Hornets-Grizzlies Preview

The Associated PressJanuary 26, 2013

While their defense has led to the franchise's best start through 41 games, the Memphis Grizzlies have been getting it done at both ends lately.

That's bad news for the New Orleans Hornets, who have taken a step back in their last two games.

The Grizzlies will try to stay within striking distance of the Southwest Division lead and win for the fifth time in six games on Sunday night when they wrap up a four-game homestand against the Hornets.

After losing three straight by an average of 22.7 points, Memphis (27-14) has won four of five to surpass the team's previous best start of 25-16 during the 2005-06 season.

The Grizzlies, who are five games behind division-leading San Antonio and rank near the top of the NBA in defensive scoring (89.2 ppg), have allowed 79.4 points per game over that five-game stretch.

They should be able to maintain that pace against a New Orleans team that has failed to reach 100 points in each of its last eight against the Grizzlies.

"One thing that we have had all season is our defense,'' said Memphis guard Rudy Gay.

Despite being ranked near the bottom of the league in bench scoring at 26.0 points per game, the Grizzlies have outscored their last three opponents by a 110-85 margin in that area. Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten and Chris Johnson combined for 32 as Memphis' bench gained a 38-24 advantage over Brooklyn's reserves in a 24-point victory on Friday.

"For us to win, we need our bench." forward Zach Randolph said. "The way they've been playing has been great. They've been stepping up.''

The bench effort has been key with both Randolph and Gay slumping recently.

Randolph, named to the Western Conference All-Star team on Thursday, has averaged 12.2 points on 38.0 percent shooting in his last five games while battling a strained back.

Gay appears to be healthy, but has scored just 13.3 points per game while shooting 32.3 percent from the floor over his last four.

Gay, however, may be able to get back on track against the Hornets. He's averaged 26.0 on 57.1 percent shooting in his last three in the series, including a game-high 28 to lead Memphis to a 96-89 win at New Orleans on Dec. 7.

Even with their stars struggling, the Grizzlies have reached 100 points in back-to-back games after reaching the century mark only twice in the previous 24.

They also improved to 13-0 when scoring over 100 - a trend they hope to continue against the Hornets, who have allowed four consecutive opponents to reach that mark.

"We haven't been able to guard and hold teams under 100 points,'' New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "That's where it starts for me. We have to defend better.''

The Hornets (14-29), last in the Southwest, had won seven of nine before losing their last two.

Eric Gordon has averaged 17.6 points in 12 games back from a knee injury that cost him the first 29 games. New Orleans is 13-8 the past two seasons when he plays.

Ryan Anderson has been the other top weapon, averaging 20.3 points in his last four games.

The Hornets, however, shot 38.8 percent from the field and 3 for 20 (15.0 percent) from 3-point range in a 100-82 loss to Houston on Friday. They had scored 109.3 points per game and hit 31 for 66 (47.0 percent) from beyond the arc in their previous three.

The Hornets have dropped six of seven to New Orleans, including three straight in Memphis.