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MikeCheck on NBA: CP3 back for Rockets … just in time to catch Grizz, sans Conley

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHISMike Conley and Chris Paul might actually cross paths after all on Saturday at FedExForum when the Grizzlies continue their four-game homestand against the visiting Houston Rockets.

That encounter may end up being on their respective paths to the training room for treatment. The Grizzlies and Rockets will meet for their fourth and final regular-season matchup – largely due to a scheduling quirk that bunched the entire season series within a four-week stretch.

It’s like, let’s just get to it... I’m very anxious, but it is what it is. You have to adjust and keep moving on. I’m just more excited about not being in a suit as much as being out there with the guys.
-- Chris Paul

Despite that rate of frequency and familiarity, Paul and Conley have yet to share the court together, aside from limited minutes in a preseason game. Conley played in the first three regular season games while Paul sat out to recover from a knee injury that had sidelined the nine-time NBA All-Star since he left midway through his Rockets’ debut in an Oct. 17 season-opening win at Golden State.

This time around, it’s Conley who will be out of action with lingering Achilles soreness heading into Paul’s first weekend back on the court. The Grizzlies announced Friday that Conley will be sidelined to undergo extensive treatments to heal his troublesome Achilles, and that an update on his status will be provided in about two weeks.

Conley missed two games this season to deal with the soreness, including Wednesday’s home loss to Indiana. Fizdale hopes to get a healthy Conley back as soon as possible.

“It’s just been a really frustrating, tough process – more for him than anybody else,” Fizdale said Thursday of Conley, who has tried to play through the discomfort but is shooting a career-worst 38 percent from the field this season. “With Mike not being right, it hurts so much of our game from the standpoint of leadership. When he’s not feeling right, it’s hard for him to step up and lead, and do certain things. So we suffer in a lot of other areas when he’s not right. We’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to get our hands wrapped around this pain and try to get him back as soon as possible.”

It’s been a revolving door of availability for two of the Western Conference’s elite veteran point guards. Although Paul arrived from the Clippers last summer in one of the NBA’s biggest offseason trades, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has expressed similar feelings in coping with his point guard’s plight.

But the Rockets remained dominant in Paul’s first game back Thursday, when they set a franchise record for 90 points in the first half of a 142-116 thrashing of the Phoenix Suns. James Harden scored 48 points and Paul had 11 points and 10 assists in 21 minutes. It was the first stop on a two-game trip that brings the Rockets to Memphis on Saturday for the fourth meeting a span of 13 games for the Grizzlies, who are 2-1 and look to win a season series over Houston for the first time in five years.

“We’ll take it, but we know they’ve been missing one of their really big guns over there,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said of the Rockets, who had still built the third-best record in the league without Paul. “Chris Paul is a vet, and he’s gone through this a few times. So he’s a little more mature about that process. So he’ll get out there and make sure he fits in, finds his spots and things like that. But you’ve got to get to that point as a player and learn to deal with that situation enough times.”

D’Antoni admitted incorporating even an unselfish, pass-first facilitator such as Paul will create challenges for a Rockets offense that has played well in his absence. Harden has run the offense in much the same way he did last season as a leading MVP candidate and Houston seemed on the verge of hitting its stride the past two weeks, having won six of its past seven games.

“What we’ve done up to now doesn’t count,” D’Antoni told reporters in Houston after Paul’s first full practice back in the mix on Wednesday. “(It’s like) we’ve got a new team. When you put that big of a rock into the pond, there’s big waves. And we’ve got to figure, number one, to get him into game shape and playing well. And two, everybody’s rotations are going to be a bit different.”

D’Antoni added that it might get a bit bumpy the first two or three games for the Rockets, a stretch that includes the stopover to play the Grizzlies. But that turbulence has also impacted Memphis, which has dropped six of eight games on the heels of a 5-1 start.

There are skeptics throughout the league who wonder whether Paul’s more methodical, probing style of play is a fit for the frenetically-paced Rockets. Paul faced questions about those issues this week, and said he spent a lot of time on the bench in street clothes exploring how he could be most effective.

“It’s like, let’s just get to it,” Paul said. “I’m very anxious, but it is what it is. You have to adjust and keep moving on. I’m just more excited about not being in a suit as much as being out there with the guys. You always try to implement things, ways that you can help, ways that you don’t hurt (chemistry). But you know who you are, and I’ve been playing for a while now.”

Even in his first game with the Rockets, Paul had 10 assists in 33 minutes before he left with the knee bruise. His return could disrupt some of the rhythm and flow Harden has had playing alongside Eric Gordon, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year who moved into the starting lineup during Paul’s absence.

Paul insists it’ll be a bottom-line transition back.

““I’ve said it before – there are only a few teams in the league that can go into it and know they can win that game every night,” said Paul, who has averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 assists over his 13-year career. “And I feel like we’re one of those teams. We’ve got a ways to go, but hopefully that process starts (now). Hopefully, I can relieve some of that pressure off James. I’m going to go out and hoop. I might score five. I might score 50. But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning the game.”

On Saturday, Paul returns to the FedExForum court where he initially suffered the knee bruise in a collision with Mario Chalmers during that Oct. 11 preseason game. Paul continued to play through it until he stepped aside a week later in the season opener.

He’s back now, and the Rockets haven’t slowed down a bit.

Grind City’s NBA Power Index

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. The Cs keep streaking despite injuries that have hit Gordon Hayward for the season and both Al Horford and Kyrie Irving in recent days. Their biggest test comes Thursday against the Warriors. LW: 1

  3. Golden State Warriors
  4. Don’t look now. But after a bit of a bumpy start, the defending champion Warriors are exactly who we thought they were. Superstars. Solid bench. Great defense. It’s all clicking now. LW: 2

  5. Houston Rockets
  6. There are days, like one earlier this week against Toronto, when defense seems optional in Houston. And there are also legit questions about the Rockets’ lack of depth. But they find a way. LW: 7

  7. Detroit Psitons
  8. Tobias Harris is an early All-Star candidate for the surprising Pistons, who are keeping heat on Boston atop the East. Harris entered the week shooting a career-best 50 percent on threes. LW: 3

  9. Minnesota Timberwolves
  10. Considering his elite levels of production and consistency as the T’Wolves anchor, it’s hard to believe Karl-Anthony Towns is 22 years old. And kid just celebrated that B-day this week. LW: 4

  11. Washington Wizards
  12. Washington is finding its rhythm and, over a stretch of five games, had outscored its opponent in 13 of 15 quarters. The Wizards have also been solid on the road, winning four of six. LW: NR

  13. Toronto Raptors
  14. Toronto went 2-1 on its recent trip, picking up impressive wins in Houston and New Orleans after losing by a point in Boston. The Raptors are averaging an East-best 111.4 points a game. LW: 10

  15. San Antonio Spurs
  16. Still no timeframe for when Kawhi Leonard (quad) or Tony Parker (quad) will make their season debut. So the Spurs are relying heavily on former Grizzlies’ Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. LW: 8/p>

  17. Philadelphia 76ers
  18. Joel Embiid became the first player in NBA history with at least 46 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocks and seven assists in Wednesday’s win over the Lakers. The process is finally paying off. LW: 9

  19. Milwaukee Bucks
  20. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA’s lone player leading his team in scoring, assists, rebounds and blocks. On top of that, the Bucks are unbeaten with Eric Bledsoe in the lineup. LW: NR

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.