Something will have to give Friday night when the struggling Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies meet at FedEx Forum.
The Hawks (6-22) will take the Eastern Conference’s worst record into the contest. The Grizzlies (8-20) were tied for the West’s worst before the Dallas Mavericks lost to Golden State on Thursday night.
Atlanta lost its third straight Thursday when beaten 105-91 at home by the Detroit Pistons. The Hawks have lost 12 of 14 on the road since opening the season with a 117-111 victory at Dallas.
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Without question, the most encouraging aspect of Thursday’s loss was the return of impressive rookie John Collins from a shoulder injury.
Playing for the first time since suffering the injury Nov. 30, the Wake Forest product hit 7 of 10 shots during a 15-point, seven-rebound effort against the Pistons. He played 20 minutes.
“I think he is in a good place,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the 20-year-old’s return from a six-game absence. “(We’re) excited about him playing.”
The double-figure output was Collins’ 15th in his 22 games. He began play Thursday as the league’s No. 7 scorer among rookies, with an 11.7 average.
How much Budenholzer trusts his standout to play on the second night of a back-to-back in the wake of a two-week absence remains to be seen.
Surely, the Grizzlies could use any break they can get these days.
Memphis has lost five straight and 14 of 15 since deciding to shelve star point guard Mike Conley so he could fully recover from his Achilles injury.
There remains no timetable on Conley’s return.
The Grizzlies got an encouraging performance from Conley’s replacement, Andrew Harrison, in a 93-87 loss at Washington on Wednesday. Harrison scored 20 points, the second-most of his career, in the defeat.
Afterward, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol took inspiration in his team’s competitive effort even though Memphis was held to 29 points in the first half.
“I thought defensively we did a much better job,” he said. “We were proactive. We were more aggressive. We were sort of the instigator.”
The game Friday matches one of the league’s worst offenses against one of the league’s worst defenses.
Memphis has topped 100 points only 10 times in 28 games. The Grizzlies rank 29th in the NBA in scoring (97.2), 24th in field-goal percentage (44.4) and 26th in 3-point percentage (34.9).
Those latter three averages all figure to improve against the Hawks, who have allowed at least 100 points to all but three opponents this season. They rank 25th in the league in points allowed (109.1), 27th in field-goal percentage allowed (47.5) and 23rd in 3-point percentage allowed (37.3).
The Grizzlies have yet to beat an Eastern Conference team this season, going 0-10.
Atlanta has prevailed in its last two trips to Memphis, including 107-90 last season when the Hawks employed Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard.
The Hawks lost Millsap in free agency and dealt Howard to Charlotte for Miles Plumlee, who is averaging only 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds.