The Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol has earned a reputation as one of the NBA’s best defensive players but he’s shown some more skill at the other end of the court early this season.
Gasol will try to provide another high-scoring effort while leading the visiting Grizzlies to their first 3-0 start Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
Gasol was the league’s 2012-13 defensive player of the year and a knee injury that kept him out 23 games might have prevented him from another spot on one of the league’s all-defensive teams last season. The Grizzlies went 40-19 with him on the floor in 2013-14.
The Grizzlies have won two more games this season with Gasol on the court and he scored a career-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting in Wednesday’s opener, a 105-101 home win over Minnesota. The center, who has never averaged more than 14.6 points in his previous six seasons, followed with 20 in a 97-89 victory in Indiana on Friday.
Zach Randolph had 22 points and 13 rebounds as the Grizzlies opened 2-0 for the first time since 2000-01, their final season in Vancouver, and for just the third time ever. They outscored the Pacers 33-14 in the third quarter with Randolph scoring 11 points after trailing by eight at halftime.
Mike Conley chipped in 17 points despite missing 13 of 19 shots.
"Everyone contributed tonight, and it was a good game," Randolph said. "We’ve just got to keep playing. We’ve got a big one (Saturday)."
Memphis has won five of seven over Charlotte (1-0) but lost 92-89 in last season’s lone trip to Time Warner Cable Arena on Feb. 22. The Grizzlies took the most recent matchup, 111-89 at home March 8.
Memphis will face a team with a new name in this game with the Bobcats era now over in Charlotte. The return of the Hornets’ nickname to the city was followed by a 108-106 overtime victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday that featured the largest comeback in Charlotte’s NBA history.
After agreeing to a four-year contract extension the previous day, Kemba Walker had 26 points while leading his team back from a 24-point deficit in the third quarter. He made a tying 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left in regulation and the go-ahead shot with five seconds remaining in the extra period despite dealing with cramps in his right foot.
"To me, he’s a core member. He’s a leader of our group. I think that he has intangibles that are very rare in any league," coach Steve Clifford said. "He just has a natural competitiveness, a spirit about him, that other people draw on."
Charlotte had its only 2-0 start as the Bobcats in 2007-08 and the Charlotte Hornets won their first two games in 1999-2000 and 2001-02, their final season before leaving for New Orleans.
Walker had 31 points in the February win over the Grizzlies, his first in five games in the series, and helped Charlotte avoid a third consecutive home loss to Memphis.
Conley is averaging 19.2 points and shooting 50.7 percent in his last five matchups with Charlotte, and can help Memphis match its best road start in franchise history. The Grizzlies began 2-0 away from home for the only time in 2000-01.