know, everyone wants to be an All-Star. But I’m beyond that. I just want to win. If we win, I think we’ll get the attention we deserve.
ANDRE: Now, of course, (Grizzlies head coach Dave) Joerger is back after much reshuffling in the front office in the offseason. Describe your relationship with your coach.
MIKE: It was good that Dave came back because we didn’t need a new rotation of coaches coming in. We need that stability. He’s been here pretty much my entire career and just to have him here as the head coach two years in a row will be great. After his first season, he’s going to be much better.
ANDRE: Speaking of head coaches, Lionel (former Grizzlies coach Hollins) has resurfaced in the head-coaching ranks in the league. Of course, a lot of people felt he should have landed a head coaching job last year. Lionel was very, very big on you, particularly when people said negative things about your style of play. How happy were you when he resurfaced in the NBA?
MIKE: I was very happy for him. I texted him, called him and congratulated him. It was well-deserved, man. He’s a great coach. I know they (Brooklyn Nets) got a good one and he’s looking forward to that opportunity and he’s going to make the best of it.
ANDRE: In terms of NBA point guards, you’ve made a name for yourself. Clearly, your stock has risen and people are now starting to respect your overall body of work. But who are among of the NBA point guards Mike Conley likes to watch?
MIKE: Who Mike Conley likes to watch? Well, I like to watch the ones on all 32 teams.
ANDRE: Of course, I can’t let you off the hook that easily, Mike. Tell me. Who do you like to watch the most?
MIKE: Well, every team has a great point guard. You have athletic points like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. You have some smaller points…Isaiah Thomas is a good one and plays well. Eric Bledsoe is another good one. So you have a lot of good ones. But I can tell you it’s tough to play against them. It’s not too much to watch them. But I have to deal with them on the court.
ANDRE: Is there any player on the team you hang out with on a regular basis?
MIKE: I pretty much hang out with all of them. We try to do as much together as we can. But Marc is probably the closet one I’m with.
ANDRE: Do you expect to be more vocal this year as the Grizzlies’ floor general?
MIKE: I do. I figured I’ve earned the respect to do that, just coming out and being assertive and more vocal because they believe in me running the show.
ANDRE: Here’s a bonus question, Mike. Of course, you’re an Ohio State man after having played two seasons for the Buckeyes. This is seemingly a down year for Michigan football. But I’ve got to ask you this as these schools prepare to meet in a few weeks. Ohio State or Michigan?
MIKE: Ohio State, man.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.
Is there any category Grizz cannot win? He pulled off the infamous M Awards hat trick after winning Favorite Mascot, Best Dressed and Best Off Beat Moment. If he get she hat trick, Grizz may become the unofficial mascot of the M Awards presented by the 17th Annual Sports Ball Black-Tie Tennis Shoe Gala.
Grizz as famous pro wreslters, First Place: 26%
Rob Fischer, Second Place: 18%
Mike Conley & his wooden hat, Third Place: 15%
Visit MemphiSport.com daily in the month of July for a new winner in MemphiSport’s annual M Awards presented by the 17th Annual Sports Ball Black-Tie Tennis Shoe Gala.
MORE WINNERS: VIEW ALL OF THE M AWARDS WINNERS ANNOUNCED SO FAR
Quincy Pondexter is clinging to hope.
While talking midrange jumper following a shootaround session last week, the Memphis Grizzlies reserve shooting guard appeared unaffected by the stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a Dec. 9 loss against GoldenState.
Days later, the team announced that Pondexter would miss the remainder of the season.
“I’m fine. I just took a couple of joke-around shots,” Pondexter told MemphiSport as the Grizzlies prepared for their regular season finale against the Dallas Mavericks.
Although Pondexter has yet to be cleared by doctors to resume practicing, the former University of Washington star hinted the possibility exists that he could return during Memphis’ playoff stretch.
The No. 7 seed Grizzlies took a two games to one lead in their best-of-7 opening round playoff series Thursday night with a 98-95 overtime win against the No. 2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in FedExForum. Game 4 is Saturday night at 8:30 CST.
“It depends on how far of a run they make,” Pondexter said, when asked if he could return during the playoffs. “ I could possibly be available. I don’t know yet. I haven’t discussed the time table with doctors.”
If Pondexter is cleared to return, he would add more depth to a bench that has produced quality minutes through two playoff games.
The 26-year-old, Fresno, Calif. native played a pivotal role in Memphis’ dramatic postseason run last year that ended in the Western Conference Finals.
Pondexter appeared in 15 playoff games last year, registering career highs in points (8.9) and minutes played (23.8). In all, he’s appeared in 22 postseason games since he was traded to the Grizzlies from New Orleans in December 2011 for Greivis Vasquez.
Although he has not been cleared to return to action, Pondexter said he’s recouping comfortably and would welcome the opportunity to give it a go if the Grizzlies manage to upset the Thunder.
“It’s feels great,” said Pondexter, when asked about the status of his foot. “I’ve been conditioning a few weeks now. You know, I see a lot of progress. But I’m fine. That’ll be awesome (if cleared to play) because I really want to get out there and play. I’m excited. I’m glad (the Grizzlies) are doing well.”
The past two seasons have been challenging for Pondexter, considering he has battled an assortment of injuries. Prior to his season-ending foot injury, Pondexter was limited to 59 games during the 2012-13 season because of a right MCL sprain.
Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.
No matter what Mike Conley did on the court (including winning 2014 NBA Sportsmanship Award) could over shadow the fashion statement he made in Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series.
Mike Conley became the NBA’s answer to Pharrell when he wore a wooden hat before and after the Grizzlies’ big overtime win.
Take a look at the pictures of Conley and his hat made by Two Guys Bowtie, a company based in the home state of the rival Thunder:
When Memphis Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes was met by scattered boos midway through the third quarter of a December 11 game against Oklahoma City, among those who rushed to his defense was Mike Conley.
“I hated the boos and all that stuff that were geared toward Nick because we all were playing bad,” Conley, the Grizzlies starting point guard, said. “It wasn’t just one person. It was a collective effort. It was like they were looking for someone to blame and that’s not the case. And I’m so happy he got his chance to show people what he can do and to show people those boos weren’t warranted.”
Unfortunately for Calathes, who flourished into an efficient relief man for Conley the second half of the season, he likely won’t be available for the Grizzlies’ latest playoff run.
The NBA on Friday announced that Calathes has been suspended for 20 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
According to various media reports, the drug Calathes had taken is called Tamoxifen. According to a WebMD.com, Tamoxifen is the most commonly used hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer. Tamoxifen is often called an “anti-estrogen.”
Attempts to reach Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien Friday night were unsuccessful.
Calathes, 25, has filed a grievance on the ruling and has denied using any performance enhancing drugs, although it is unclear if the former University of Florida standout will be allowed to suit for the No. 7 seed Grizzlies (50-32) when they play the second-seeded Thunder (59-23) in the opening round of the playoffs.
Game 1 of Memphis and OKC’s best-of-7 playoff series is Saturday night at 7:30 CST.
Prior to his suspension, Calathes had witnessed his role increased significantly, in large part because of a January 7 trade in which the Grizzlies sent then-backup point guard Jarryd Bayless to Boston for veteran shooting guard Courtney Lee. Calathes, as result, was installed as Conley’s backup and didn’t disappoint in his new role.
Named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in February, Calathes manufactured the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA during that month and was second among Western Conference rookies in scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (apg). Also, he was tied for second in rebounds (3.6 rpg) and was second among NBA rookies in field goal percentage (.495) and steals (1.75 spg).
His considerable progress after the All-Star break was among reasons Conley earlier this week said he was looking for Calathes to have an efficient postseason.
“I think (Calathes’ display) it set us up pretty well, knowing that we’ll be getting a lot of experience from a lot of guys who have been there like Nick Calathes,” Conley told MemphiSport prior to the Grizzlies’ regular season finale against Dallas. “He’s going to play huge minutes for us and we need that kind of experience from him going into the playoffs.”
Conley, the longest-tenured player on Memphis’ roster, also emphasized the importance of the Grizzlies avoiding distractions heading into the postseason.
“It’s very important that we stay locked in and continue doing what we’ve been doing and not worrying about what the media is saying and things from the outside,” Conley, said. “We just need to control what we can control on the court.”
However, the news the organization fielded Friday surrounding one of its key reserves is something that could prove detrimental in this, the Grizzlies’ fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Memphis Grizzlies veteran swingman Mike Miller joined the Miami Heat the same year LeBron James bolted Cleveland for South Beach.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
The Florida Gators will continue their quest for a third national title Thursday night in FedExForum.
No one, it seems, is pleased by that more than Memphis Grizzlies backup point Nick Calathes.
“I’m happy for the Gators,” Calathes told MemphiSport. “I’m happy for coach (Billy) Donovan. I think they have a chance to really go far. They have a bunch of seniors. They have a deep bench and coach Donovan got them rolling.”
That the top-ranked Gators, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed who will face UCLA, will continue postseason play in the same venue where Calathes play home games as pro is a microcosm of how well things have gone of late for the Memphis rookie.
The NBA announced recently that Calathes, who starred at Florida from 2007-2009, was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in February. For the 25-year-old Calathes, who was presented with his award prior to Saturday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, receiving such an honor in front of a sellout FedExForum crowd was a moment of redemption, or sorts, for an NBA newcomer who wasn’t a fan favorite during the season’s early stages.
That was evident during the Grizzlies’ home game against Oklahoma City December 11. After checking into the game midway through the third quarter of Memphis’ 116-100 loss, Calathes was met by scattered boos from fans.
As if the unpleasant reception wasn’t enough, the loss began a season-long five-game winless streak for the Grizzlies. Calathes, meanwhile, was trying to find his niche on a Memphis team that was hampered by a slew of injuries and out of playoff contention.
“Man, it’s been a long time, it’s been an up and down year for sure,” Calathes said.
Still, Calathes, a two-time Florida Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American, didn’t seem affected by the early-season heckling from the hometown fans. If nothing else, he used the unpleasant welcome as motivation, given the resilience he has exhibited since the season’s halfway point.
After the Grizzlies on January 7 traded then-backup point guard Jarryd Bayless to Boston for veteran Courtney Lee, Calathes became the relief man to Mike Conley.
He didn’t disappoint.
Instead, February turned out to be a coming-out-party, of sorts, for the Casselbury, Florida native who holds Greek citizenship. While producing the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA for that month, Calathes was second among Western Conference rookies in scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (apg). Also, he was tied for second in rebounds (3.6 rpg) and was second among NBA rookies in field goal percentage (.495) and steals (1.75 spg).
How to explain the swift progress for a rookie who Grizzlies fans had essentially written off less than one month into the season?
“I think the trade helped me out when they traded Jarryd,” Calathes said. “That gave me an opportunity to play a lot more and I just tried to take full advantage of it and I knew my teammates began to have more confidence in me.”
Conley, the Grizzlies’ longest-tenured player, was among those who felt the harsh reaction Calathes acquired from fans was uncalled for.
“I hated the boos and all that stuff that were geared toward Nick because we all were playing bad,” Conley said. “It wasn’t just one person. It was a collective effort. It was like they were looking for someone to blame and that’s not the case. And I’m so happy he got his chance to show people what he can do and to show people those boos weren’t warranted.”
Two months removed from having been installed as Conley’s backup, Calathes’ surge is among the reasons the Grizzlies are back in playoff contention as they begin a season-long five-game road trip starting Wednesday night at Utah.
Having won 15 of its last 20, Memphis (42-28) is currently seventh in the Western Conference standings with 12 regular-season games remaining.
“He’s done good job of running the team,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said of Calathes. “He took care of the basketball. He still played his game. He’s just been a little more aggressive. He’s great in the pick and roll, a lot better defender than people think. He plays his position and he uses his size, which is good. He’s been great for us.”
Drafted with the 45th picked by Minnesota in the second round in 2009, Calathes — who was traded to Memphis last summer after a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks — is now a fan favorite in FedExForum. That was evident before Saturday’s game.
“It’s always great to hear that,” Calathes said of the boos. “It obviously gets me going as a player. But fans are going to be fans. All I can do is go out and give my best. We’re all blessed to have an opportunity to play.”
An opportunity that, to his credit, hasn’t gone unnoticed in this, his first year in the NBA.
So much for the scattered boos.