It was going to be almost impossible to supplant the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA headlines in January.
The Thunder surged to the top of the Western Conference behind a month-long scoring binge by superstar Kevin Durant while Russell Westbrook continued to watch and recover from knee surgery.
But the Memphis Grizzlies made progress – without the Thunder’s flair.
Memphis has gone from near the bottom of the Western Conference to a playoff contender.
The Grizzlies were 11-4 in January and won Saturday night to improve to 26-20.
Memphis welcomed back 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol from a knee problem to help stabilize a lineup that has been in flux because of injuries.
Nearly every key player has missed time. Gasol, a center, has played in only 23 games this season.
Not only does Gasol anchor the defense, he is a key part of the Grizzlies’ offense because of his skilled game.
“We just tried to win every single game we could,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger. “We didn’t lay down and go, ‘We just have to wait until Marc comes back.’ ”
Memphis is still waiting for some of its important pieces to return.
Defensive standout Tony Allen, a guard, has been out since Jan. 3 because of a hand injury.
Starting point guard Mike Conley sprained his ankle Friday and will miss at least a week. Forward Quincy Pondexter is out with a stress fracture in his foot.
The Grizzlies acquired guard Courtney Lee to pick up the slack.
“I was proud of the guys because they played together no matter what unit was in,” Joerger said.
Memphis reached the Western Conference finals last season, which seems like a lofty goal this season. Joerger is in his first season, the Grizzlies have the injuries to overcome, and the West is as tough as ever.
Memphis is percentage points ahead of Dallas for the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.
“We feel good about where we are,” Joerger said. “We don’t feel great. We feel like we lost some games we should have won, but at the same time we’re pleased to get (Gasol) back and go forward.”
Center Andrew Bynum landed in a great situation if he doesn’t alienate his new teammates.
The Indiana Pacers do not need Bynum to be the player he was two years ago, when he was an All-Star for the Los Angeles Lakers. They simply need him to fill in when needed.
If Bynum plays it cool, he could win a third championship without the pressure of having to be a major player.
The Lakers have lost 18 of their last 21 games. And another player, Pau Gasol, is injured. He will miss at least a week with a strained groin.
The Lakers (16-31) lead the last-place Kings by only one game.
“All of them felt like I got screwed. Finally, everyone is on my side.”
Indiana guard Lance Stephenson to the Indianapolis Star, on social media outrage over his omission from the Eastern Conference All-Star team.