NBA

Grizzlies disappointed after early playoff exit

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)

The Memphis Grizzlies have learned a very hard lesson about the postseason. Putting together a magical run deep into the playoffs isn't as easy as they made it look a year ago.

They came back and posted a 41-25 record in the regular season that set a franchise record for the highest winning percentage in earning their highest postseason seed at No. 4. They even had Rudy Gay, who missed last year's run to the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals with a shoulder injury.

The Grizzlies ended this postseason in seven games again, but in the first round with an 82-72 loss Sunday to the Clippers.

''Sometimes pain dissipates with time,'' coach Lionel Hollins said Monday. ''Hopefully this will stick with them for a long time.''

The Grizzlies finished the season with a 62.1 winning percentage that was amazing considering they lost Darrell Arthur to a torn right Achilles tendon before the season started, then Zach Randolph tore his right MCL on Jan. 1 and missed 37 games.

Memphis finished the regular season winning 16 of 20 with impressive road wins at Oklahoma City, Miami and the Lakers. In the final 18 games, Hollins used Randolph coming off the bench. With that scoring punch, the Grizzlies' reserves averaged 36.1 points a game in that stretch.

The Grizzlies also led the NBA with 9.6 steals and 17.2 forced turnovers a game, becoming the first team to lead the NBA in those categories in consecutive seasons since the Seattle SuperSonics did it in 1995-96 and 1996-97. They also led the league scoring 19.7 points off turnovers.

They also went 26-7 at home for the best record in franchise history and third-best in the NBA behind only Miami and San Antonio.

''The sky's the limit for next year when everybody's healthy and with more experience and more confidence for next year,'' guard Tony Allen said.

Yet they wrapped up Monday talking about the same needs as a year ago after losing to Oklahoma City in the second round. Memphis still must find someone to back up Mike Conley at point guard and outside scoring.

Conley played all 40 minutes of Sunday's final loss despite being sick and running a fever that affected his shooting as he missed his first seven shots and wound up 2 of 13. The Grizzlies hit 11 3-pointers in Game 1 but managed only 2 of 31 in the final three home games of this series.

Gay did lead the Grizzlies in scoring during the playoffs. He also will be heading to training camp with the U.S. men for the London Olympics, and he said he plans to work on all aspects of his game after spending last summer rehabilitating his shoulder.

With Randolph starting against the Clippers, Memphis' bench averaged 15.3 points in the final three games against Los Angeles with the worst deficit (41-11) coming in the Game 7 loss.

And just as Oklahoma City did in Game 7 a year ago, the Clippers also shut down All-Star center Marc Gasol and Randolph. With nobody able to hit a jumper and going 0 of 13 beyond the arc, Memphis offered no reason for the Clippers to move any defenders away from the paint.

Randolph said they need somebody to open it up so opponents cannot double Gasol and himself.

''You got to have somebody to open it up,'' Randolph said. ''They understand how much damage and how much problems me and Marc cause in the paint. We got to fix that.''

The Grizzlies have some decisions to make by July 1. Arthur, O.J. Mayo, Marrese Speights, and Lester Hudson all are restricted free agents, while Gilbert Arenas and Hamed Haddadi are free agents. Mayo and Speights both said they want to be back in Memphis next season.

''We built it basically from the ground up,'' Mayo said. ''When I first got here, we had 15 to 2,500 people in the stands to now selling out games and talking about winning championships and home-court advantage in playoffs. It just keeps getting better and better. Why not stick around and finish it out and see where we can get?''

The Grizzlies also had a painful lesson in the playoffs about protecting leads. They built leads repeatedly in the regular season and let them slip away, and it bit them in Game 1 when they blew a 27-point lead overall and 24 points in the fourth quarter. That's why Hollins wants his Grizzlies to improve their professionalism, poise and focus.

''It's a concentration ... type thing to understand we play the same way whether we're down or we're up,'' Hollins said.

At least now the Grizzlies don't have to worry about labor issues putting the start of next season into limbo as they did a year ago and can try to build for the future.

''There were some milestones, but the way I look at it until you hang a championship banner you're always searching and scrambling and trying to upgrade your team and you're never satisfied,'' general manager Chris Wallace said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Tagged: Clippers, Grizzlies, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo

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