Give the the Hornets a little credit, despite an 18-42 record, the team has played hard and been good defensively all season, and with the return of shooter Eric Gordon from a season-long injury, they now have just enough offense to be competitive. Last night's win completed a 4-1 homestand for the Hornets, with the only loss by two points to the Lakers. The Grizzlies had been unusually good on the second night of back-to-back sets this season, but last night looked like the classic road back-to-back slog.
Though falling to the Hornets perhaps severely impacts the Grizzlies' playoff-positioning calculus, watching the standings is overshadowed for the moment by a bigger concern: As the Grizzlies prepare for the post-season over these final six games, there is a queasy uncertainty over the two players most responsible for driving last season's dramatic run: Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Gasol left last night's game with what was initially diagnosed as a hyperextended left knee and had an MRI done in New Orleans following the game. The play itself didn't look that bad despite Gasol's initial reaction and he was able to stay in the game to hit a free throw and then walk to the locker room without assistance. If this is just a hyperextension, it likely wouldn't impact Gasol's availability for the post-season. (Dallas' Shawn Marion and Boston's Brandon Bass seem to have suffered hyperextensions this spring without missing games.) But Grizzlies fans have learned from recent injuries to Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur, and Rudy Gay to withhold judgement on these matters until the outcome is crystal clear. I think Gasol was looking pretty banged up even before this latest mishap. And even if the MRI comes back negative, I would think it might be wise to sit Gasol in this week's Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back, at least.
After Randolph started the second half against Utah, I expected the change would be a permanent one, but Lionel Hollins said after the game that he would be going back to Marreese Speights to start the next game. For whatever it's worth, Randolph exited the locker room more quickly than usual soon after and didn't seem interested in trying to score with his team struggling offensively against the Hornets. If Randolph is disappointed in not starting and that's impacting his play — I don't know for certain that's the case, but that's what it looks like — I don't want to give him a pass for that. But at the same time, I do think Randolph should be back in the starting lineup and should be getting more touches on the block to try to get him more ready for the post-season.
With six games to go, even if the Grizzlies win out they would need the Clippers to finish 3-3 in order to get up to the #4 seed. But even with a tough schedule the rest of the way for the Clippers (OKC, @DEN, #PHO, NO, @ATL, @NYK), that might be asking a lot (on both counts). The Grizzlies are off tonight, but two other games will have a big impact on the team's positioning outlook heading into tomorrow night's game at Minnesota: If the Clippers win at home against the Thunder, the odds of catching them will be very slim; if they lose, then it's Keep Hope Alive for the moment. If the Mavericks, 1.5 games behind the Grizzlies, win in Utah, then the Grizzlies hold on the #5 seed will be imperiled. If they lose, especially given the Mavs schedule going forward (HOU, GS, @ATL, @CHI), the then the Grizzlies' grip on #5 will be more comfortable. (The Grizzlies have not technically clinched a playoff spot but it would take an unimaginable collapse at this point to keep them out of the post-season.)
Of course, none of that may matter if the Grizzlies get bad news on Gasol or can't fix the Randolph situation.
[Photos by Larry Kuzniewski]
UPDATE: The Commercial Appeal is now reporting that Marc Gasol's MRI shows a bone bruise on his left knee. Gasol is likely to miss at least tomorrow night's game in Minnesota, but barring the unexpected, this shouldn't impact his availability for the playoffs.