The Memphis Grizzlies have clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference and racked up a 17-6 record over their last 23 games, but that doesn't mean everything is fine behind the scenes. During a loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Knicks' TV crew detected tension between Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph and head coach Lionel Hollins, and even suggested the dispute was affecting the team's performance on the floor.
Hollins did not start Randolph against the Boston Celtics last Saturday because the big man was late to a shootaround, and since then Randolph has played poorly. The team has lost three of its last four games and now finds itself in the No. 5 seed, so with the stakes so high Randolph and Hollins both were quick to deny there is any form of a dispute between them. Randolph told Ronald Tillery of the the Commercial-Appeal: "Our relationship is fine. I respect my coach." Hollins had this to say about the situation:
"The only beef I had with Zach is he was excessively late for a shootaround that started at 4:30 p.m. (last Saturday)," Hollins said. "I told him I can't start you and he understood. Everybody's got their opinion about what goes on in our locker room. But only the people in there know. I haven't had a beef with Zach and he hasn't had one with me."
"We're getting him the ball," Hollins said. "If you watch the games, we're getting him the ball. It's just now teams are taking him away. They're running three people at him and he's making passes. Other people are having to step up and try to do things. It's just the way it is."
The 31-year-old big man leads the team in scoring (15.5 PPG) and rebounding (11.4 RPG), but even with Marc Gasol battling a torn abdominal muscle he has seen a reduction in his minutes since last Saturday. Randolph averages 35 minutes per game on the year, yet he played only 31 minutes against Boston, 28 minutes against the Wizards and 25 minutes against the Knicks. Over that span of three games he has scored 28 points on 10-24 shooting and grabbed 22 rebounds.
Hollins has claimed the reduction in minutes is merely a response to small ball lineups employed by recent opponents. Randolph says he's been down that road before: "I've had three NBA coaches and when teams go small you stick to what you do. It's a disadvantage for both teams."
The Grizzlies are set to host a high-powered Rockets team on Friday that is notorious for using small lineups and spreading the floor to put shooters along the perimeter. It will be interesting to see what happens if the Rockets use Carlos Delfino or Chandler Parsons at power forward. Everyone will be watching to see how Hollins and Randolph respond to the situation, because the playoff race is getting very serious in the Western Conference and there is a lot at stake for Memphis in terms of seeding.