Few imagined the young Memphis Grizzlies getting a chance to finally win a postseason game this spring, but at the season’s midway point, they’re just a half game out of a playoff spot.
A little improvement away from FedEx Forum should help them get one.
Building on some home momentum won’t be easy as they try to avoid a ninth straight road loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night, when the Grizzlies look to win five in a row for the first time in nearly three years.
Memphis (22-18) hasn’t had a glamorous franchise history - getting swept in its only three playoff series - and wasn’t given much of a chance to make a postseason appearance heading into 2009-10, when it added Allen Iverson(notes) to a roster already full of scorers.
The Iverson experiment lasted all of three games, though, and the Grizzlies are 20-10 since their 2-8 start and his mid-November release.
Memphis has been especially good at home in that stretch, averaging 107.6 points and going 13-3. The Grizzlies capped their four-game homestand Monday with a ninth straight victory at FedEx Forum, beating Phoenix 125-118 behind a combined 86 points from Rudy Gay(notes), Zach Randolph(notes) and O.J. Mayo(notes).
“Before the season, everyone had something negative to say about our team,” said Mayo, averaging 20.8 points during the team’s 9-2 surge. “We didn’t have enough basketballs to go around. We wouldn’t be able to gel. There’s no chemistry. We put that all behind us.
“Coach (Lionel) Hollins thought this was the perfect team to win ballgames and take strides for our organization.”
Memphis hasn’t won five straight overall since winning the final five games of the 2005-06 season - also its last playoff appearance.
Randolph (22.7 points per game), Gay (19.7) and Mayo (18.5) have given Memphis three legitimately dangerous scorers, and Randolph and Marc Gasol(notes) have helped the Grizzlies become the league’s most productive team in the paint (52.5 ppg).
But like the Hornets (21-19) and every other Southwest Division team besides first-place Dallas, the Grizzlies have struggled to win on the road. Southwest teams are 73-27 at home and 45-57 on the road, but Memphis is 5-4 since the beginning of December after a 2-9 start away from home.
Perhaps Young will be the spark Memphis needs in the team’s first meeting with New Orleans. The Hornets have won nine straight over the Grizzlies at home by an average of 9.6 points.
New Orleans had a seven-game home winning streak heading into a visit from San Antonio on Monday, but fell behind 29-16 after one quarter and never recovered in a 97-90 loss.
“Coach (Jeff Bower) just let us know that we outscored them in the second, third, and fourth,” said Paul, who averages 11.7 assists at home but had nine Monday. “Once again, it comes down to us starters. We have to come out with more energy and set the tone.”
The Hornets fell to 7-15 when they’re outscored in the first quarter and 6-8 when Paul fails to record 10 assists.