MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mike Conley should be resting right now, letting his sprained right foot heal.
But he won’t, no time. It’s the playoffs.
So the Grizzlies guard is playing even though sharp pain shoots through his foot when he runs or jumps — just not enough to keep him on the bench.
“It’s going to flare up no matter what I do,” Conley said Tuesday of the injury that kept him out the last four games of the regular season. “I just go out there and play as if I’m not injured and see how much I can do and what I can do to help the team and the following day is just rehab and recover.”
The eight-year veteran not only started Sunday’s opening win, Conley scored 16 points. But he took advantage of a big Grizzlies’ lead to rest during the fourth quarter.
None of his teammates were surprised that Conley — a three-time state champion at Lawrence North High School a decade ago — was not only available for Sunday night’s 100-86 win, but played well.
“I expect a lot out of him to be honest with you,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of Conley. “He’s my little man. He’s a great player, great guy. I knew he wasn’t going to miss a playoff game. I can only ask him to give me whatever he has, and he’s done it. And I’m going to ask the same next game.”
The Grizzlies have seen Conley play through pain before.
He leads Memphis in total minutes has played all 82 games only once back in 2008-09 and topped 80 or more games only three other seasons. Injuries limited Conley to 70 games this season, but Conley now has started all 43 playoff games possible with Memphis.
It’s an injury that can take up to six weeks to fully heal, yet Conley played just 11 days after hurting his foot against New Orleans. His only nod to the injury has been wearing a bigger shoe, going to size 12s because of extra padding — a half size larger than he’d normally wear in his new playoff shoes. That’s a change from Game 1, when he wore a 12 on his sore foot and a 11 ½ on the other.
“Mike’s a tough, tough guy,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said.
Though Conley is hurting, the Trail Blazers have seen little evidence of his discomfort. Point guard Damian Lillard said he thought Conley played well and didn’t seem slower than normal.
“Mike is a guy that I got a lot of respect for him,” Lillard said. “For him to still come out there Game 1 for his team and play through it, I know how it feels to be banged up and have to chase guys over pick and rolls and use pick and rolls and make plays. You’re kind of the guy that’s moving around the most. He’s out there doing what he has to for his team.”
Conley, the fourth overall draft pick in 2007 after one year at Ohio State, was off to the best start of his career this season, averaging 18.3 points, 6.2 assists and shooting 46.6 percent from the floor through the first 37 games. Then sprained ankles started taking a toll, and Conley finished the season averaging 15.8 points and 5.4 assists. Though he still knocked down a career-best and team-high 107 3-pointers this season.
If Conley needed any other motivation, it was Lillard who got the call to replace Blake Griffin in this season’s All Star game, not Conley. Now the guards are going against each other when it matters most.
Conley said he’s gotten better playing the likes of Lillard, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Russell Westrbrook — “all the best point guards in the league.”
“It’s just fun to go out there and compete,” Conley said, “and try to do my best regardless of who I’m playing against.”