In the midst of the busiest portion of their schedule, the Memphis Grizzlies seemed to tire down the stretch in their third game in as many nights.
They won’t get much respite with a visit to Miami.
Coming off an impressive victory over the top team in the Western Conference, the Heat look to match a team record with their 18th straight home win Friday night when they face the Grizzlies.
After clinching a playoff berth with a 99-93 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday in the opener a five-game homestand, Miami (39-14) rallied from an 11-point, second-quarter deficit to defeat Oklahoma City 98-93 the following night. Dwyane Wade returned after sitting out against the 76ers with a sore left knee and scored 19, and LeBron James outplayed Kevin Durant in a matchup of MVP candidates.
James finished with 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Durant’s 30-point performance was mired by a career-worst nine turnovers - due in part to James’ defense against him.
“I think he’s the best two-way player in this league,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. “He does it in a night-in, night-out basis and he does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. But the fact remains: He must play at an MVP level at both ends of the court for us.”
James was coming off a 41-point effort against Philadelphia after averaging 21.8 in his previous five. Miami lost three of those contests.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve all been disappointed with how we’ve been playing, but we know that we have an incredibly high ceiling.”
By avenging last week’s road loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, Miami extended the longest home winning streak in the NBA this season to 17. The franchise mark of 18 was set Jan. 23-April 5, 2005.
Defense has played a large part in that run, with the Heat allowing an average of 87.8 points while forcing an average of 17.7 turnovers in the last nine home contests. They’ll now try to shut down a Grizzlies team that could be a little fatigued.
Memphis (30-23) concluded a stretch of five games in six days by facing Dallas in the finale of a back-to-back-to-back set Wednesday. The Grizzlies had won three in a row heading into the matchup with the defending champs, but not surprisingly sputtered late and fell 95-85.
They were outscored 29-17 in the fourth quarter while shooting 28.6 percent (6 of 21).
“We ran out of gas,” guard Mike Conley said. “In the fourth quarter, we couldn’t score, shots weren’t falling for us, and they got too many easy looks in transition.”
Memphis, which continues this demanding stretch with a home game against the Mavericks on Saturday, now has the difficult task of keeping up with a Miami team known for pushing the ball up the court.
The Grizzlies had no luck slowing down the Heat in their lone trip to Miami last season, suffering a 118-85 loss. James had 27 points in 32 minutes and is averaging 30.3 points in his last four games against Memphis.
Though the Heat are considered to be weak inside, the Grizzlies might not be able to take advantage with their top interior players struggling.