The Grizzlies extended their current winning streak to four games, moved above .500 for the first time this season (to 7-6), and — in conjunction with the Dallas Mavericks loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and for the moment at least — moved up into Western Conference playoff seedings at 8th place.
But even though the Grizzlies never trailed in this second meeting with the New Orleans Hornets, it wasn't easy, with the Hornets threatening for most of the second half. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley carried the team most of the way. Gasol had perhaps his most impressive stat-line of the season so far, notching 22 points (on 10-14 shooting), 12 rebounds, and 7 assists, and making physical plays late in help seal the game. Gasol has now notched double-digits rebounds every game in January, 10 in a row. Meanwhile, Conley continued his recent fine play with 18 points and 10 assists, including 4-7 shooting from three-point range. With the Grizzlies' lead in constant jeopardy and with coach Lionel Hollins still not fully trusting his back-up point-guard options, Conley played 42 minutes, including the entire second half.
With the rest of the team lagging down the stretch — especially Rudy Gay (12 points on 5-11 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 turnovers), who was very sluggish after a strong first quarter — O.J. Mayo became the closer, holding over the surging Hornets with a series of clutch jump shots, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
After three strong games, Gay was probably as ineffective last night as he had been in the Oklahoma City game that got everyone so worked up. But the differences between these two games are instructive relative to the dynamic of Gay — or, really, any other player — and the team. Against the Thunder, even though Gay clearly was out of sorts, the team nevertheless fed the ball through him down the stretch, seemingly feeding into the “Will Rudy be 'The Man'?” storyline fans and media had built up going into the game, and they lost a close one. Against the Hornets, seeming to recognize that Gay didn't really have it, the ball went more through Gasol and Conley and especially “hot hand” Mayo, and they won a close game. The potential lesson here is that this team has lots of good players and is probably better off responding to the flow of a game rather than forcing a programmatic notions of end-game roles.
Up next, the Grizzlies head to Detroit for a Friday night game with a team that is only 3-12 overall and only 2-5 on their home floor, followed by a return home Saturday to face the Sacramento Kings. These games aren't gimmes: Any road win is a good one for a team in the Grizzlies' situation and they'll be flying back to play the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back; they're sure to slip up at home against an inferior team at some point, and this could be what that old scoundrel John Calipari liked to call “a danger game.”
But the coming weekend also provides a decent chance to move the current four-game win streak up to six, and push far enough over .500 that the team could credibly hope to stay there.