Grizzlies set sights high with Marc Gasol healthy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Marc Gasol is fully recovered from the sprained left knee that cost him 23 games last season, and the Grizzlies center worked hard this summer to be in even better shape for the final year of his contract.

Now the 2012-13 defensive player of the year wants more.

''I feel we can be better, and that's the only thing on my mind to try to be better,'' Gasol said.

Gasol's knee plus injuries to Tony Allen and Mike Conley left the Grizzlies scrapping their way into the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season with a 50-32 record, and that's where they blew a 3-2 lead losing Game 7 in Oklahoma City. Gasol then played in the World Championships for Spain before getting stronger so he can be more active on the court.

Zach Randolph wants to see Gasol be more aggressive too.

''When he's aggressive, ain't nobody stop him,'' Randolph said of his teammate.

This is the seventh season Gasol has been with guard Mike Conley and the sixth with Randolph. Together with defensive whiz Allen, they have helped the Grizzlies to a franchise-record four straight postseason appearances and the Western Conference final in 2013. They feel they missed a big opportunity in their last playoff trip and want another shot.

''I don't think the journey's over,'' Gasol said. ''I think the best is to come.''

A front-office shake-up in May left controlling owner Robert Pera fully in charge, and he brought back general manager Chris Wallace to run the team. Wallace has been very busy signing Randolph to a two-year extension in June and followed that by signing Vince Carter. The Grizzlies open the season Oct. 29 hosting Minnesota, and Wallace sees this team in position to continue their ''golden era.''

''I'm confident this group can step up to another few rungs on the ladder,'' Wallace said.

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Here are some things to watch with the Grizzlies:

GASOL'S FUTURE: The Grizzlies see signing Gasol to a new contract as the top priority, but they can't start talking to him until mid-December. Gasol plans to take the season day by day and says he is focusing on the team's goals. He said everyone knows how much he loves Memphis and the Grizzlies and will see how everyone feels at the end of the year. Randolph isn't worrying about the contract for a man he sees as one of the top three centers in the NBA. ''It's not going to be an issue with his situation,'' Randolph said. ''It shouldn't be. Believe me if Memphis don't want him, there's a lot of other teams that want him, so I don't think he's going anywhere.''

START FASTER: The Grizzlies stumbled back to their traditional sluggish start a year ago, going 11-15 a year after turning in the best start in the NBA at 13-3. That strong start coincided with Memphis reaching the Western Finals at the end of the season. The Grizzlies had to go 33-13 once Gasol returned to reach the playoffs. So starting faster is a must even with five of the first seven on the road.

VINSANITY: Mike Miller was the only player on the roster to play all 82 games last season, but he left for Cleveland. So the Grizzlies brought in Vince Carter to help a team that made an NBA-worst 4.9 3-pointers a game last season. Carter is seventh all-time with 1,809 3-pointers made, and nobody hit more 3s than his 146 coming off the bench last season.

JOERGER, TAKE 2: Joerger turned in the best record among all first-year coaches in the NBA in his debut last season, and now he has a contract extension along with more help on the bench. The Grizzlies added veteran coach Jeff Bzdelik to the bench.

DEEPER BENCH: Joerger plans to bring veteran Tayshaun Prince off the bench and starting Allen. Quincy Pondexter is healthy after missing most of last season with a broken bone in his foot. There's also Carter, Jon Leuer, Kosta Kofous and a pair of rookies who will struggle to find minutes in guard Jordan Adams and forward Jarnell Stokes. They also brought back veteran guard Beno Udrih, who will help as Nick Calathes sits out the first 13 games of the season finishing his suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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