While Marc Gasol is keying a strong offensive stretch for the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies, Rookie of the Year candidate Karl-Anthony Towns hopes to keep adding to his resume for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The veteran star and emerging big man are likely to spend a lot of time defending one another as the visiting Grizzlies chase a season-high fifth straight win Saturday night against the free-falling Timberwolves.
Gasol had been shooting 45 percent — far below his 50.9 mark entering the season — after averaging 9.5 points while going just 15 for 57 (26.3 percent) from the field over a four-game span earlier this month.
The two-time All-Star has recovered by averaging 23.8 points on 50.5 percent shooting in his last five games. He scored 27 and converted a go-ahead three-point play with 12.2 seconds left in Thursday’s 102-101 win at Denver.
"I think he can let so many things bother him, in a good way, but he gets so much in his mind that he forgets about scoring," guard Mike Conley told the team’s official website. "Now he is just letting everything play out."
Conley also has provided a spark, totaling 35 points while hitting 5 for 8 from 3-point range in two games since missing six due to a sore left Achilles. He also had 12 assists without a turnover in those contests.
The Grizzlies (25-19) have averaged 102.3 points on 48.2 percent shooting during their four-game streak after scoring 94.7 with a 43.1 percentage in the previous 21. They haven’t scored 100 in regulation over five straight games since February 2011.
"Well, we are going to score. We have guys who can score points and put the ball in the basket," forward Jeff Green said. "(But) defense has been the staple of this team for the past couple of years and nothing has changed."
The scoring, though, could continue against a Minnesota team that’s given up an average of 105.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting in its last five games. The Wolves allowed 17 points in overtime of Wednesday’s 106-94 loss at Dallas.
"We definitely took a great step," Towns said. "We just couldn’t contain."
Towns shined with 27 points, a season-high 17 rebounds and a season high-tying six blocks. He’s totaled 47 points and 30 boards in his last two, leads all rookies with 9.7 rebounds per game and ranks second with 15.9 points.
With starting center Nikola Pekovic working his way back from ankle and Achilles injuries, Towns could see a lot of action on Gasol. That was the case Nov. 15 when he had 14 points and nine boards with Pekovic sidelined in a 114-106 home loss to the Grizzlies. Gasol finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting as Memphis shot 56.3 percent and hit 9 of 17 from 3-point range.
Conley made four of those 3s en route to 20 points, though he couldn’t contain Zach LaVine, who scored 25 in place of the injured Ricky Rubio.
Andrew Wiggins, who had 21 points in November, is playing well heading into this meeting with 24.1 points per game in his last eight. Memphis stopper Tony Allen might not be available after he was scratched Thursday due to injury.
The Wolves (13-31) have dropped two in a row and 15 of their past 17. They’ve also lost two straight at home and 19 of 23 overall versus Memphis.