GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)
Even with signs the Memphis Grizzlies' offense is coming around, elite defense is what has kept them atop the Southwest Division.
Memphis seeks a sixth straight win over the Celtics on Wednesday night when they visit Boston.
The Grizzlies (45-18) are averaging 92.6 points and shooting 27.3 percent from 3-point range over their last 14 games, down from 101.3 and 34.8 previously. However, after failing to score 100 in eight straight, they have reached that mark in half of the past six games and shot at least 50.0 percent in each of those three -- all victories.
Their league-leading defense has consistently remained stout, however, limiting opponents to 93.8 points per game in that 14-game span, including 37.0 in the paint. Memphis limited Chicago to 38 points in the paint and forced 17 turnovers in a 101-91 win on Monday.
Marc Gasol had 23 points for the Grizzlies, who own a two-game lead over Houston for first place in the Southwest and second in the Western Conference.
"Defense was the key for the whole game," Gasol told the team's official website. "We scored offensively, we made some shots, that makes them come out of the cave; but defense was the key."
Mike Conley was 3 for 13 and is shooting 38.0 percent over the last 11, including 10 of 40 from 3-point range, though he recorded nine assists with one turnover against the Bulls. Memphis is 10-1 when he has at least eight assists.
"He has to be aggressive. He's the one guy that has the quickness and the skills to get into the paint and create for everybody else," Gasol said. "At the end of the day we trust him to make those plays and he knows that."
Memphis has won eight straight against the East and defeated Boston 117-100 at home on Nov. 21. Gasol tied a career high with 32 points, Zach Randolph added 16 with 16 rebounds and Conley had eight assists without a turnover.
The Grizzlies are 19-7 since acquiring Jeff Green from the Celtics, including 13-2 when he scores 12-plus. Green had been Boston's top scorer at 17.6 per game.
Boston (26-36), though, is 14-13 since that deal and two games behind Charlotte for the East's final playoff spot. Coach Brad Stevens' club has a difficult road to avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight year, however, with five back-to-back sets in its final 20 games and Jared Sullinger (14.4 ppg) out for the season due to a broken foot.
THE BIG STORYLINE (via Chris Forsberg)
Green's return to Boston will draw plenty of headlines but the Celtics have much bigger headaches to worry about on the court. Boston's undersized frontline will be tested yet again. The Celtics did a nice job at least limiting the damage against Anthony Davis in New Orleans last week, but they'll need someone else on the frontline to step up beyond Brandon Bass and whoever he ends up jousting with. Offensively, Boston can't settle for jump shots against Memphis in half-court situations. The Celtics need to find some easy buckets in transition and keep the pace cranked against a Grizzlies team that will be more than content to bog things down.