• Zach Randolph is a terrific basketball player, an altogether charming personality and a conduit for Memphis to merge two of its great loves: The thrill of basketball and the theatrics of professional wrestling. From Chris Herrington, moonlighting at TrueHoop:
... one secret to Randolph's Memphis appeal is that he’s a figure who evokes the city’s wrestling history more than its basketball history. With his big personality and combination of the physical and theatrical, Z-Bo's lineage descends more from local wrestling legends such as Sputnik Monroe, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler than from local hoops legends such as Larry Finch and Penny Hardaway.
Randolph’s Grizzlies changed the tenor of playoff basketball in Memphis in part by being competitive after a prior history of postseason sweeps. But these Grizzlies also put playoff basketball in a more familiar local context, the tough but flamboyant personality of the team feeding the fan base’s wrestling-bred conception of sport as working-man’s opera, yielding “We Don’t Bluff” theme songs and "Whoop That Clip" chants. The former was plucked from a Randolph postgame interview after an altercation with Kendrick Perkins, the latter charged up by a Randolph vs. Blake Griffin rivalry that frequently unravels into double fouls and floor burns.
Like an old-school wrestling card, there's a tinge of violence in the air, but it’s just for show. There is no intent to harm. This connection is made explicit each spring when Lawler appears during playoff games to hype up the crowd. Nationally, he’s mostly known as the cartoonish commentator for WWE broadcasts. But Lawler dominated the Memphis wrestling scene for decades as a charismatic good-ole-boy badass. Memphis wrestling, embodied by Lawler, fostered a culture where good guys aren't so clean-cut. They throw fire. They use chairs. They sometimes send Hollywood interlopers away on stretchers. And Lawler returns each spring to re-enact these rituals against jobbers wearing opposing teams' jerseys.
• David Lee is asked, point-blank, about the growing thought that the Warriors might be more effective -- or at least play a more effective style -- without him.
• Embedded in this worthwhile piece on the limitations of ESPN.com's newly unveiled Real Plus-Minus (RPM) is this deserved praise of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle:
What this is really showing you is why Carlisle is such a good coach. He doesn't do rotations in broad strokes -- he has very distinct combinations of players he uses for very small periods of time for very specific reasons. If he staggered the minutes so that Jae [Crowder] had to play a ton with Samuel Dalembert or DeJuan Blair, it would be disastrous. That's just way too many liabilities to have on the floor at the same time.
What Carlisle is really doing is staggering Dirk [Nowitzki's] and [Shawn] Marion's playing time in order to allow less effective guys to sponge off them. When Dirk comes out early in the first and third quarters, Carlisle brings in Vince [Carter] and moves Marion to the 4, where he has to match up with starting power forwards. Not many NBA small forwards can hold up for any amount of time against Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and all the other great power forwards in the Western Conference.
• A fascinating quirk on the financial side of the NBA: According to Mark Deeks of Sham Sports, Mike Muscala -- a second rounder whom the Hawks signed midseason after a few months in Spain -- has both a team option and a fully non-guaranteed salary in the final season of his contract. As a result, Atlanta will eventually have the choice of "picking up" the final year of Muscala's deal while then reserving the right to cut him up to the guarantee deadline at no future cost.
• An open question posed by Rahat Huq of Red94:
Is there anyone alive who, more than Terrence Jones, fastidiously feasts upon pathetic frontcourts while doing nothing against good teams? Jones carved up the Lakers last night in just three quarters, but again, he probably won’t be on the court when it matters in the postseason. Again, against Oklahoma City the other night, despite having played a solid game up to that point, Jones sat in the 4th as Kevin McHale opted to go small. This was even without Patrick Beverley in the lineup. It is just clear that McHale has much more confidence in his smaller players in those sorts of situations.
• The last two years have not been kind to Al Harrington's knees. • Do read this at-a-glance look back at the career of Dirk Nowitzki from ESPN.com's Marc Stein -- the reporter who's watched him and followed him as closely as anyone for the past 15 years. Ditto for this oral history of Nowitzki's course from Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, with anecdotes from friends, mentors and former teammates.