HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In a conference that boasts superstar power like the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers bring to the table, it’s easy to overlook a team like the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s easy to forget that the Grizzlies finished last season’s locket-shortened campaign ahead of the Clippers and one spot below the Lakers in the standings (they sported identical 41-25 records), good enough for the fourth spot and the home-court advantage that came along with that perch.
Yet when the contenders are talked about now, the Grizzlies are conveniently left out of that conversation. Folks need to be careful glancing past the Grizzlies, especially with Zach Randolph apparently back to form after dealing with a serious knee injury all last season.
Randolph rededicated himself to the training regimen that led him to an All-Star berth and helped the Grizzlies to a first-round upset of the Spurs two years ago. It took a painful Game 7 loss to the Clippers last year to rekindle that fire in Randolph, who joins All-Star center Marc Gasol to form a potent big-man combo that rivals the Lakers’ Dwight Howard-Pau Gasol tag team.
As Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal points out, Randolph is covering all of the bases as he prepares to return to form:
For his part, Randolph hasn’t left anything to chance.
He shut down when the Grizzlies’ season ended in a disappointing Game 7 first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Randolph decided to rest and allowed the knee to heal to the point where he was pain-free.
That meant Randolph began his offseason work in August, about a month later than usual.
“It was the worst year of my career,” Randolph said. “Being hurt and not being able to move how you want to move and have that second jump … It was real frustrating. I wanted to make sure my knee healed before I did a lot of movement.”
Randolph returned to an approach to health and fitness called “chameleon training” with University of Memphis strength coach Frank Matrisciano. Suddenly, Randolph was back to climbing pipes that extend from the floor to the ceiling for upper-body training, carrying heavy balls up and down stairs and running in a sand pit with a 30-pound ball.
“Frank works every muscle in your body,” Randolph said. “It’s just tearing down fat and building up muscle. … I tell these young players, I’m 31. I’ve got two max contracts and I’m still working out hard with Frank, running stairs. That’s how dedicated I am. I want to be the best. I’m not just satisfied.”
Randolph also improved his psyche, and his teammates notice.
“We’ve got a more confident Z-Bo, a healthier Z-Bo and that’s scary for a lot of teams,” guard Tony Allen said. “I’m just glad he’s on my team.”
Griz coach Lionel Hollins lauds Randolph’s commitment to excellence.
“It’s difficult to compare where he is now to then. It’s like night and day,” Hollins said. “The key is not losing conditioning and not gaining weight.”
An experienced roster with an All-Star center, a quality young point guard (Mike Conley), a defensive stopper and fiery leader (Allen), a swingman with elite talent (Rudy Gay) and one of the best coaches in the league is enough to make the Grizzlies a playoff lock.
A rejuvenated Randolph gives them a chance to be so much more.