HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The scary thing for the Heat is that when the Memphis Grizzlies crushed them in Miami last April, 97-82, Zach Randolph wasn’t himself yet still ripped off 14 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench.
On Sunday when the Heat (5-1) visit the Grizz (4-1) in a battle of streaking teams, they’ll get a fully healthy, fully engaged Randolph right from the opening tip. No Grizzlies player is accumulating more minutes (38.2 a game) and none are delivering such forceful, all-around performances (15.8 points and 15.0 rebounds) on a nightly basis.
The knee injury that sidelined Randolph barely a week into the lockout-shortened season, limited him to just 28 games and robbed him of his power when he did come back, is a thing of the past. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound behemoth in a headband notched his fifth consecutive double-double Friday night in Memphis’ fourth consecutive victory, 93-85, over the Houston Rockets.
Randolph went for 15 points, 14 boards and three blocks in a team-high 41 minutes. With a plus-18 rating, he was the only Memphis starter in plus territory. His consecutive offensive rebounds and putbacks around the four-minute mark of the second quarter allowed the Grizzlies to wash away a sluggish start and avoid falling behind by double digits.
“Z-Bo has been an inspiration this year when you start talking about a transformation from a young player to a veteran player. He just wants to win,” gloated Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. “He knows that we have a bunch of guys who can go get it, but we need what he brings to the table. This is probably the best he has played all around. He’s not needing the ball every time down-court and in the post. He’s going to get offensive rebounds for us and he’s playing very hard on defense, he’s up in the pick-and-rolls. He’s just doing things it takes to win.
“It’s a great transformation and a testament to him wanting to and then going out and doing it.”
The conundrum for the Heat, as is for most opponents, is how to handle Randolph, the league’s top overall and offensive rebounder, when there’s also burly, 7-foot center Marc Gasol to contain. That’s 525 pounds to deal with and it’s no secret that Miami isn’t a traditionally big team along the front line.
The 6-foot-11 Chris Bosh mans the middle, surrenders about 35 pounds to each Grizzlies big man and will never be mistaken for a physically powerful player. So if Bosh has his hands full guarding Gasol (16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), then LeBron James will likely take on the rare assignment of a player that can match him physically, pound-for-pound.
So far, Randolph has been up for every challenge.