Memphis' Randolph gets nostalgic about his start in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Grizzlies' playoff series against the Trail Blazers had Memphis forward Zach Randolph waxing a bit nostalgic.

Portland is where it all began for Z-Bo, who played his first six seasons in the NBA with the Blazers.

''It's real special. I mean, this is where I started at, so it's a lot of memories and a lot of good times around here,'' he said. ''A lot of fond memories.''

The Grizzlies have won the first three of their first three playoff games against the Blazers and could advance to the Western Conference semifinals with a victory in Portland on Monday night. Memphis has never swept a playoff series before.

Randolph had 16 points in the Grizzlies' 115-109 Game 3 victory at the Moda Center on Saturday night. And although he's returned to Portland many times before, the playoffs are decidedly different.

''It is very tough to win here,'' he said. ''With these fans, this is a great place. Even before the tipoff, the fans were going crazy. That's one of the best things about Portland.''

Randolph was drafted by the Blazers with the 19th overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft. Portland went to the playoffs his first two seasons in the league with a roster that included Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire. Randolph won the NBA's Most Improved Player award for the 2003-04 season.

But it was also the so-called ''Jail Blazers'' era in Portland, and Randolph had his share of trouble: He was suspended for two games after punching teammate Ruben Patterson in practice, and he was cited for driving under the influence in 2003 and later a drag racing incident in downtown Portland in 2006.

Randolph averaged 16 points and 7.7 rebounds during his tenure in Portland. He was traded to the New York Knicks in June 2007 - a year after the Blazers acquired LaMarcus Aldridge, who would go on to become Portland's starting power forward and a three-time All Star.

Aldridge said he learned a lot from Randolph their lone season together. He also thinks he may have helped Randolph a bit too, by pushing him.

''In Portland, it was more about stats, because he was younger. Now that he's older, it's more about winning,'' Aldridge said. ''(In the series opener), he went the first five or six minutes with one shot. The old Z-Bo would have been cursing people out, throwing headbands in the stands. The new Z-Bo, as long as they're winning, he's good. That's been great for their team, because he's changed so much.''

Randolph has indeed grown up. He's 33 and in his 14th season in the league, the last six spent in in Memphis. He's become a two-time All-Star himself. And last fall he married his longtime girlfriend Faune Drake; together they have three children.

''I've been blessed,'' he said. ''Blessed with this situation; great team, great organization, great players,'' he said. ''I'm just blessed and thankful.''

Randolph is averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds in the playoffs against the team that drafted him. The Grizzlies had never before faced the Blazers in the playoffs.

He said felt a tinge of nostalgia in Game 3, when the Rose Garden was lit up during the pregame introductions by thousands of fans waving glowing red cheer sticks. The crowd was roaring.

''It kind of gave me chills,'' he said.

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