After being one of the NBA’s worst teams over the past three seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies can no longer be taken lightly.
The surging Grizzles look to move over .500 for the first time in four years Tuesday night when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers.
Memphis (16-16) finished last in the Southwest Division each of the past three seasons and its 68-178 record over that span marks the worst in the league, but the Grizzlies are suddenly in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
With Saturday’s impressive 128-103 win at Phoenix, Memphis moved to .500, a startling feat considering it started the season 1-8. This is the first time the Grizzlies have been at .500 or better more than six games into a season since they finished with a 49-33 record in 2005-06, their last playoff year. That was also the last time Memphis was above .500.
“It’s hasn’t been easy,” said Marc Gasol(notes), who is averaging 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in his last three games. “We never gave up. We continue to improve. When we were 1-8, we wanted to play good basketball and be winners. It hasn’t been good for us the last few years. Now, we want more. This is just the beginning.”
Before getting too caught up in any kind of playoff discussion, the Grizzlies would probably like to focus on getting their 17th win, something they didn’t do last season until March 15, in their 65th game.
Memphis, which has won six of seven, is averaging 113.7 points in its last seven games after averaging 100.1 points in its previous nine. Randolph is averaging 26.7 points and 16.4 rebounds while shooting 57.4 percent in the last seven games, and Mayo is averaging 19.4 points in those contests.
“We’ve come together as a team,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “We believe in each other. We’ve developed great chemistry.
“Nobody would have thought we could come back from 1-8.”
During their early struggles, the Grizzlies suffered a 93-79 home loss to the Blazers on Nov. 10. Randolph had 11 points on 5 of 14 shooting as Memphis shot 37.2 percent and finished with one of its lowest scoring outputs of the season.
The Grizzlies avenged that defeat with a 106-96 win at Portland on Nov. 27, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the series. Randolph had 21 points, while Gasol and Mayo each added 19.
Portland (22-14) returns to the Rose Garden to open a five-game homestand following Monday’s 105-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, its second defeat in eight games. The Blazers looked good at times on defense, forcing a season-high 20 turnovers, but they played poorly at other times, allowing the Clippers to shoot 57.7 percent from the field.
Brandon Roy(notes) didn’t do much to help Portland offensively. The two-time All-Star finished with six points on 3 of 12 shooting after averaging 31.8 points on 59.8 percent shooting in his previous four games.
“I wasn’t as aggressive in the double-teams,” Roy said.
Roy has fared much better against the Grizzlies, averaging 22.5 points and 7.0 assists in six games against them since the start of last season.