Grizzlies struggling without Gasol’s presence

Life without Marc Gasol has been difficult for the Memphis

Grizzlies.

Now a franchise that was one step from the NBA Finals last

season is fighting to stay out of the Western Conference basement,

with a 12-15 record and a seemingly endless list of injuries.

That’s one reason the team’s current two-game winning streak –

including Monday’s 104-94 victory over Utah Jazz – is a welcome

burst of good news. It’s the first time the Grizzlies have won two

straight in more than a month.

”It’s good to feel good and they deserve to feel good because

they’ve been working hard in practice and in games,” Memphis coach

Dave Joerger said. ”Maybe the wheels on the train are starting to

roll for us.”

Climbing in the Western Conference has been difficult without

Gasol, the NBA’s reigning defensive player of the year who is also

averaging 16 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

Memphis has a 5-10 record since Gasol limped off the court

against San Antonio on Nov. 22 with a sprained MCL in his left

knee.

Joerger said on Monday that he didn’t know when the 7-footer

would be back in the lineup. Gasol tweeted a picture of himself

last week throwing his crutches into the trash, but he hasn’t

returned to practice.

That’s another reason the Grizzlies aren’t getting too giddy

about the past two wins, which have come against the Knicks and

Jazz. Those two teams have a combined 17-41 record.

”We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back just yet,”

Memphis guard Tony Allen said. ”Coming in, playing teams like New

York and Utah, I believe we’re supposed to get those wins. We did a

good job of doing that and now we’ve got a big test against the

Houston Rockets (on Thursday). Those are the ones we need to climb

up in the standings.”

Gasol’s absence has been the Grizzlies’ most glaring problem,

but other starters have also dealt with nagging injuries. Mike

Conley missed two games last week because of a thigh injury.

Tayshaun Prince has missed the past three games with a sore left

knee.

Even Allen – who is relatively healthy – is battling a sore

ankle.

”It’s been tough because we’ve got guys with injuries who

should probably be sitting down in all fairness,” Conley said.

”But we’ve had so many guys with serious injuries, like Marc, who

are going to be out an extended amount of time, that we can’t

afford to sit out. It’s been tough on our bodies but we’re finding

ways to get through it.”

Others have stepped up in the meantime, including 6-foot-9

forward James Johnson, who signed with the Grizzlies last week from

the D-League. He’s started the past two games, and played 33

minutes against the Jazz on Monday, contributing nine points, five

rebounds and four blocked shots.

Allen said Johnson’s athleticism and ”young legs” have been a

welcome sight.

”When we play hard and we play defense we have a chance to win

games,” Conley said. ”Hopefully this will start something.”

At one point earlier this season, the Grizzlies had a different

leading scorer in eight straight games. It was the first time

that’s happened in the NBA in over 10 years.

It’s a sign that the Grizzlies are building some quality depth,

which could come in handy if the rest of the roster can get

healthy. But the upcoming schedule is challenging – four of the

next six are on the road.

”When you get one or two guys out, let alone three or four,

you’re going to be missing something,” Conley said. ”So our

chemistry has been a little off ever since we’ve had guys in and

out of the lineup. We’ve got to try to continue to gel and try to

get back what we had.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.

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