The Memphis Grizzlies, 10-5 and riding a six-game win streak, probably would like to give a tip of the proverbial cap to the Heat for the eight-year apprenticeship served in Miami by David Fizdale, who obviously learned his lessons well.
Fizdale, the rookie Grizzlies head coach who worked under Erik Spoelstra with the Heat, faces his former boss Friday night when Miami visits Memphis. The teams also face each other again Saturday night in Miami.
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“We're brothers,” Fizdale said when asked about Spoelstra. “I wouldn't have this job if it weren't for him.”
It will be a bittersweet reunion for Spoelstra, who is happy for “Fiz” but also engrossed in trying to turn around the 4-10 Heat, who have lost two games in a row and are in next-to-last place in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Heat are in the midst of a rough week. On Wednesday, they lost to the Pistons by 23 points. Detroit is coached by another ex-Heat coach, Stan Van Gundy. On Monday, they lost to the worst team in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite his troubles, Spoelstra texts Fizdale often, offering encouragement when needed.
Asked what advice he gives Fizdale, Spoelstra chuckled.
“I don't have to tell him anything,” Spoelstra said. “He's an excellent coach.”
Fizdale, 42, is not only a good coach, but he is courageous, too. One of his first major decisions upon being hired as Grizzlies coach was to bench power forward Zach Randolph, a two-time NBA All-Star and still a productive player at age 35.
Randolph, who averaged 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, now anchors the second unit. He is averaging eight fewer minutes per game but is still producing 14.2 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Instead of going with Randolph, Fizdale is building his team around 29-year-old point guard Mike Conley, who is leading his team in scoring (19.6 per game) and assists (5.9).
Since the Grizzlies gave Conley a five-year, $153 million contract last summer, it was obvious the point guard was the player Grizzlies management wanted to build around.
To enhance that decision, Fizdale wanted to try to surround Conley with perimeter shooters and 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol, who is a highly skilled and versatile big man. Gasol, 32, is averaging 17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
“I don't enter into these decisions lightly,” Fizdale said when asked about benching Randolph. “It took a lot of thought and a lot of sleepless nights.”
In the end, Fizdale pulled the trigger on his choice and now starts Conley, sweet-shooting wing guard Troy Daniels, small forward (and defensive pest) Tony Allen, power forward JaMychal Green and Gasol.
Besides Randolph, the other key bench players are 40-year-old wing Vince Carter as well as guard Andrew Harrison and forward Jarell Martin.
Three Grizzlies players are out with injuries: small forwards James Ennis (strained calf) and Chandler Parsons (left knee bone bruise) and power forward Brandan Wright (left ankle tendinitis). Ennis, a former Heat player, and Parsons, a Florida native, should return in two weeks. Wright is out one more month.
Fizdale, who obviously knows the Heat personnel very well, will try to devise a plan to contain Miami center Hassan Whiteside, who leads the NBA in rebounding (15.4) and ranks second in blocks (2.57). He also averages 18.3 points.
“Whiteside is playing as well as any big man in the league,” Van Gundy said after Detroit routed the Heat on Wednesday. “His numbers are mind-boggling.”
The Heat and Grizzlies split their two matchups last season, but the Heat haven't won in Memphis since February 2010.
Miami could be without its starting backcourt Friday as point guard Goran Dragic (elbow) and wing Dion Waiters (groin) are battling injuries. Miami is already without starting small forward Justise Winslow (left wrist) and backup center Willie Reed (right knee).
This would be the sixth game in a row Winslow misses. For Reed, it would be his third straight.
Neither team is an offensive machine. Memphis ranks 25th in the league in scoring, and Miami ranks 28th. And if Dragic and Waiters join Winslow on the sideline, that could slow Miami's offense even more. In that scenario, the Heat would be counting primarily on Whiteside and guards Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson.