Grizzlies, Kings playing well heading into meeting

MEMPHIS — Two teams coming off impressive wins to continue surprisingly strong starts go head-to-head Friday night when the Sacramento Kings visit the Memphis Grizzlies.

The clubs met earlier this season in Sacramento, with the Kings (8-6) using a 21-10 advantage in free-throw points to seize a 97-92 win.

The Kings are coming off a four-game homestand that featured wins over Minnesota and San Antonio. The latter was driven by 19 points from De’Aaron Fox in a 104-99 victory.

After 12 consecutive years of missing the playoffs, which has allowed the franchise continually to make high draft picks, Kings players are starting to believe they’ve finally put a winning combination together.

“I’ve been here for four years and this is the first time that everybody is on one page and everybody likes playing with each other,” observed Willie Cauley-Stein. “Everybody really cares if you do well.

“In the past, it was like these two dudes need to get their numbers and we might win, and if we win it’s cool. Now it’s like we’re playing for everybody else to play good. We’re helping each other play good and it’s more fun that way. Everybody is getting touches and everybody is getting to make plays, and that’s how you keep everyone engaged and happy.”

The glue to the group is Fox, the former star point guard at Kentucky. He struggled through a rookie season last year in which he averaged 11.8 points and shot just 41 percent, including 31 percent on 3-pointers.

This season, he’s vastly improved those numbers to 18.7 points, 51 percent shooting overall and 44 percent on threes.

Fox got to the line 12 times, making seven, in the earlier win over Memphis.

He once again will be matched up with Grizzlies standout Mike Conley, who outscored Fox 27-21 in the first duel.

Conley came on strong late in Memphis’ come-from-behind, 116-113 shocker at Milwaukee on Wednesday. He finished with 26 points.

A meeting with the Kings provides a reunion of sorts for Grizzlies guard Garrett Temple, who played two seasons for Sacramento before getting dealt to Memphis in the offseason.

Temple has made an immediate impact for the Grizzlies (8-5), scoring in double figures eight times, including going for 15 or more points on four occasions. Memphis is 4-0 in those games.

But a guy who contributed five rebounds, two assists and two steals to Wednesday’s win at Milwaukee has done a lot more than just score, coach J.B. Bickerstaff assured.

“He has the ability to find whatever is necessary to help the team,” the coach praised. “Whether it’s defense, taking the other team’s best perimeter player …

“There might be nights where he scores four points or six points, but he shuts down the other team’s best offensive player. He understands it’s never about him.”

The Kings have won two in a row over the Grizzlies and have prevailed in two of their last four visits to Memphis. In a defense-dominated series, the losing team has failed to score 99 points in each of the last nine meetings.