Kings-Grizzlies Preview (Dec 16, 2016)

BY AP • December 16, 2016

Memphis coach David Fizdale is working some kind of magic with the Grizzlies and is about to get a big trick back.

Point guard Mike Conley is expected to make his return from breaking two bones in his lower back when Memphis hosts the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

The Grizzlies made the announcement shortly after Conley participated in the mid-day shootaround for the contest against the Sacramento Kings.

"Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to play," Conley told reporters. "We'll see."

Conley was injured during a Nov. 28 contest against the Charlotte Hornets when he took a charge from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and landed hard on his back.

The original prognosis was for Conley to miss at least six weeks.

With a roster more akin to a M*A*S*H unit, all the first-year coach has done is put his 18-9 Grizzlies in a position to do more than succeed -- once it gets healthy, Memphis may make some Western Conference powers seriously worry.

Case in point: In a span of five days, the Grizzlies have defeated both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Against the Warriors on Saturday, it wasn't close -- neither Stephen Curry nor Draymond Green played in the fourth quarter. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant logged less than two minutes in the final stanza in the 21-point victory.

On Wednesday, it was NBA champion Cleveland's turn to witness Fizdale's wizardry. Granted, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out, but Memphis led by as many as 25 in a wire-to-wire victory.

Sacramento (9-16) will be next to get a close up look at Fizdale's early season genius when the Kings and Grizzlies tip off at 7 p.m. Friday at FedExForum.

The contest marks Dave Joerger's return to Memphis after three solid seasons as coach. Joerger went 147-99 before being fired in May and he quickly caught on with the Kings.

Sacramento (9-16) lost for the sixth time in eight games Wednesday in a 132-98 loss to Houston. The Kings played without center DeMarcus Cousins rest), forward Rudy Gay (hip) and guard Ben McLemore (quad).

Four starters scored in double figures, paced by guard Garrett Temple, who had 20 points and was 5 of 9 from long range. Sacramento finished 11 of 32 on 30-pointers.

The Sacramento defense was porous. The Kings had allowed an NBA-record 50 3-point attempts in a 117-104 home loss to Houston on Nov. 25 and Joerger was ready for another onslaught, and the Rockets didn't disappoint.

They flirted with the NBA record for 3-pointers, hitting 22 of 42 in a game where the Rockets produced a season-high 40 assists on 50 field goals.

"Certainly they shot well," Joerger understated. "They were shooting 65 percent from 3 for most of the night, and once they got ahead of us they became free and easy."

Memphis' defense is on the other end of the spectrum as Fizdale has his group of patchwork players playing at a high level. The Grizzlies are in the top three in defensive rating, scoring defense and third in shooting defense.

Because of the attention to detail on the defensive end, Memphis is on pace to win 50-plus games despite a bevy of injuries that would cripple most team's chances of competing.

In his first season with the Grizzlies, Chandler Parsons has been limited to six games because of a balky knee.

Vince Carter missed seven games with a hip injury before coming back against Golden State.

Zach Randolph missed seven games after the death of his mother.

Deyonte Davis, James Ennis III and Brandan Wright have missed significant time.

A rookie coach. A ton of injuries. How has Fizdale kept the Memphis ship from sinking?

"Coach Fizdale is someone that embodies resiliency," general manager Chris Wallace told "Whenever we've got down into a valley this year and haven't been playing well, he's had the ability to immediately snap us back and go get a win and raise our level of play instead of staying down for a long period of time and wallowing in that negativity."

Joerger hasn't been able to flip the right switches like Fizdale has with Memphis.

"We still have to play hard throughout the season," Kings forward Matt Barnes said. "People are going to be shorthanded and that's going to give other guys opportunity to step up and try to get a rhythm. They got off to a hot start and had all the confidence in the world and never really slowed down."

After starting all 24 games this season, Cousins was given the night off in Houston to rest. He leads the team in scoring (28.3 points), rebounding (10.9), and blocks (1.5) while ranking fourth in assists (3.6).

Friday's matchup of Cousins versus Marc Gasol should be worth watching. Gasol has picked up the slack with all of the Grizzlies' injuries. Fizdale praised his leadership qualities, too.

Gasol followed up his Western Conference Player of the Week honors with his fifth double-double of the season, scoring a very efficient 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing 11 boards against the Cavs. He also hit all three of his 3-point attempts, marking his fifth game with three-or-more shots made from beyond the arc. He had never achieved such a feat before this season.

"He's good," Fizdale said. "He's our MVP. I'm a little biased but I think he's the best center in the league."

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