Following two straight wins over division leaders, the Grizzlies conclude a three-game homestand Friday night against an Oklahoma City Thunder team reaping the benefits of having Harden fall to them in this year’s draft.
Memphis (9-12) passed on Harden with the second pick in June, instead selecting 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet(notes), who hasn’t contributed much. Thabeet is averaging 2.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 10.1 minutes a contest.
The Grizzlies left Harden on the board for the Thunder (11-9) at No. 3, partly because they were set at shooting guard after obtaining O.J. Mayo(notes) in a trade after he was selected by Minnesota with the third pick in the 2008 draft. Mayo would finish second to Chicago’s Derrick Rose(notes) for NBA Rookie of the Year, and he’s averaging 17.6 points this season alongside point guard Mike Conley(notes) in a backcourt Memphis hopes to have around for a long time.
In an attempt to add depth at guard, the Grizzlies signed Allen Iverson(notes) as a free agent in September. But the veteran All-Star had trouble accepting a backup role, and the two sides decided to part ways Nov. 16.
Memphis, though, is 7-4 since then, looking strong following a 1-8 start. The Grizzlies will match their longest winning streak from all of last season— four games—if they win Friday.
Conley slipped by Shaquille O’Neal(notes) for the go-ahead layup with three seconds left in overtime to give the Grizzlies a 111-109 victory over Central Division-leading Cleveland on Tuesday night. Four days earlier, Memphis pulled off a 98-82 win over Dallas, the leader in the Southwest.
“We’re playing together more,” said forward Zach Randolph(notes), who had his third straight double-double Tuesday with 32 points and 14 rebounds. “We’re getting better every day. This is a confidence-builder for us.”
Mayo is averaging 22.5 points in his last four games, and Conley has posted 14.0 in his last three.
Harden, meanwhile, had a career-high 26 points as Oklahoma City beat Golden State 104-88 on Monday night. Kevin Durant(notes), who added a team-high 28 points for the Thunder, has high hopes for Harden.
“That’s what Sixth Men of the Year do, come off the bench and give us a spark,” Durant said. “If that’s going to be his role for us this year, then that’s what he needs to do every game.”
Harden hadn’t attempted more than six free throws in any of his first 19 games, but went 10 for 10 in his first 11 minutes versus the Warriors and finished 13 for 14.
“I’m getting a little bit more comfortable out there, especially playing with those other guys,” Harden said. “They make me feel comfortable to where I can just go out there and play basketball.”
Harden had a stretch of five straight games scoring in double figures from Nov. 18-27, but was held under 10 in three straight games prior to facing Golden State. He’s averaging 9.7 points, close to becoming the fourth Thunder player posting at least 10 a game.
Durant, who leads Oklahoma City with 28.1 points per contest, is averaging 31.0 in his last three games against Memphis. The Thunder won last season’s series with the Grizzlies 3-1.