Randolph missed most of last season with an injury. When he returned, he agreed to come off the bench so as to not upset the chemistry his teammates had developed without him for nearly 40 games. But the plan backfired as Randolph never rediscovered his rhythm, a big factor in a disappointing first-round playoff exit.
Back in the starting lineup, Randolph is dominating the low block. He is still a black hole but fixes a lot of his teammates’ mistakes with 5.4 offensive boards per game, even though he couldn’t jump over a laptop.
“People asked last year if I was going to bounce back, or am I going to be the same Zach as old, and I heard that,” Randolph said. “I want to come out and prove people wrong and let them know I’ve still got it.”
Last season, Memphis posted the best winning percentage in franchise history without Randolph. Two seasons ago, it was within one win of the Western Conference finals without small forward Rudy Gay. There were financially driven questions as to whether the two were compatible. No one is wondering anymore.
“The chemistry is coming,” Randolph said. “We understand how each other want to play and how each other want to ball.”
Despite the offense running through the post, Gay leads the Grizzlies in scoring at 19.8 points. And his 1.67 steals and 1.22 blocks shows he can grit and grind a little bit, too. His 6-9 size is a nice complement to the perimeter tenacity displayed by Conley and Tony Allen, perhaps the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. Conley is seventh in steals and Allen may be the best on-the-ball defender in the game.
But defense and hard-nosed play have always been tenets under Hollins. During their remarkable week, Randolph, who once sucker-punched a teammate in Portland, got into a shouting match with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins – “I don’t bluff,” he said afterward – and their refusal to budge got under the skin of the Knicks, who picked up three technical fouls.
So far, the biggest difference in the Grizzlies from seasons past is they have found some badly needed shooting.
In 2010-11, Memphis was last in 3-point attempts and makes and 27th in distance shooting. Last season, it was 28th in attempts, 27th in makes and 25th in percentage. This season, the Grizzlies are 26th in attempts (16.2). But they are 21st in makes (5.9) and 10th in percentage (.363) – and that includes a 2-of-14 vs. Charlotte.
Guards Jerry Bayless and Wayne Ellington were signed in the offseason to provide shooting and have done just that. Bayless is 10-of-20 from the arc, occasionally playing alongside Conley. Ellington is 12-of-30, including seven against Miami.
Throw in Quincy Pondexter’s 20-of-49 arc shooting, and the Grizzlies have been able to make foes pay for double-teaming Gasol and Randolph.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Grizzlies may get hotter before they cool off. Monday’s game vs. Denver is the opener of a five-game homestand, and Memphis has three days off before the retooled Lakers come to town for another test against a contender.
When Memphis visits San Antonio on Dec. 1, the bullies could easily be 13-1 and firmly atop our Power Rankings.
“We are trying to make a statement,” Conley said. “We are making the statement that we can play with anybody on any given night.”
TRIVIA: Who are the only players to have their numbers retired by the Miami Heat? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Tickets for Wednesday’s Pistons-Sixers game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia were available through internet ticket seller StubHub for 10 cents. Yes, 10 cents.