The dark circles under coach Dave Joerger's eyes were there for everyone to see. They were revealing in the same way that the flat jumper from Mike Conley and the rare single-digit scoring night from Zach Randolph were revealing.
The Memphis Grizzlies have spent the last three and a half months scratching and clawing their way back into the playoff picture. They've endured injuries, trades and a change in offensive philosophy while they searched for the identity that took them to the Western Conference finals last season.
It's taken a lot out of them.
The Grizzlies are tired. With seven games left in the regular season and locked in a three-way fight with the Mavericks and Suns for the last two playoff spots in the rugged West, they don't have time to be tired.
"We've been playing with a playoff focus. Each game has meant so much since like Christmas," Joerger said after the Grizzlies ended an underwhelming five-game road trip with a 102-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. "You're starting to see the effects of it now."
The Grizzlies (44-31) face Denver at home on Friday before a daunting trip to San Antonio on Sunday and a home date with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat next week. They have the same record as Phoenix and Dallas but are sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot thanks to a tie-breaker they hold over the Suns.
"A lot of time zones. A lot of traveling. A lot of battles," Conley said after going 3 for 15 in the loss to the Wolves.
It's been like that since mid-December for the Grizzlies, who started the season a gasp-inducing 10-15 after Joerger took over for the departed Lionel Hollins. Conley, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen all missed chunks of time with injuries, Memphis made a trade to bring in Courtney Lee from Boston and Joerger had the team revert from a more up-tempo style of play back to the grit-n-grind that has been the team's hallmark.
Joerger steadily grew in the job, Gasol, Conley and Allen got healthy and rookie Nick Calathes overcame some early struggles to emerge as the steady backup point guard the team needed. They won 11 of 12 in January and 13 of 17 as February bled into March to surge back into the playoff picture.
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