The Memphis Grizzlies earned a third straight win when Marc Gasol made his long-awaited return last month against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Grizzlies have stayed hot with the reigning defensive player of the year in the lineup and earned their most recent victory with leading scorer Mike Conley out.
Memphis will try to overcome Conley's absence again while extending their season-high win streak to seven in Monday night's rematch with the Thunder, who are eager to bounce back following the end of their 10-game run.
The Grizzlies (26-20) have won 11 of 12 and a rejuvenated defense has played a significant role in most of those victories. Memphis is allowing an average of 86.7 points since Gasol's return from an injured left knee in a 90-87 win over Oklahoma City on Jan. 14.
The Grizzlies gave up an average of 97.6 points in their first 36 games this season and 98.3 during Gasol's 23-game absence.
Memphis, though, also has a challenge as it tries to keep winning with Conley expected to miss at least one week due to a sprained right ankle. If rookie Nick Calathes can duplicate his most recent performance, the Grizzlies might be all right during Conley's absence.
Calathes scored a career-high 22 points - double his previous season high - on 8-of-12 shooting, and Zach Randolph had a team-best 23 in a 99-90 win over Milwaukee on Saturday.
"He's a good player. He does a lot of things," Gasol said of Calathes, who also went 4 of 5 from 3-point range and didn't commit a turnover. "He has great vision and knows how to play the game."
After beating three straight opponents that aren't in playoff position, Calathes and the Grizzlies have the task of trying to end the Western Conference-leading Thunder's six-game home win streak. Oklahoma City (38-11) suffered its first loss in 11 overall games Saturday, 96-81 at Washington.
The Thunder shot 39.7 percent in that game, were 4 of 24 from 3-point range and committed 10 of their 21 turnovers in the first quarter.
"We were just a step slow in everything," forward Kevin Durant said. "We didn't start up with enough energy and intensity and that falls back on me as a leader."
Durant was the only Oklahoma City player with more than 14 points, scoring 26 for the second straight game after registering 30 or more in the previous 12. He scored 37 points in the loss in Memphis on Jan. 14 and had 18 in a 116-100 road win Dec. 11.
Oklahoma City is hosting Memphis for the first time since being eliminated in the conference semifinals with an 88-84 defeat May 15. The Grizzlies have won eight of 11 over the Thunder, including that five-game playoff series, and in four of their last six visits to Oklahoma City.
Zach Randolph helped close out that series with 28 points and 14 rebounds. He's averaged 22.8 points and 11.8 boards in his last four games against the Thunder.
Randolph had 23 points and 13 rebounds in last month's win over Oklahoma City, and Courtney Lee added a season-high 24 points.