All eyes on Conley in opener 

click to enlarge Mike Conley
  • Don Ryan/AP File Photo
  • Grizzlies guard Mike Conley is trying to come back from facial fractures suffered in the team's series against the Trail Blazers.
Few if any Memphis Grizzlies will be watched more closely than point guard Mike Conley before the opener of the Western Conference semifinals, which the Warriors host at Oracles Arena today.

Conley made the trip to Oakland for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, but he isn’t expected to be in uniform because of a severe facial injury that could sideline him for more than one game. His potential absence is seemingly the fulcrum on which the series hinges, with analysts across the country giving the Grizzlies a fighter’s chance to somewhere between slim and none without their floor leader.

“It’s not the first time the national media say we’re going to get swept,” Memphis power forward Zach Randolph said. “This ain’t our first rodeo.”

Each of the Grizzlies, meanwhile, hit different tones in projecting their point guard’s chances of playing with protective face wear. Randolph called Conley a “warrior,” while Courtney Lee said he “expected” Conley to suit up. Marc Gasol struck the lightest cord, noting in jest, “I think he’s going to look better in the mask.”

Yet the swelling must subside in Conley’s face before he can be fitted for a mask that he will need to return.

He sustained multiple facial fractures in the first round against Portland when he was elbowed by CJ McCollum in Game 3. He underwent surgery on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Warriors will be well-rested, having had seven days off since their sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.

Conley can’t go, Memphis will likely have to mix and match with their bench in hopes of keeping pace the Warriors’ free-flowing offense.

Defensively, with scrappy, heralded defenders like Tony Allen and Courtney Lee, the Grizzlies have athletes to throw at Stephen and Klay Thompson, in addition to Conley’s two-pronged replacement at the point, Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes, who certainly have their hands full.

And offensively, the likes of Vince Carter and Jeff Green off the bench offer an explosive, albeit aging, scorer off the bench to go with the Georgetown product’s stretch-4 abilities. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger will have numerous options and lineup iterations along with the a 105-98 win in the team’s first meeting that offers a reminder of their potential.

“Memphis’ strength is inside, but it doesn’t mean they can’t make 3’s,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “(Vince) Carter went nuts on us in the first game we played. They went on a 20-0 run in the second quarter, so you’re not going to take everything away. There’s a reason why they’re here.”

Kerr has plenty of cards to play in his reserve stable as well, with the likes of Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights factoring into the victory over the Pelicans to start the postseason.

Better still, power forward David Lee is ready to go if called on, though Kerr maintained everyone’s usage remains totally circumstantial though a huge key to why the team sits in its strong position at present.

“They got us through the regular season in a healthy manner, and got [our starters] plenty of rest,” Kerr said of the bench. “The residual effect is guys are more prepared to help in the postseason. . . . We’re very comfortable going to our bench in any situation.”

Memphis, with or without Conley, will find that out first-hand today.

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Jack Ross

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