Conley feels better as Grizzlies visit Magic (Dec 26, 2016)
When the Memphis Grizzlies officially announced Mike Conley would be out indefinitely with a fracture in a vertebra in his back in late November, the team was put into a state of turmoil. The Grizzlies were not particularly deep at point guard and their freshly re-signed star was a big part of the team's heartbeat.
Facing a long absence, the Grizzlies season seemed to hang in the balance.
Memphis is Memphis, though. The Grizzlies faced devastating injuries before. And even with a new coach in David Fizdale bringing a somewhat faster pace and new identity to the team, the Grizzlies still have a strong culture built on defense.
Memphis won seven of its next nine games, including a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even without Conley, the Grizzlies were stifling defensively, giving up only 97.9 points per 100 possessions. Memphis was playing among the best teams in the league.
With Conley out, Memphis did not lose ground. The team gained ground.
Then Conley made a surprise early return Dec. 16. He struggled to get himself going again and the Grizzlies' hot streak slowed some. But Memphis once again got itself back off the mat while facing some adversity.
Conley scored 24 points in the Grizzlies' 115-109 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday. He is still inconsistent as he gets his rhythm back, but this was a big first step.
"I knew eventually one of these games I was going to break through," Conley told FSN Southeast. "My body is starting to feel better and better each game. I'm feeling more confident and doing more things. The sky is the limit for us. So I've just got to keep going."
This team is firmly entrenched among the Western Conference's best teams. And figure only to get better.
The Grizzlies are a more than respectable 20-12 coming out of the Christmas break. And there is enough faith in them as a team to keep things moving in the right direction.
The Orlando Magic (14-18) do not quite have that faith as they enter Monday's game against the visiting Grizzlies at Amway Center. The team treaded water through December as they hang on the outside of the early Eastern Conference playoff race.
Their team is still coming together and struggling to find consistency.
The Magic suffered a 30-point home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 18. They followed that up with a double-overtime road victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and a disappointing effort against the New York Knicks on Thursday. They then set a franchise-record with nine blocks in the first quarter of a 106-90 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
The Magic are still figuring things out. But one thing is certain, they know how to bounce back from defeats and, at least, keep the boat steady.
"We haven't been perfect a lot of times this year," Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel said. "We knew it would take a little time to gel. It's still going to take some time to gel and grow our consistency that's going to take place throughout the season. ... We believe in ourselves and have a lot of pride."