The curious case of Zach Randolph's knee injury took a more decisive turn today, with the Commercial Appeal reporting that an MRI has revealed a “slight tear” that will have him out of action for “up to eight weeks.”
Trainers and doctors initially diagnosed the injury — suffered in the first quarter of Sunday's loss at Chicago — as a deep bruise, and Randolph's MRI test, not taken until yesterday, was termed as only “precautionary” by the team. As recently as late yesterday afternoon, I'd been told by an internal Grizzlies source that the initial word from the MRI was positive and that Randolph was still considered “day to day.” But the team held off on releasing results for further evaluation of the MRI. Clearly there was some internal uncertainty — or, at least, miscommunication — about the severity of Randolph's injury.
The current prognosis is very similar to that of Rudy Gay in the days after his February shoulder injury — no surgery planned, a re-evaluation in two weeks, an expected absence of up to 8 weeks. In Gay's case, the injury didn't fully heal via treatment alone and surgery was required. The Grizzlies will hope that Randolph's recovery goes better.
In the meantime, the Grizzlies' goal now has to be to simply make the playoffs rather than the loftier goal of moving into the upper tier of the Western Conference playoff seedings. And with the Western playoff race appearing flatter than the recent norm this season, the team and fans shouldn't discount the chances to keep playoff hopes alive.
The Grizzlies seem poised to add more size in the coming week via trade target Marreese Speights and returnee Hamed Haddadi, but the best hope for staying in the playoff race might come from how the team played last night against Sacramento: Smaller, quicker lineups with even more emphasis on creating offense off of turnovers and aggressive, pestering defense. Despite his early offensive struggles, Rudy Gay has rebounded well this season while playing more minute as a “four,” and players such as Quincy Pondexter and Sam Young, in particular, are capable of playing “bigger,” as Young showed last night.
For now, the offensive weight will move from Randolph's post game to the troika of Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Mike Conley. If they can play as well as they did last night — which was admittedly at home against a weak opponent — the Grizzlies could be able to stay afloat while hoping for Randolph's return. The pressure will be on those players to try to fill the void.