Grizzlies-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

Thanks in part to a highly favorable schedule, a playoff berth seems all but certain for the Memphis Grizzlies.

A pair of meetings with the last-place New Orleans Hornets may take them further towards the postseason.

The Grizzlies continue a long stretch of games against non-playoff teams Sunday night when they visit the Hornets.

Memphis (35-24) has won 10 of 13 and is fifth in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Los Angeles Clippers and 4 1/2 clear of Phoenix in ninth place with seven to play - six against teams not currently in playoff position.

The Grizzlies began a stretch of seven in a row against teams outside of playoff spots by beating Utah 103-98 at home Saturday.

The next six games include two versus the conference-worst Hornets (17-42) and one each against Minnesota, Charlotte, Portland and Cleveland. Only the Trail Blazers are alive in the playoff race.

The Grizzlies have won both previous meetings this season with New Orleans, including a 93-87 road victory Jan. 18.

Memphis center Marc Gasol played a key role in both of those wins. He had 22 points and 12 rebounds at New Orleans after getting 20 and 11, respectively, in a 108-99 home victory Jan. 14.

Rudy Gay is averaging 22.5 points during the Grizzlies' current 5-1 stretch. He scored 26 and pulled down 12 rebounds against the Jazz.

"(Rudy) is really maturing and embracing his ability," coach Lionel Hollins said. "I think that is the best way to put it. He has the ability to do a lot of things.

The Hornets are at the bottom of the West, but have won five of their last seven at home. They're 3-1 entering the finale of a five-game homestand, but the highlight of that stretch may have come away from the court.

Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, has purchased the Hornets from the NBA for $338 million.

News of the sale came just hours before the Hornets defeated Utah 96-85 on Friday, giving them a shot Sunday at their first three-game home winning streak since April 3-8, 2011.

"We want to give our fans something to be excited about going into the summer," coach Monty Williams said.

Eric Gordon provided some excitement Friday, playing for just the sixth time all season and scoring 25 points - 10 in the fourth quarter.

"I just love those situations in the fourth quarter," said Gordon, averaging 20.5 points in the scant action in his first season with the Hornets. "The second half is the toughest part of the game."

Gordon has missed both meetings with Memphis this season.

Chris Kaman, who like Gordon was acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, added 19 points Friday but has totaled only 11 in the two games against the Grizzlies this season.

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