Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley: ‘Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance’

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.

BOLD CONFESSION --- Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn't shy away from the notion that he's aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis' second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

BOLD CONFESSION — Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn’t shy away from the notion that he’s aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis’ second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

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.

HUGE IMPACT --- A majority of Conley's seven NBA seasons has been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets' coach in July.

HUGE IMPACT — A majority of Conley’s seven NBA seasons have been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets’ coach in July.

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.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

2014 M Awards: Favorite Athlete

mr williamsIt is official.  The votes have been tallied, and although he was challenged by two current Grizzlies players, former University of Memphis Tiger DeAngelo Williams is the Bluff City’s favorite athlete.

DeAngelo Williams, First Place: 18%
Zach Randolph, Second Place: 17%
Marc Gasol, 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

LISTEN:  2014 M AWARDS NOMINATIONS SPECIAL

SPORTS BALL: BUY TIX TO THE SPORTS BALL BLACK-TIE TENNIS SHOE GALA BENEFITING BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS

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2014 M Awards: Favorite Basketball Player

taSurprisingly no University of Memphis Tigers made the Favorite Basketball Player list. Does Hoop City really like the Grizzlies this much, or is this an indictment on how disappointed Memphians are in the performance of the Tigers men’s basketball program?

Tony Allen, First Place: 26%
Marc Gasol, Second Place (Tie): 18%
Zach Randolph, Second Place (Tie): 18%

 

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

LISTEN:  2014 M AWARDS NOMINATIONS SPECIAL

SPORTS BALL: BUY TIX TO THE SPORTS BALL BLACK-TIE TENNIS SHOE GALA BENEFITING BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS

#MAwards2014

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2014 M Awards: Moment We Would Most Like To Forget

sad baby twoApparently there are four moments Memphis sports fans would like to forget. There is a tie for third, just like this year’s Most Memorable Moments category.  Something tells me it will take Memphians a while to forget this terrible moments in Memphis sports history.

Z-Bo “punching” Steven Adams, First Place: 21%
UCF’s 2 TDs in 9 seconds during the 4th quarter to prevent what would’ve been a huge Memphis Football victory, Second Place: 19%
Marc Gasol injuring his MCL, Third Place (tie):16%
Tigers getting blown out by OK State, Third Place (tie): 16%

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

LISTEN:  2014 M AWARDS NOMINATIONS SPECIAL

SPORTS BALL: BUY TIX TO THE SPORTS BALL BLACK-TIE TENNIS SHOE GALA BENEFITING BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS

#MAwards2014

 

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Zach Randolph on his future with the Grizzlies: ‘I’m dedicated to this team’

Zach Randolph has been in the NBA long enough to realize that with the playoffs comes a flurry of distractions.

Among the potential perplexities the Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise player is facing on this, the last day of regular season, is whether he intends on exercising his player option for next season.

DEVOTED VET --- Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to "stay a Grizzly." (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DEVOTED VET — Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to “stay a Grizzly.” (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.

Following Wednesday morning’s shoot around as Memphis prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks in a nationally televised game at 7 p.m. CST in FedExForum, Randolph fielded questions about his future with the organization.

“No, I haven’t thought about that,” Randolph told MemphiSport when asked if he has thought about whether he will exercise his player option next year. “I’m still dedicated to this team, all day, every day.”

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 the catalyst of 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.

And, after having blossomed into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, the 13-year-veteran on Wednesday reiterated that he wants to finish his career with the organization.

“I’m a Grizzly,” Randolph, the team’s leading scorer, said. “I want to stay a Grizzly. I haven’t even thought about (next season). I’m worried about the task at hand and that’s winning in these playoffs.”

Tied with Portland for the NBA’s longest winning streak (four games), the Grizzlies solidified a fourth consecutive playoff berth with 97-91 win Monday night at Phoenix.

Just as he’s done in recent years, Randolph, who averages 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game, has played a pivotal role in Memphis’ surge, particularly after the All-Star break.

Randolph appeared to be in playoff form when he scored a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting against the Suns, energy Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said his star big man must match if Memphis is to manufacture a deep postseason.

 

GAME CHANGER --- Randolph was a force in Monday's playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

GAME CHANGER — Randolph was a force in Monday’s playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

“That was a heckuva performance against Phoenix the other night,” Joerger said of Randolph. “He’s been such a problem for teams. You know, you have teams that want to take out of the perimeter, stretch him out, and make him play pick and roll. And with him, whether they’re putting two guys on him of whatever it may be, he’s been aggressive.”

What’s even more astounding, Joerger acknowledged, is how Randolph has steadfastly assumed the business-like approach in a year mired by distractions. In mid-December, for instance, Randolph became the subject of trade rumors in a reported deal that would have sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

Then after the Suns inquired about Randolph just days before the All-Star break, the Grizzlies reportedly turned down the offer, thus removing Randolph from the trade block.

While Randolph has publicly said he was “hurt” over being rumored to be dealt, Joerger said the Grizzlies managed to play up to their identity during a critical stretch in the season, in large part because Randolph didn’t appear fazed by such talks.

“He’s been professional about it,” Joerger said. “He’s stayed focused. He’s been the consemate teammate. Guys go to him. He’s got a lot of advice, a lot of experience. It’s been more than just what people see on the court.”

Now that Randolph is starting to field questions once again about his future with the playoffs set to start this weekend, he contends his primary focus is the monumental task that awaits the upset-minded Grizzlies.

That is, a first-round date with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.

“That’s a part of the business man,” Randolph said of the inquiries about his future. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity…injuries, guys going down, missing a lot of games. So that’s a part of the game. You just have to overcome stuff like that, stick together, and keep fighting.”

All day, every day.

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.

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.

Grizzlies sound off about point guard Mike Conley’s All-Star snub

Zach Randolph believes Mike Conley’s day will eventually come.

Never mind that his chances were better than ever this year.

SILENCING CRITICS --- The inconsistent play of Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley led to much criticism early in his NBA career. This year, Conley is staging All-Star-caliber numbers in what is shaping up to be his best season as a pro. (Photos by Chris Evans)

SILENCING CRITICS — The inconsistent play of Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley led to an array of criticism early in his NBA career. This year, Conley is staging All-Star-caliber numbers in what is shaping up to be his best season as a pro. (Photos by Chris Evans)

 

“He’s going to get there,” the Memphis Grizzlies power forward said after Wednesday’s shootaround when asked his reactions to Conley being snubbed as an All-Star for the West squad. “You know, a lot of players were snubbed. But Mike is going to get there. He’s getting better.”

The longest-tenured Grizzly, Conley has made considerable strides at the point guard position since he entered the NBA seven seasons ago, particularly in a season in which Memphis has battled an assortment of injuries to several marquee players. Even before he sustained an ankle injury last Friday at Minnesota, Conley played with much poise and resilience in helping Memphis re-emerge as a playoff contender.

Currently, Conley is Memphis’ leading scorer at 18 points and 6.3 assists per game for a Grizzlies team that is 25-18 with him in the lineup. And, although the possibility exists that he could be sidelined at  least through Memphis’ weekend road games at Atlanta and Cleveland, the Grizzlies appear to be a solid shape heading into next week’s All-Star break, largely because the 26-year-old Conley has played arguably the best basketball of his career.

Conley wasn’t available to the media after shootaround in preparation for Memphis’ game Wednesday night at 7 CST against the Dallas Mavericks in FedExForum, although team officials said he was in the facility and receiving treatment for his injured ankle. Having won 11 of their last 13, the Grizzlies are one game back of Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Among Conley’s notable highlights was his 27 point, 10 assists outburst at upstart Sacramento on January 29, an inspiring performance that prompted various media pundits to debate whether he is worthy of making his All-Star debut. However, even during a season in which Conley is producing All-Star-caliber numbers, the former Ohio State star was left off the roster when the reserves were announced last week.

The 63rd All-Star Game is Feb. 16 at New Orleans Arena.

TAKING CHARGE --- Through 43 starts, Conley, the longest-tenured Grizzly, leads the team with 18 points and 6.3 assists per contests as Memphis has re-emerged as a playoff-contender.

TAKING CHARGE — Through 43 starts, Conley, the longest-tenured Grizzly, leads the team with 18 points and 6.3 assists per contests as Memphis has re-emerged as a playoff-contender.

Four other point guards were named All-Star reserves ahead of Conley, including Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, who has missed the past 16 games with a separated right shoulder he injured in a Jan. 3 game at Dallas. Portland’s Damian Lillard was named one of seven reserves for the West squad (his first All-Star selection), despite being outplayed by Conley in Memphis’ resounding 99-81 win at the Trial Blazers during the Grizzlies’ recent three-game road trip. San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Golden State Stephen Curry were also named to the West roster.

“It happens,” Grizz center Marc Gasol, a 2011 All-Star, said of Conley being left off this year’s All-Star team. “It happens every year that a lot of players who should of made the All-Star team don’t make it. But at the end day, we have bigger goals and I’m sure Mike knows that. And hopefully that’s the NBA’s Finals.”

Roughly one month into the season, the Grizzlies looked nothing like a team that was destined to secure a playoff for a fourth consecutive year, in large part because of the injuries to reserve shooting guard Quincy Pondexter and Gasol coupled with the inconsistent play of their bench.

Credit Conley for Memphis’ resurgence as the All-Star break looms.

A once unproven player who garnered much criticism for his inconsistency and lethargic play in the pick and roll offense in the early stages of his career, Conley has steadfastly silence his critics in recent years, demonstrating among other things that he’s as good as advertised for a lottery player who was selected with the fourth overall pick by Memphis in 2007.

Grizz coach Dave Joerger on Wednesday didn’t shy away from the notion that his starting point was an All-Star snub.

“Mike Conley has been absolutely tremendous for us,” Joerger said. “He would go stretches where he would 44 assists through four games and three turnovers and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want you to have the ball the whole time.’ The West has a lot of guards, a lot of good guards. He’s valuable and if it’s an All-Star Game where guys are valuable, I think he gets in and I feel he should have been an All-Star.”

At this stage in his career, it’s not a matter of if Conley will make his All-Star debut, but rather a matter of when.

“He’s going to be an All-Star,” Randolph, a two-time All-Star, said. “He has an All-Star mind.

Which, of course, is among the reasons his day will eventually come.

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 holding his own in season mired by injuries, trade talks

The general consensus about Zach Randolph is that he is among the most admired and well-respected public figures in Memphis.

No one seemingly knows that better than Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.

 

GAME CHANGER --- In what has been a challenging season mired by injuries and constant trade talks, Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph tied  franchise record for double-doubles with 189 in Saturday's 91-88 win against the Houston Rockets. The two-time All-Star finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

GAME CHANGER — In what has been a challenging season mired by injuries and constant trade talks, Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph tied franchise record for double-doubles with 189 in Saturday’s 91-88 win against the Houston Rockets. The two-time All-Star finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

“We get along very well on and off the court,” Gasol said. “We talk all the time. I mean, the man came all the way to Barcelona (Spain) to my wedding (over the summer). We’re really good friends.”

Gasol was among the first players to congratulate Randolph after the 12-year veteran reached yet another milestone in his All-Star career. Randolph tied the franchise record for career double-double (15 points and 17 rebounds) in Memphis’ decisive 99-81 win Saturday night against the Houston Rockets in FedExForum.

“Who was the other guy?” Gasol jokingly asked after the game.

The “other guy” is Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, who now shares the Memphis’ double-double record with Randolph at 189 apiece. Randolph, to his credit, wasted little time demonstrating that he was primed to carve out history in front of the same fans who have come to embrace the contributions he’s made to the Grizzlies organization since he was traded to by the Los Angeles Clippers following the 2008-2009 season.

Less than five minutes into Saturday’s contest, for instance, Randolph had already accounted for seven rebounds. Then, with 7:04 remaining in the third quarter, he solidified the mark when he scored on a fastbreak layup as Houston’s Patrick Beverly was whistled for a foul.

During a 20-second timeout, the 32-year-old Randolph was mobbed by teammates, who praised him in tying Pau Gasol’s double-double mark as the crowd chanted in unison, “Z-Bo.”

While Randolph appeared blissful to have accomplished such a feat with an organization from which he has publicly said he’d liked to retire, what he deems mostly intriguing is that it transpired during a time in which the Grizzlies are starting to mirror last year’s a team that advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive year.

“We’re getting there,” Randolph told reporters, when asked have the Grizzlies have recovered from their early-season struggles. “I ain’t going to say that right now. We’ve got the big fella (Marc Gasol) back and Mike (Conley) is playing All-Star basketball. But we’re getting there.”

For more proof, look no further than the current standings in the West.

Before Marc Gasol, who missed 23 games after an MCL sprain he suffered Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. After Saturday’s win against Houston that culminated a rare back-to-back versus the Rockets, Memphis, which opens a three-game road trip Tuesday starting at the Portland, is currently two games back of Dallas for the pivotal eighth spot.

That the Grizzlies, winners of nine of their last 12, had managed to hover around the .500 mark before Marc Gasol returned to the lineup was due in large part to the poise and assertiveness Randolph has exhibited in recent weeks, Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

“He’s been terrific,” Joerger said. “He’s really carried us through a tough stretch with Marc being out and he’s really helped us find our identity without Quincy (Pondexter) and Tony (Allen). He’s been pretty steady and has helped us to compete. He’s a guy who’s always double-teamed, but creates shots for other people.

Randolph said among the reasons for the Grizzlies' surge is that center Marc Gasol (left) is back in the lineup after missing 23 games due to an MCL sprain in late November.

PEAK SEASON — Randolph said among the reasons for the Grizzlies’ surge is that center Marc Gasol (left) is back in the lineup after missing 23 games due to an MCL sprain in late November. Memphis is 6-1 since Gasol’s return.

“I’m just really proud of him because he didn’t quit and say, ‘I’ve got a bigger guy on me, somebody else needs to go get it (rebounds).’ He goes and gets it off the glass and he’s good at calling stuff out for our guards.”

Besides being a vocal presence on the court, Randolph has proven to be just as expressive and resilient, particularly pertaining to business-related matters off the court.

As early as mid-December, for instance, Randolph reportedly was being rumored to be traded by the Grizzlies, news that prompted the two-time All-Star to say that there is “no loyalty” in NBA front offices. Though Randolph admittedly was “hurt” after emerging as the subject of constant trade talks, the Marion, Ind. native assumed what he described as the “businesslike approach” until team officials ultimately announced weeks later that they had no plans of dealing Randolph, who has a $16 million player option for next year.

Given how fans and his teammates responded amid his latest achievement Saturday night, Randolph not only seemed enraptured, but he sounded like a man who has lofty aspirations of adding to what has been a memorable five-year stint with the Grizzlies.

“It feels good,” Randolph said of the double-double record. It’ll be better when I hold the record. I mean, you’ve to go out and put your all into being a part of the community and this organization. You know, this is my town, my fans. And I appreciate the fans. They’ve been great this season and we need them.”

Especially now that the surging Grizzlies are starting to exhibit the same swagger that enabled them to stage a deep playoff run last year.

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

VIDEO: Is Memphis Grizzlies Guard Mike Conley An All-Star?

Friday night Grizzlies guard Mike Conley had yet another great game scoring a career high 31 points against the Phoenix Suns in a Grizzlies 104-99 victory at FedExForum. After the game Conley and his teammates were asked if he should be considered a NBA All-Star.