Posted Mar 22 2012 10:25AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Zach Randolph crashed to the court in a jolt of pain in what was a moment of instant anxiety Tuesday night at Power Balance Pavilion. And what a moment of celebration it was for the Grizzlies.
It was the third quarter of the third game back from a torn ligament in the right knee. DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings inadvertently barreled into Randolph while pursuing an offensive rebound, into the very joint that only days ago had been declared healthy after a layoff that stretched from Jan. 3 to March 13, 37 contests in all, and what an uplifting feeling for Z-Bo.
He spent 10 seconds gathering himself on the court with Cousins, part of the time face down, nearly 14 feet of big-man talent splashed in the lane, and got up. Then kept playing.
What could have been a disastrous moment for the knee and the team instead became an unexpected proving ground that left Randolph confident that he truly is healthy enough to help drive Memphis to a long playoff run. Absorbing the blow, being scared by the pain that quickly passed, imagining the worst for the right leg all over again and not even having to leave the game -- it was passing a final test in the comeback from the Jan. 1 ligament tear. Not one he would have dared request, with Cousins some 270 pounds of turbulence, but challenge met.
"That was the proving moment for me," Randolph said.
The Grizzlies left Power Balance Pavilion with a terrible showing, a 119-110 loss to the last-place Kings that left coach Lionel Hollins cranky, but with more reason to feel good about the long term than when the night began. Strange but true. Randolph, whose 2010-11 play at times was as good as any power forward in the league, whose ability to draw a double team is imperative if Memphis is to have any hope of reaching at least the Western Conference final, had a valuable Tuesday amid the underwhelming of 13 points and seven rebounds.
This just became the Zach Randolph who thinks he can get to 100 percent by the playoffs. This just became the Zach Randolph who again thinks he can be the difference maker to an extended playoffs for the Grizzlies.
"I guess you could say that," he said.
But do you say that?
So much of the Memphis backstory is about health, of course. Rudy Gay, the scoring star on the wing, missed the postseason a year ago because of a shoulder injury and the Grizzlies reached Game 7 of the second round against Oklahoma City anyway, prompting debate of what would have happened with a full roster. Then, with the possibility the Grizz could push into the Western Conference elite for good, with an opening as everyone but the Thunder vulnerable or unproven, Randolph hurt the knee Jan. 1 in Chicago.
If they could only get healthy at the same time. With Randolph as the interior threat, Gay the scoring weapon, Marc Gasol the All-Star center, Tony Allen the defensive stopper on the perimeter, Mike Coney at the point, O.J. Mayo and now Gilbert Arenas off the bench, this could get really interesting.
The Grizzlies are 25-19, tied with the Clippers and Mavericks for fourth place in the West, and have had a full complement of opening-night starters for four full games and a small portion of a fifth. In one of those, last Friday against the Raptors, Randolph had 25 points in 25 minutes to join Jeff Malone as the only players in league history to score at least 25 in the return from an injury absence of at least 10 weeks. But Memphis also just began a stretch of nine of 11 on the road while transitioning back to Randolph as a focal point of the offense and the addition of Arenas, who could debut tonight in Portland.
"I think we have more than enough time," Conley said. "It takes time, but luckily he (Randolph) has been able to practice with us the last couple weeks to get a head start. It'll take time, but I think we'll get it back together. Guys will get in sync and get used to playing with the full roster."
Said Hollins: "We've got to get back to business and become consistent and focused on what we're doing and being disciplined in what we're doing. I think when you have somebody come back like that, the expectations of him coming back and the media talking about it all the time takes away your focus from what you're trying to do. And then when he does come back, everybody's asking you, 'Well, how do you think he played? How do you think he felt?' We'd like to just get back to playing."
They're a little bit more back to it after the third quarter Tuesday night and the scare Randolph appreciated. Really.
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