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New ‘big’ Speights helps Grizz fill Zbo gap


It was tip-off time at FedExForum on Tuesday (Feb. 21) and the Memphis Grizzlies’ starting lineup included forward Marreese Speights.

It was tip-off time at FedExForum on Tuesday (Feb. 21) and the Memphis Grizzlies’ starting lineup included forward Marreese Speights.

 Marreese Speights
 Grizz “big” man Marreese Speights is making his presence known during the absence of Memphis star forward Zach Randolph. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

There the 6’ 10” big man stood face-to-face with the team that originally chose him at No. 16 in the 2008 NBA draft. The Philadelphia 76ers (20-13) sent Speights packing to the Grizzlies on Jan. 4 in a three-way trade involving the New Orleans Hornets. The Grizzlies sent Xavier Henry to New Orleans and a 2012 second-round pick to Philadelphia in the deal.

The Grizzlies defeated the 76ers 89 to 76 with Speights as a key player. He finished with 12 points and two rebounds.

Speights, who averaged eight points and four rebounds in Philadelphia, made the first shot and grabbed the first rebound of the game. He went on to score  six points in just eight minutes.

And that’s what the Grizzlies needed to get a good foundation and establish a lead. His former coach, the 76ers Doug Collins, said, “Marreese Speights scored three baskets to start the game and maybe jumped an inch of the floor each time.”

Making an adjustment after losing Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur, the task for the Griz was to gather some big guys to compensate. Size is one trait that attracted the Grizzlies to third-year NBA grinder.

Grizz forward Rudy Gay knew exactly what was in store.

“I’ve known Mo for about four or five years now,” Gay said.  “I think out of everybody I knew what to expect. You know what you get when you have him out there. He’s aggressive offensively. Every night he’s going to rebound. That’s something we needed.  They went and got him. He’s helped us out tremendously. I just knew he was going to blend in perfectly.”

Quickly adjusting to the Grizz grit and grind culture, Speights has been averaging 12.5 points and 10.4 rebounds on .542 shooting in 31.3 minutes in the last eight games. He posted a season-high 20 points and career-high 18 rebounds (a Grizzlies season high) on Feb. 15 at New Jersey.  He has recorded the three highest single-game rebounding totals of his career this season.  In the last four games he averaged 15 points and 10.8 rebounds on .636 shooting.

Teams usually have to prepare to battle Marc Gasol and Randolph. But now they are faced with a new big guy in Speights. In Randolph’s absence Speights said he received sage advice.  

“Zach said to make sure you play off Marc,” said Speights, who was a member of the Florida Gators’ 2007 National Championship team as a freshman, backing up current NBA stars Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

 “I just go out there and just play hard to start off the games and with an edge on my shoulder.  I go out, get a good warm up and I’m ready to go. With rebounding you have to go hard.  Good things happen when you go out there with a lot of effort on the defensive glass and offensive glass.”  

“Mo (Marreese) has gotten off to good starts,” said Grizz Head Coach Lionel Hollins.  “To his credit, he’s come out ready to play. We wouldn’t be where we are without him and his contribution throughout the course of the game…”

Gasol said Speights’ presence in the paint compensates for missing one Randolph and Arthur.

“He and Dante (Cunningham) have done a great job,” Gasol said. “They have the talent to do it and they are definitely giving the effort.”

“He’s really picked us up,” O.J. Mayo said. “My big brother Zbo went down and for him to step in and really pick it up down the stretch made him into a double-double machine. Feeding off Marc (Gasol) and feeding off the rest of the guys has helped us out.”

Grizz guard Mike Conley said, “We play in a system where we are going inside out and try to play through our big men. When Mo (Marreese) Speights is playing well, we play well.”


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