Posts Tagged ‘Mike Conley’

Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs – Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.


VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.


VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.


VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Thunder’s star duo under more pressure

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook address the media after the Game 2 loss

SAN ANTONIO – The game suddenly and irrepressibly slipping away under a second-quarter Spurs blitz that melted the Thunder into a pool of mistakes and frustration, Russell Westbrook glared at co-star Kevin Durant as they labored to a timeout.

Durant had lost his man on the previous play and Westbrook was simultaneously jabbing his index fingers at either side of his head, a motion unmistakably meant to coerce league MVP Durantto “Think!” or “wake up!”

The interaction was inevitably perceived as the first sign of fissure for a team whose championship dreams are breaking apart.

“I was just getting on Kevin about some stuff and he got on me right back,” Westbrook said after the 112-77 Game 2 loss, the Thunder’s second consecutive blowout in San Antonio’s that puts them in an 0-2 West finals hole.

“That’s what teammates do, that’s what leaders do, we get on each other, we come back and we talk about it and then we come out like nothing ever happened.”

Nothing more happened for the Thunder. Midway through the third quarter, the Spurs’ approached 30 points. It’s become clear how badly OKC misses Serge Ibaka, its 6-foot-10 shot-blocker and mid-range jumpshooter. Without him, the Thunder have shrunk from title contender to not even belonging on the same floor as the well-oiled Spurs.

“It hurts us, it hurts us without him, there’s no question,” said veteran forward Nick Collison, who has just two points and five rebounds in the two games while starting in Ibaka’s spot. “But a lot of the breakdowns are basic [coverages] you start on the first day of training camp.”

The Thunder have three days to simmer and come up with a plan. It’s less about X’s and O’s and more about will. At Wednesday morning’s shootaround, Durant said he has another level he can achieve, but that did not happen in Game 2. The Spurs, with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, have made him work hard for his offense.

Durant was 6-for-16 for just 15 points in 28 minutes. He missed all four 3-point attempts and got to the free throw line just five times, all coming in the first quarter. That mirrored Game 1 when he made three trips to the foul line in the first quarter and then just once after that.

Westbrook took 24 shots in 29 minutes and also finished with 15 points. He fell into funks of rushing shots and wasting possessions that helped fuel a Spurs roll that reached 43-14 during a stretch from the second quarter to third.

He has arguably been the Thunder’s best player this postseason, but with the Spurs able to key their defensive approach almost exclusively on Westbrook and Durant, there’s been little room to operate with no one stepping up to reduce that pressure.

Both superstars say they’re not overcompensating for the loss of Ibaka. But they’re getting so little help that it’d be impossible to blame them if they feel they must, if they think superhuman efforts are their only hope.

Durant was asked why he and Westbrook lost faith in their teammates as reasoning for combining for 40 shots in the less than three quarters.

“We didn’t stop trusting,” Durant said.

Then why did you stop moving the ball, he was asked.

“We didn’t,” Durant said.

Then how do you explain so many shots during the period in which the Spurs broke it open?

“Because we’re the focal point of the offense,” Durant said.

Thabo Sefolosha has been lost, going scoreless in both games. He could be benched for Game 3 in favor of Caron Butler — which was the lineup change OKC made in Games 6 and 7 of the first round. Collison has been ineffective. Reggie Jackson, who averaged 21 points and shot 68 percent in four regular-season wins against San Antonio, has 22 total points in the two games. He attempted only seven shots in 26 minutes in Game 2.

“We’re just going to play the way we play, man, regardless of what happens,” Westbrook said. “We’re going to play the way we play, man, regardless of miss or make shots. We’re going to live by it. That’s how we won all season. We’re not about to change now. We’re going to continue to trust our teammates, continue to play our game, and continue to compete.”

At this point, there’s little else they can do.

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger — who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season — permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson —  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

Randolph’s punch might KO Grizz vs. OKC

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime discusses Zach Randolph’s suspension

Point guard Mike Conley, despite a right hamstring strain that could limit his mobility and effectiveness, was hoping to play for the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 against the Thunder Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph doesn’t have that option, sending coach Dave Joerger scrambling through his.

Randolph was suspended by the NBA late Friday afternoon for punching OKC big man Steven Adams in the jaw late in Game 6. The penalty deprives Memphis of its leading scorer (18.2 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg) in the series, unclogs the defensive paint for the Grizzlies in a way the Thunder hadn’t managed to and appears to deal a severe blow to the No. 7 seed’s chances of extending its season.

Oh, the advanced stats might suggest otherwise. Randolph has a minus-5.3 plus/minus average through the first six games, and Memphis’ offensive and defensive ratings have been better when the big man has been sitting: 93.4 and 101.4 with him on the floor (-6.6) vs. 111.2 and 103.9 (+3.3) without him.

But the teams’ rotations and matchups factor into those numbers significantly in such a small sample size, and voices from both sides have lauded the Grizzlies’ size as a reason for Kevin Durant‘s and Russell Westbrook‘s difficulties attacking the rim and drifting to perimeter shots.

With the 6-foot-9, 253-pound power forward out of Memphis’ equation, his replacements – Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer – might not have the same effect.

Meanwhile, Conley – Charles Barkley‘s “most underrated point guard in the league” – could be slowed despite two days of treatment on his hamstring. Especially if Joerger feels a need to pick up the pace in Randolph’s absence; Conley has been a master of running and controlling the tempo of his club’s halfcourt attack.

The late-afternoon announcement of Randolph’s suspension, on top of the way it was dealt with in real time Thursday night – Randolph was assessed a common foul, no flagrant, no review, no ejection – produced some nasty Internet comments. Some accused the NBA of favoring Oklahoma City and Durant, the league’s presumptive 2014 Most Valuable Player, for star power and alleged heightened interest for TV ratings.

The only problem with that: Randolph did pop Adams in the jaw with his right fist as the two ran upcourt together. In fact, he first elbowed the Thunder reserve with his left elbow before reaching across to punch him.

Adams didn’t seem to be hurt, judging by video replay, and the incident at 6:42 of the fourth quarter at FedEx Forum brought a whistle but not drama on the floor. The OKC rookie does seem to use his raw-boned strength intentionally to antagonize opponents.

But Randolph could have reacted differently, recoiling from whatever contact Adams caused in that moment or previously or even just rising above it. Memphis trailed at that point 88-71 and was showing no signs of denting the Thunder’s lead. The reasonable tact for the Grizzlies forward would have been to file away whatever Adams was doing to irritate him and battle another day, as in Game 7.

Now he doesn’t have that chance. And the Grizzlies might be out of theirs.

The ongoing Durant-Westbrook issue: meshing or co-existing?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Russell Westbook (left) and Kevin Durant (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Russell Westbook (left) and Kevin Durant (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

MEMPHIS – As problems go, this is not earth-shaking. But for the Oklahoma City Thunder, it is a matter they have to address.

Are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook maxing out their potential together? And are the Thunder maxing out their potential with the two of them?

Two questions, one issue that has swirled about the Thunder and their two all-NBA stars for several seasons. Sometimes it focuses on speculation of feuds or clashing personalities, sometimes on a hypothetical struggle for primacy.

Always, it springs from a desire to gauge the synergy generated by their world-class talents.

It remains a work in progress, both micro (the Thunder are locked in a 2-2 showdown with Memphis in their best-of-seven series, which continues in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night at 9 on NBA TV) and macro. Durant and Westbrook think they blend just fine, as far as what they’ve said publicly. Same goes for coach Scott Brooks, who even privately – or at least away from the glare of camera lights and microphones – sees no conflict.

Brooks thinks it’s a little reactionary, frankly, given Oklahoma City’s success. From their first season together (2008-09) through their fifth, the team’s winning percentage has climbed each year, starting low at .280 but soaring last season to .732. If you want to pick nits about a dip to .720 this season, know that it was due to winning 59 this season rather than 60, numbers any coach not named Popovich would welcome. (more…)

Blogtable: On the Grizz’s grit

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Thunder in OKC in Game 2 of their first-round series

> After that win in OKC, are you ready to pick the gritty Grizzlies over the Thunder?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not ready. Which is not to say I didn’t find Memphis’ survival in its overtime Game 2 victory to be thoroughly impressive. There were repeated opportunities for the Grizzlies to crack (and potentially have Mike Conley go into some guilt-ridden funk for some late-game mishaps), but they navigated around them. Hey, Z-Bo happened. Still, OKC has so much talent in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook it can win almost in spite of itself most nights. I’m headed to Memphis for Games 3 and 4, while hoping we get 5, 6 and 7 too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Who exactly was it at Overreaction Central that thought the Thunder were going to sweep every game into The Finals? The Grizzles are rough and rugged and are never easy to beat.  But OKC had the second-best (25-16) road record in the West and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still too much. Things will be bruising at the Grind House, but the Thunder survive.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Pick the Grizzlies? No. It was one game. Memphis with Tayshaun Prince initially and then Tony Allen, does have a way of frustrating Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook can’t keep launching bad shots — good luck with all that — but the Thunder remain the more talented team. Sweeps are hard to come by and there’s no reason to think Memphis can’t take this to six games. But pick them to win it? Nah.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Still going Thunder. Because I think the previous 82 games mean something and because I think OKC also knows a lot about grit. It played through big injuries, still sees defense as the base of the success and developed young players while finishing with the second-best record in the West. I like the matchup for the Thunder, too. It’s not just tale of the tape with regular-season records.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. And it’s not because the Grizzlies aren’t great. They are. They’re better than what we should expect from a No. 7 seed. But they also had an uncharacteristically good shooting game from the perimeter on Monday and, more importantly, Oklahoma City is better. They’re the No. 2 seed for a reason, they’re strong on both ends of the floor, and they’ll find a way to loosen Tony Allen’s clamp on Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope. Not yet, at least. But I am feeling like we have a seven-gamer on our hands for sure. The Grizzlies will pound you into submission with their defense, especially on the perimeter. And they wore the Thunder down and made sure that they had to work for every shot, good and bad (and Naismith knows, the Thunder get up plenty of both), the entire night. That’s a recipe for a Game 7 in OKC that I think we’d all enjoy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: The Grizz looked pretty good, to be sure, but for large stretches of the game, the Thunder weren’t really rumbling. The Thunder had their usual array of self-created obstacles to overcome, like Scott Brooks stopping a late 3-on-2 break with a timeout, or like when they needed a 2 to tie with the game on the line and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the ball to the presumptive MVP of the league, Kevin Durant. That said, these are fixable problems, and I think the Thunder should be able to take care of these things.

Allen making life rough again for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Grizzlies grind out a win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – Remember that commercial from last season where Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade haunt each other’s dreams? They got it wrong. Tony Allen, gritty, grimy and forever grinding, is Durant’s worst nightmare.

And now, after Allen made life miserable for Durant in Memphis’ impressive 111-105 overtime victory on the second-seeded Thunder’s home floor Monday night to tie the series 1-1, Allen and his seventh-seeded Grizzlies welcome the soon-to-be-named MVP back to The Grindhouse  — where they’ve put away 14 consecutive opponents.

“First thing first, Kevin Durant, he’s the scoring leader, All-Star, probably one of the greatest in the game right now,” Allen said. “But it’s a competition at the end of the day. Basically, it ain’t about me, it’s about the Grizzlies coming in here, basically playing grit-n-grind basketball, holding our hats on the defensive end.”

But it is about you, Mr. Allen. You suffocated Durant into submission in the fourth quarters of last year’s semifinals series without Russell Westbrook and you’re pushing KD’s buttons again with Westbrook by his side.

It seems crazy to say it with Durant scoring 33 and 36 points in the first two games of this wild first-round series between these familiar foes, but those 69 points have come on 53 shots and with Allen draped all over practically every one of them. Nothing phases him, not when Durant drops a miracle 3-point shot that becomes a four-point play after Allen tipped the initial pass or when Durant started to heat up in the fourth quarter after having just 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting after three quarters.

“I [have] got to do my work early,” Allen said. “If that’s being physical with him then trying to push him through screens, just cause havoc the best way possible. The guy still had 36 points. He’s going to get his. The biggest thing is not to get discouraged, just keep fighting throughout the game.”

Allen gives up eight inches to Durant. It doesn’t matter. He burrows under him and invades his space. He swats shots from behind, curling over screens and closing fast to get an outstretched hand high enough to disrupt his shot. The Thunder have to find some answers, have to figure what makes this Allen fellow tick and take him out of his game.

“I wish I knew what made Tony Allen tick,” said teammate Mike Conley, who’s been masterful with 23 assists and three turnovers in the two games. “He’s hard to explain. He’s a guy that comes in every day with a chip on his shoulder. You don’t know why, you don’t know what’s got him mad, what’s got him angry, but you roll with it. I think playing against top-level competition, KD, Russell, those guys, he really gets up for that opportunity and that challenge, and I’m happy to have him on my team.”

Memphis controlled Game 2 virtually from the start, leading for all but just a couple of minutes of the 53 that were needed. Allen and company did a number on the defensive end, holding OKC to 39.8 percent shooting, Memphis shot 49.4 percent with Conley and Beno Udrih — yes, Beno Freaking Udrih — carving up the Thunder for 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Durant didn’t get much help. Westbrook was 11-for-28. Reggie Jackson didn’t make a shot and the rest of the bench was impotent as well.

Allen and the Grizzlies’ punishing defense pushed Durant out of his comfort zone and into taking 12 3-point attempts — two more than the entire Memphis team — including the miracle corner 3 in the final 15 seconds of regulation that helped the Thunder simply get to overtime.

Allen left Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamenting how the Grizzlies put their hands all over Durant and Westbrook to slow them down. He left Durant in a somber mood in the postgame interview room. He spoke softly and often reluctantly, projecting a tone that he wasn’t much interested in discussing what just went down.

“We shot the shots that were open,” Durant said. “I think we settled for a few, but we put ourselves in position to win a basketball game and they made more plays than we did. So that’s the name of the game, so we’re not panicking at all.”

MVPs don’t panic. They produce. And now’s the time for Durant to carry over his historic regular season into the postseason. Since OKC opened the first half of Game 1 as if guzzling rocket fuel, it’s been nothing but mud-buggying ever since.

“Basically it’s just going to be a slugfest,” Allen said. “We’re going to pound it. They’re going to run it. Whoever can come up with the most stops pretty much wins the game.”

Durant and the Thunder have two days to figure out how to find some breathing space on the road, where Allen will be waiting.

Grizzlies disappointed, moving on with Udrih

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Memphis Grizzlies backed suspended guard Nick Calathes, but a sense of disappointment was also prevalent as the No. 7-seed Grizzlies prepared for tonight’s Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the No. 2 Thunder.

“It’s obviously an unfortunate situation,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said following the team’s Saturday morning shootaround at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “As long as he keeps his head high and keeps his nose clean for the remainder of his career, the kid’s got potential. So, it’s just another case of just a bad decision. Hopefully  he’ll learn from it. But we’ve got his back I’m supporting him; he’s a good kid. That’s all I can say about that.”

Calathes, a 6-foot-6, 25-year-old rookie who had bided his time overseas since being drafted the Dallas Mavericks in 2009, was suspended for 20 games by the NBA Friday night for testing positive for the banned substance Tamoxifen. His absence pushes Beno Udrih, claimed off waivers on Feb. 26, but mostly relegated to the bench, into the backup point guard role behind Mike Conley.

According to a report by ESPN, Calathes is mounting a defense of the ruling, citing it as unfair, but there apparently is nothing that can prevent Calathes from serving the full ban.

“[It was] an over-the-counter supple to treat a private but common medical condition; the NBA rejected it because it doesn’t require a prescription,” attorney David Cornwell, who is representing Calathes, told ESPN.

“Our tests identified Tamoxifen in a supplement Nick [used] for a legitimate medical condition and our tests confirmed that Nick did not have testosterone or any other PED in his body. Despite this irrefutable, objective scientific evidence, the NBA’s response was, ‘Oh well.’ This is indefensible because no legitimate purpose is served by suspending a man who the NBA knows was not cheating.”

 

The league stands by its ruling. Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s executive vice president and general counsel, issued this statement: “Under the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program, like all other state-of-the-art sports drug testing programs, the presence of Tamoxifen is sufficient for a positive drug test. There is no requirement that it be found in conjunction with any other performance-enhancing substance, because Tamoxifen itself can be taken to increase testosterone to enhance performance and because its use may lag the use of other performance-enhancing drugs. NBA players are reminded jointly by the NBA and NBPA each season to avoid the use of supplements or other drugs without a valid medical prescription, including through posted warnings about supplements in every NBA locker room, and that they are fully responsible for whatever substances enter their bodies under the Anti-Drug Program.”

“Nick has had a great year,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who called the situation an NBA matter and did not get into further details. “You know, we’ve had a lot of adversity all season long so everybody’s got to step up their game because it’s the playoffs, but also now because you’re missing a guy who’s really developed and become a big part of what we’ve been doing.”

Calathes, booed by the home fans earlier this season as he struggled to find his footing, had come along at a rapid pace in the second half of the season as the Grizzlies charged up the Western Conference playoffs to earn a playoff berth.

He played in 71 games and averaged 4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg — third on the team behind Conley and Marc Gasol — and 1.9 rpg in 16.5 mpg. He shot 45.7 percent from the floor, but 49.2 percent on 2-point shots, which accounted for the majority of his attempts. The steady, 6-foot-3 Udrih has played in just 10 games with Memphis after being released by the New York Knicks where he averaged 19.0 minutes in 31 games. He averaged 5.6 ppg and 3.5 apg.

Joerger said he continued to play Calathes over Udrih, in his 10th season, to further the younger player’s development for the playoffs. Udrih, who spent his first three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, last played in the postseason when he got into eight games during the Spurs’ 2007 championship run.

“Without Nick being here it’s going to be tougher on me,” Conley said. “Just with the amount of minutes I’m playing, the amount of energy being able to exert at times. He was playing, I think, the best basketball of the season for him. He had found his rhythm and had really been a vital part of our success lately. It’s going to be different without him, I can tell you that much. We feel for him and hope this passes over and we’ll be able to get Beno acclimated and ready to go.

“I expect to play a lot. I got to get mind ready for it.”

Udrih, 31,said he’s ready.

“I worked a little bit extra to get back in shape, where I wanted to,” Udrih said. “But I’m ready. I’m ready in any kind of way to help this team be successful. Whatever I get out there, I’m going to give my best and see what happens.”

The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in last season’s conference semifinals four games to one, but Oklahoma City was without Russell Westbrook. In 2011, the Thunder knocked off the Grizzlies in seven games to advance to the West finals.

“It ain’t really going to boil down to too much scheming. obviously we know them and they know us, so it’s going to boil down to us coming out there, sticking to the coaches’ game plan and hanging our hats on the defensive end in the best way possible.

Grizzlies’ Calathes suspended 20 games

Memphis Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes has been suspended by the league for 20 games starting with Saturday night’s Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder for violating the league’s drug policy.

The league announced late Friday night that Calathes, a 2009 draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks who slowly carved out a niche with the Grizzlies in this, his first season in the NBA, tested positive for tamoxifen. The drug is used to treat fertility in women, but is also known to be used by athletes in conjunction with steroids.

A spokesman for the Grizzlies said the organization would not comment on the suspension at this time.

The 6-foot-6 Calathes played in 71 games and averaged 4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg — third on the team behind Mike Conley and Marc Gasol — and 1.9 rpg in 16.5 mpg. He shot 45.7 percent from the floor, but 49.2 percent on 2-point shots, which accounted for the majority of his attempts.

Calathes’ absence will add more to starting point guard Conley’s load and shooting guard Courtney Lee will likely be pressed into more ball-handling. Conley averaged 33.5 mpg during the regular season. Beno Udrih, who the Grizzlies claimed off waivers from the New York Knicks in February, may also be able to help shoulder the load.

The No. 7-seed Grizzlies won 50 games after starting the season 13-17. They begin their first-round series at OKC on Saturday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Memphis beat the Thunder without Russell Westbrook in five games in last year’s conference semifinals.

This is not the way they hoped to begin the rematch.