2 All-Star Bigs On the Bench? Not a Problem For Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies went into Tuesday’s matchup versus the Phoenix Suns knowing that their All-Star center, Marc Gasol, would not be in the lineup due to a knee injury, but there was hope that their All-Star power forward, Zach Randolph, might be able to go after having issues with an ingrown toenail. Randolph couldn’t go, but it didn’t matter; the Grizzlies had Ed Davis and Jon Leuer. That’s right, I said Ed Davis and Jon Leuer.
Memphis has one of the the best, if not the best, combination of starting big men of any team in the NBA. The combo of Gasol and Randolph has led the Grizzlies further than anyone could have ever imagined. When the Grizzlies lost Randolph for the majority of the 2011-12 strike-shortened season, they struggled, but they had Rudy Gay to help with the scoring load. In 2009-10, the Grizzlies missed the playoffs because Gasol missed the 13 of their final 15 games. So, without Randolph and Gasol, it was all but assumed Memphis would struggle against Phoenix, and might even lose. That was not the case; Memphis had Davis and Leuer. Yeah, that Davis, and that Leuer.
Davis got the start alongside Kosta Koufos, and he posted the sixth double-double of his career, scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 boards and blocking two shots. Games like this are why the Grizzlies traded for Davis. When he is active on defense, crashing the boards and cutting to the rim, he is a valuable NBA player. When he is moping up and down the court, shooting long jumpers and getting lost on defense, he is not worth re-signing, which by the way, Memphis passed on doing before the deadline. This was the second time Davis stepped up big in the absence of Gasol, and if he continues, Memphis can keep “making the playoffs” as a realistic goal.
The craziest part of the night was Leuer. Your average NBA fan, and even some of you rabid NBA fans, don’t know who Jon Leuer is. He was the throw-in involved with the Grizzlies salary-dump trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and now he is giving them 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in a much-needed December win. And don’t kid yourself, that was a much-needed win. Memphis had only nine home losses last season; this year they have five, and after losing at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Memphis needed this win against a below-average Phoenix team. So, saying this was a much-needed win is not hyperbole. In the loaded Western Conference, the Grizzlies need to stay around .500 until Gasol comes back if they want to make the playoffs.
Phoenix is one of the teams that are in the mix for a playoff spot out West, so this game was important to them too. They saw a wounded opponent that they could take advantage of, and move up in the standings. The Suns even had a first half lead, 54-46, but Davis and Leuer were too much in the end. That is a sentence I keep writing, and I guess that’s because it is so odd to write, and if I keep writing it, it might eventually make sense to me. I can guarantee you the Suns did not think that Davis and Leuer would be the reason they lost.
With post-play already being a strength of the Grizzlies, they are set to be even more loaded in the post if Davis and Leuer can gain some confidence with their uptick in minutes due to injuries. Memphis did not add much to their roster in the offseason, but now their biggest strength seems to be even stronger. Davis and Leuer are the reason the Grizzlies won this game, and if they keep it up, they will be the reason the Grizzlies stay in the playoff picture.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.