Surging Heat look to tame Grizzlies
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Saturday night's game against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies will mark the halfway point of the season for the Miami Heat - game No. 41.
And, not surprisingly, the Heat (20-20) are on pace for a .500-type season for the third straight year. In fact, including playoffs, the Heat have a 106-103 record for the past two-and-a-half seasons.
However, the Heat have been playing better lately, especially since beating the Grizzlies in Memphis, 100-97, on Dec. 14. Since then, the Heat are 9-4.
Two of those four losses were against two of the top three teams in the NBA - the Toronto Raptors by two points and the Denver Nuggets by four.
Miami's most impressive wins during that span were over the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. The latter victory occurred on Thursday, when Miami knocked off Boston 115-99, leading uninterrupted from the middle of the first quarter through the rest of the game.
"We're trying to get better and move up the standings," Heat shooting guard Josh Richardson said. "You want to win these games against the top teams."
That's true, but you want to beat the bad teams, too, and even during this relative hot streak, Miami has an embarrassing road loss on their ledger, getting blown out by 24 points this past Sunday by the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
Meanwhile, Memphis, which is coming off a 22-60 season, snapped a six-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 96-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs. With the win, Memphis improved to 19-22.
Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who turns 34 this month, and point guard Mike Conley, 31, are the NBA's longest-tenured teammates, playing their 11th season together.
Conley makes $30 million per season, and Gasol is not doing too bad at $24 million. With the recent banishment of forward Chandler Parsons and his $24 million salary, the Grizzlies - more than ever - are all about Conley and Gasol.
In fact, in the win over the Spurs, Conley had 15 points and six assists; and Gasol starred with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
"You could see the energy in his face and his actions," Conley said of Gasol after the Spurs game. "He was assertive. That's the guy we need."
Gasol knows his value to Memphis.
"I was more aggressive," he said. "I need to build on it and create those habits for the team."
Conley, who was limited to just 12 games last season due to heel surgery, has bounced back. In 40 games so far this season, he is leading Memphis in scoring (20.1) and assists (6.2).
Gasol is averaging 15.7 points and leads Memphis in rebounds (8.7). But his scoring average is his lowest since 2013-14.
Besides the established duo of Conley-Gasol, the Grizzlies star of the future appears to be 6-11 rookie power forward Jaren Jackson, the former Michigan State standout who was the fourth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Jackson is averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 rebounds while leading Memphis with 1.5 blocks. He has started 39 games and is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor.
Miami has a similar young-and-old thing happening. Dwyane Wade, who turns 37 next Thursday, came off the bench to lead the Heat with 19 points against the Celtics.
Meanwhile, on the other end of Miami's age spectrum, converted point guard Justise Winslow - a 22-year-old who was a forward until a month ago - scored 13 points and set a career high with 11 assists against Boston.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 11, 2019