Zach Randolph's return to the Memphis Grizzlies lineup is coming Friday as they take on the Toronto Raptors. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun tweeted that Randolph will play, as will Rudy Gay. Randolph's return could put the Western Conference on notice that the Grizzlies are readying to lock up a high seed in the playoffs.
Randolph has missed 37 games since suffering a partial MCL tear on January 1 against the Chicago Bulls. In the first quarter of that game, Randolph collided with O.J. Mayo and collapsed to the floor.
Randolph has made a sound recovery without any relapses for his knee. MRI results showed that he wouldn't need surgery on the knee—a big relief for the Grizzlies, who signed Randolph to a four-year, $71 million deal at the end of last season.
The Grizzlies took their time bringing Randolph through his recovery. He started non-contact drills the week before the All-Star break, and the Grizzlies took that stage slowly, waiting until March to have him practice with the team.
Randolph seems like he's 100 percent now. He's running and shooting well. He goes hard for rebounds.
Also, Randolph is less worried about his knee now. He told The Commercial Appeal on Thursday, "I've got my confidence back. It was a mental thing and a timing thing."
Randolph's comeback comes at a critical juncture for the Grizzlies. They'll soon head into a tough stretch in which they play 10 of 13 games against teams .500 or better, seven of which will be on the road.
Without Randolph, the Grizzlies might not have been able to look at that stretch with great confidence. Memphis is 9-11 on the road and 2-7 on the road against .500 teams. Also, the Grizzlies are a middling 15-15 against Western Conference teams.
With Randolph, the Grizzlies can capably handle that stretch. Randolph led the Grizzlies past the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs last year and led the effort to push the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.
He averaged 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in the 2011 playoffs.
Randolph and Marc Gasol will be an amazing tandem to watch in these last six weeks of the season. The two Grizzlies front men play remarkably well together. They give great mirror looks in the post and off pick-and-rolls. The two of them give opposing teams incredible matchup troubles, as they can both make solid plays with the ball in the post.
The Grizzlies will be more diversified offensively with Randolph back. A diversified offense, along with the characteristically tough defense the Grizzlies have, will make the Grizzlies tough to beat down the stretch and in the playoffs. Currently standing fourth in the conference, the Grizzlies will surely finish fourth or higher now that Randolph's back.