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Whether or not the Grizzlies can repeat last year's playoff success will come down to whether their two stars learn to coexist
May 07, 2012

In Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, Memphis has two of the NBA's premier individual scorers. Yet for the last two years most of the team's success has come when one of them has been off the floor. Last season, with Gay sidelined for the second half with a shoulder subluxation, the Grizzlies finished on a 15--10 run, then stunned top-seeded San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs before taking the Thunder to seven games in the second. Randolph was the catalyst, with a team-high 20.1 points per game (which rose to 22.2 in the postseason). This year Memphis had the highest winning percentage in franchise history (.621), even with Randolph on the shelf for 37 games with a knee injury. As Gay went, so did the Grizzlies: When he scored 20 or more points, Memphis was 24--9; when he went for 25-plus, it was 9--1.

So would the Grizzlies benefit from getting rid of one of their big two? "Absolutely not," says a scout. "Rudy is an excellent scorer, from anywhere. Zach is a force in the post. This is a star-oriented league, and you need as many as you can get." But it's clear that they haven't figured out how to divvy up the shots when they're on the floor together, so would Memphis be better off with one coming off the bench? The results don't lie: When Randolph returned to the starting lineup in March, Memphis lost his first three games back. When Z-Bo was shifted to the bench, the Grizzlies went 15--4. Randolph was reinstalled as a starter in Sunday's first-round series opener against the Clippers but was ineffective, finishing with six points (on 3-of-13 shooting) in a 99--98 defeat. "It was smart moving Zach to the bench," says the scout. "They should have kept him there."

Of course the preferable solution for Memphis would be for the two to learn to thrive together. The Grizzlies' strength is their strength: The Randolph--Marc Gasol front line ranks among the best duos in the league. That a team so big with so many high-percentage shooters could get thumped 54--38 in the paint in Game 1's meltdown against the Clippers and miss 12 consecutive shots in the fourth quarter is inexplicable. Gay must work harder to get both his bigs involved (Gasol attempted just one shot in the second half on Sunday), while Randolph, who's not an adept passer (1.7 assists per game this season), can't force shots up when he gets the ball. "These guys are talented enough to figure it out," says a scout. "Egos are what might make it not work."

Time is of the essence. If Memphis loses its series to the Clippers—a series in which the Grizzlies are the deeper, more experienced, more talented team—changes could be coming. Memphis has a top 10 payroll ($71.4 million) and free agents in O.J. Mayo, Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur to consider. Gay has been on the block before, with a contract that will pay him $53.6 million through 2015. A full season together would help Gay and Randolph jell—but an early exit means they might not get it.

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BULL RUN

Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury last week knocked the Bulls down—but maybe not out. Rose missed 27 games during the regular season, during which Chicago went 18--9. The Bulls have capable backups in C.J. Watson and John Lucas III and an offense that ranked fifth in the NBA in efficiency, up from 11th last season. "And they are still a great defensive team," says a scout. "Offensively they execute really well. With Rose out they will run a lot of pin-downs for Kyle Korver, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton (right). They will run some pick-and-rolls for the guards. They will post up Carlos Boozer. They won't be able to isolate and go like they could with Rose, but trust me, they won't fall apart."

TWO PHOTOSGREG NELSONZ-BO DIDDLY While Gay (inset) thrived, Randolph (left) saw his shot attempts diminish to a career-low 18.6 per 48 minutes. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (HAMILTON)

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