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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Memphis Grizzlies were coming off an undefeated four-game West Coast road trip less than a week ago and life was good.
Then Marc Gasol limped off the court and everything changed for the Grizzlies.
Now the Grizzlies (7-7) have lost two straight at home, are a .500 team, and trying to find a productive rotation before falling too far behind in the loaded Western Conference.
The loss of the 7-foot-1 Gasol — out indefinitely with a sprained MCL in his left knee — is a blow at both ends of the court. The NBA's reigning defensive player of the year is also an important offensive piece, averaging 16 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Gasol said he will rest 3-4 weeks before attempting his comeback.
"Nobody plays like Marc, no center in the league," Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. "There's no comparing to him. It's going to be tough. We're just going to have to play hard — effort on both ends. Being in the right position and helping each other on defense."
Gasol's absence means Kosta Koufos, who was acquired in a trade with the Denver Nuggets during the offseason, moves into a starting role.
Koufos started most of the past two seasons for the Denver Nuggets. He had eight points and a season-high 13 rebounds in his first start for the Grizzlies on Monday against the Houston Rockets. He's averaging 6.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
"I just play my role, rebound, run the floor, block shots, set good screens and occasionally, when the chance arises, score around the rim," Koufos said. "I've shown I can start in this league. I've started many games in my career and been successful at it."
Ed Davis is also in line for an increased role. The 6-9 forward was buried on the bench early in the season but played 16 minutes against the Rockets, adding six points and four rebounds.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger said Koufos does well in pick-and-roll situations. Because he can finish at the rim and draw defenders into the paint, Grizzlies' guards often can get open shots.
But Gasol is a better passer than Koufos, so Joerger said much of the team's offensive gameplan has to be altered.
"It's going to be a little bit of a work in progress until we forge a little bit of a new identity offensively and defensively," Joerger said.
Patience is difficult for a franchise that has aspirations of contending for its first NBA title. The Grizzlies made the Western Conference finals last season before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Contending without Gasol is going to be tough.
The Grizzlies lost to the Spurs 102-86 on Friday night and were beaten 93-86 Monday by the Houston Rockets.
The loss to the Rockets was especially frustrating because the Grizzlies built a 14-point lead in the third quarter, only to watch it slip away when Houston erupted for 38 points in the fourth.
"We've got to start doing some stuff like that," Memphis guard Tony Allen said. "Just coming together, doing it as a unit, just collectively doing it for 48 minutes."
Gasol — who came to Monday's media session on crutches — said it's difficult to miss games, but is confident the team can tread water until his return.
"We've been a no-excuse team for long time," Gasol said. "I don't find this to be a good enough reason for us to have an excuse. I know my teammates are going to hold it down and play good basketball. Are we going to win every game? Are we going to go 20-0? I hope so. I wish. But if we don't, we just have to play good basketball. Everybody's got to play with purpose and be aggressive and help teammates like we always do. Nothing changes."
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