The Fast Break: Conley Captaining Grizzlies Towards Playoffs
Posted Mar 24 2011 11:54AM
"The Fast Break" is a weekly NBA notebook column that features interviews, insight, international news and more. New every Thursday on NBA.com/fastbreak.
New York, N.Y. – Mike Conley turns on the television looking for the Ohio State basketball game. These days the Buckeyes are easy to find, as are most teams taking part in the NCAA Tournament. Few teams, however, are as favored as Ohio State.
As Conley watches the action, his thoughts travel back to four years ago. That’s when he was leading the Buckeyes to the 2007 championship game, only to fall short against the repeat-champion Florida Gators. That was his freshman year. It was his only year.
“That year went by so quick,” the Memphis Grizzlies guard said. “That tournament went by so fast. It seemed like a blur. Whenever March Madness comes around, I sit back and am like ‘Wow I was there three of four years ago in the same position they’re in.’”
Conley doesn’t regret leaving Ohio State after just one season. The 23-year-old feels blessed for the NBA career he has, one that began on June 28, 2007 when the Grizzlies drafted him fourth overall.
“I think when he came in as the fourth pick in the draft, a lot of people were upset that he didn’t step right into the NBA and dominate, or play to a level they expected,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, who took the reigns in 2009. “A lot of these guys that come in their freshman year just aren’t ready to play in the NBA both mentally and physically.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound point guard averaged just over nine points and four assists his rookie season. Through hard work, however, Conley has improved those numbers every year since. He now averages 13.8 points and 6.6 assists a night.
“Mike's been great, man,” said Grizzlies center Zach Randolph. “His game has stepped up a lot. He gets guys involved.”
“I think I’ve matured very well, especially this season has been a big year for me because we’ve actually done a lot more through the point guard than we have recently,” he said. “I think I’ve really taken it under my wing and taken the responsibility of getting guys getting ready for games and guys involved in games and being assertive, being the leader we need to win games.”
This leadership has the Grizzlies in the playoff picture for the first time since Conley entered the league. As of Thursday morning, Memphis holds the eighth and final postseason spot in the West at 40-32. The Houston Rockets are within two games of their positioning.
“I think guys are starting to learn how to win,” said Conley. “We came into the league, everybody was young. I think over the last three years we’ve learned how not to lose games and going through a lot of bumps in the road in order to get to where we are right now.”
As for this year’s Ohio State squad, Conley likes their chances.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I think they have the good mix of young talent and veterans on their squad this year. My man, David Lighty, who came in with me, is still there. Hopefully he can get one and do what we couldn’t do. I feel they have a squad that can get there.”
The Houston Rockets assigned former second-overall pick Hasheem Thabeet (Tanzania) to the NBA D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. This is the sophomore’s second stint there in two seasons…Andrea Bargnani (Italy) set a career high with 15 free throws made on 18 attempts in Friday’s win over the Washington Wizards. The Toronto Raptors center totaled 33 points in the matchup…Milwaukee Bucks guard Carlos Delfino (Argentina) dropped a career-best 30 points against the New York Knicks on Sunday. Delfino repeated the feat against the Sacramento Kings three nights later…Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott has pulled forward Samardo Samuels (Jamaica) from the starting lineup. The rookie is expected to be the first big off the bench moving forward…Golden State Warriors starting center Andris Biedrins (Latvia) has been out of the lineup with a sprained ankle. There’s no timetable on his return, but is expected to be reevaluated later this week…Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat (Poland) was honored by Robert Kupiecki, Poland’s Ambassador to the United States, for his contributions to his home country. The ceremony took place before the Suns took on the Warriors last Friday…Kings center Samuel Dalembert (Haiti) had his best game of the year with a 26-point, 17-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday…Since taking over as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s regular starting power forward, Serge Ibaka (Rep. of Congo) is averaging 9.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.
Fire & Ice
• Los Angeles Lakers: The reigning champions are 9-1 in their last 10, including a classic triple-overtime throwdown win against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Los Angeles is getting hot at just the right time to make yet another strong run in towards another title.
• Kyle Lowry: Lowry has the Rockets nipping at the Grizzlies’ heals for the final playoff spot in the West. Lowey picked up Player of the Week honors in the West for averaging 19.3 points, 7.5 assists and 7.3 rebounds in four straight. The Rockets are 13-4 since Feb. 22 and play in the only division (Southwest) where every team is over .500.
• Denver Nuggets: Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri knew he needed to deal Carmelo Anthony in late February. The pieces he’d get in return, however, left much uncertainty. The picture is clearer now and the Nuggets are playing as a more complete team. Since the deal, Denver is 10-4 and a fifth seed with 10 games remaining.
• Tim Duncan: The Spurs big man sprained his left ankle against the Warriors on Monday. Duncan’s been spotted using crutches in the days since. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says there’s no timetable for his center’s return. With a playoff berth already secured, it may be best to rest Duncan until they begin.
• New York Knicks: The ‘Melo trade was supposed to not only keep the Knicks in the playoff hunt, but also push them to a higher seed. Instead, New York is 7-10 since the deal was consummated. Anthony, meanwhile, is averaging 24 points and five rebounds, both below his season average. They also become the first repeat Icers.
• Rudy Gay: It’s painful to put two injuries in the “Ice” department – literally -- but Gay’s hurts. The Grizzlies haven’t made the postseason since 2005-06. Losing their top all-around player for the rest of the year and Memphis’ playoff spot still up for grabs puts a slight damper on their successful campaign.
NBA StatsCube Cruncher
9 - The most 3-pointers made in a game among the last three MVPs during their award-winning season. Kobe Bryant drained the nine baskets from behind the arc on March 28, 2008 against the Grizzlies. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, a favorite for this year’s nod, hit a career-high six threes on Tuesday against Atlanta Hawks. (StatsCube Index)