Grizzlies' Zach Randolph has torn MCL
If they hope to build on that momentum this season, they'll have to do it without their burly power forward and unquestioned leader for the next two months.
Randolph is expected to miss six to eight weeks after tearing a ligament in his right knee, the team announced Wednesday.
"That's life," coach Lionel Hollins said. "You have to go and play. He's not going to be here. We can't worry about what ifs and what we should do to get him back. This is where we are."
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Randolph tore his right MCL in the first quarter of the Grizzlies' 104-64 loss at Chicago on Sunday. Randolph had an MRI on Tuesday, and the team learned of the prognosis Wednesday afternoon before they played at Minnesota.
It's a crushing blow to the Grizzlies, who had never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in their nine seasons before last year's remarkable run, the deepest a No. 8 seed has ever gone.
Randolph scored at least 30 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds four times in the playoffs last season, and he also provided some toughness on defense.
The 29-year-old Randolph led the Grizzlies in scoring through the first four games of the season with an average of 14.8 points and had pulled down 7.5 rebounds per game. More importantly, they lose their emotional core and the player whose maturity and evolving game elevated one of the league's moribund franchises to a contender in the powerful West.
He was injured when he knocked knees with guard O.J. Mayo, and the Grizzlies are 1-1 since he went down, with a 40-point loss to Chicago and a victory over Sacramento on Tuesday night in which the team still managed to score 72 points in the paint.
"The way we play and attack, hopefully we'll continue that way," Hollins said.
An 11-year NBA veteran, Randolph was selected to the 2010-11 All-NBA third team after leading Memphis to the semifinals and averaging 20.1 points and a career-high and franchise-record 12.2 rebounds during the regular season.
He teamed with emerging star center Marc Gasol to give the Grizzlies one of the most formidable front courts in the league, a bruising tandem that dominated the boards and racked up the points in the paint.
"It doesn't matter what happens, we've got to (move on)," Gasol said. "Our reality is that he's not here. The truth is he's not here and we've got to play and we've got to win."
Now, with forward Darrell Arthur already out for the season with an Achilles injury, the Grizzlies will likely have to turn to Dante Cunningham and the newly acquired Marreese Speights, who came over in a trade from Philadelphia on Wednesday to fill in up front. The Grizzlies sent guard Xavier Henry to New Orleans and a second-round pick to Philadelphia as part of the three-team trade.
The 6-10 Speights has averaged 7.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in four seasons.
"We weren't trying to get Speights to replace Zach," Hollins said. "We've been trying to get a big man since we started training camp. We were really thin in the front-court area."
Randolph's injury will put more of the onus on Rudy Gay, who is still trying to find his game after missing the final three months of last season with a shoulder injury. Gay leads the team with 15.2 points per game, but he had made 6 of 23 shots in two games before breaking out against Sacramento on Tuesday with 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting.
"This is a great opportunity for guys who haven't played," Hollins said. "This is a great opportunity for a team to show their character, show what their made of, show their mental toughness because I don't think you can have success or growth without some kind of adversity."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Sources: Clippers, Celtics talk trade again
- Bosh to Heat fans: Watch the game at home
- Kobe's prediction: Howard, Paul both stay put
- Jay-Z now licensed agent for NBA players