Grizzlies-Trail Blazers Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- After a stunning comeback, the Memphis Grizzlies find themselves on the verge of matching the longest winning streak in franchise history.
The Grizzlies seek an eighth consecutive victory Tuesday night against a Portland Trail Blazers team that's proven difficult to defeat at home.
Since opening the season by dropping six of its first nine games, it's safe to say Memphis (10-6) has turned a corner. The Grizzlies have outscored opponents by an average of 13.3 points while winning seven in a row and climbing to the top of the Southwest Division.
Memphis, which hasn't posted eight straight wins since a franchise-best run Jan. 11-25, 2004, nearly saw its current winning streak come to an end Monday at Golden State. The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter before outscoring the Warriors 39-22 in the fourth to kick off their four-game trip with a 91-90 victory.
"We were dead in the water in the first half, we had no answers," coach Lionel Hollins said. "(But) we don't quit, we fight. We did that and we were able to come back and get this win, which is a sweet win."
Much of the Grizzlies' success can be attributed to Rudy Gay's tremendous play. The 6-foot-8 forward, who came up clutch with 23 points Monday, is averaging 22.1 during the winning streak - 5.8 more than he averaged over the first nine contests.
"That was a big win for us," said Gay, who also had nine rebounds, four assists and three steals against Golden State. "We went through a lot to get it. We showed what we're made of and we showed our toughness."
Keeping the streak going could be difficult against Portland (10-7). The Blazers, who defeated the Grizzlies 102-89 at home April 12 for their 11th win in the last 14 meetings in this series, have been next to unbeatable in Portland this season.
Following a disappointing 2-4 road trip, Portland returned to the Rose Garden and improved to 7-1 on its own court with Monday's 101-89 victory over Sacramento. The Blazers, whose only home defeat came 107-104 to Orlando on Jan. 11, are tied for third in the league with 104.3 points per game at home.
"It felt good being home with the fans - we got some home cooking in," said Craig Smith, who had 10 points and seven rebounds as Portland opened its first back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season. The Blazers visit the Warriors on Wednesday.
Jamal Crawford had a season-high 26 points to lead the Blazers on Monday, while Gerald Wallace (sprained finger) returned from a one-game absence to score 20.
Crawford's big night surely came as a pleasant surprise to Blazers faithful. The former NBA sixth man of the year is averaging just 13.1 points on 35.3 percent shooting - significantly lower than his career mark of 40.9 percent.
"All these guys said, `just play'," said Crawford, who signed with Portland following the lockout. "(They said) you've got to be the person you were before you came here. You can't try to fit it in."
"Coming into the game I just felt good. It was a fresh start. I just cleared my head and said this is day one all over again."
Portland leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging an unspectacular 15.5 points over his last six home meetings with the Grizzlies but did score 22 in the April victory.
Blazers center Marcus Camby left Monday's win with a mild groin strain. His status is uncertain.
Updated January 24, 2012