NEW ORLEANS — A half-hour after his tip-in beat the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night, ending a four-game losing streak for the New Orleans Hornets, rookie power forward Anthony Davis was already looking ahead.
“We have to forget about this and move on,” he said. “We’ve got another tough team coming in here, some more tough games.”
Next up are the Memphis Grizzlies Friday, as the Hornets (23-46) get set for their third game of a seven-game home stand featuring six teams holding playoff spots.
The matchup promises to be another toe-to-toe battle between two defensive-minded teams. The Grizzlies (46-21) hold a 2-1 edge heading into the final game of the season series.
Memphis (46-21) comes in brimming with confidence. The Grizzlies are 16-3 since the trade of Rudy Gay that brought them veteran defensive ace Tayshaun Prince from the Detroit Pistons.
Perhaps more important, on Wednesday, the Grizzlies also got a big victory with a last-second tip-in. Center Marc Gasol put back power forward Zach Randolph’s missed shot with 0.9 seconds left in overtime as the Grizzlies topped defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City 90-89.
It was a victory that gives the Grizzlies hope for the playoffs. Tweaking the team to give it a chance to beat Oklahoma City in a playoff series was a reason for the trade.
Although the Grizzlies, like the Hornets, like to win ugly, New Orleans coach Monty Williams said Memphis is much more than the plodding, half-court team it may appear to be.
“They execute their offense maybe better than anybody in the NBA,” Williams. “Back in the day, it was Utah who was the best offensive-executing team in the NBA. I think Memphis has taken over that.
“They really do a good job of setting you up for back doors (layups), and Marc Gasol is like a point-center. He really knows how to distribute (passes), he understands defenses, and at the right time, he knows how to make a shot.”
In beating Boston, the Hornets were able to shut down a team that is without its injured point guard, a team that has been wining because it shares the ball well.
Memphis will be another matter. Point guard Mike Conley is able to penetrate well, which has been an Achilles’ heel for the Hornets. In the Hornets’ only win in the series 91-83 on Jan. 27, Conley sprained an ankle in the first quarter, played just 4 minutes, 20 seconds, didn’t score and had one assist.
One thing that may help New Orleans is that it has shown it can compete with the Grizzlies, a big team inside, in rebounding. The Hornets dominated the glass against the Celtics 45-28, although Al-Farouq Aminu led the way with a game-high led nine.
The presence of starting shooting guard Eric Gordon also likely will help. Gordon missed Monday’s game against Golden State, in which the Hornets didn’t finish strong. The Warriors closed out the game with a 13-0 run.
However, after the Warriors, none of the rest of the games on the homestand are back-to-back, meaning Gordon will be available. Against Boston, he scored 18 points, and his drive to the basket set up Davis’ winning play.
“(Gordon) played really well,” Davis said. “He took on the challenge. He’s getting better with his (right) knee.”
Gordon will be guarded by Tony Allen, the best defensive two guard in the league, making for an intriguing matchup.
Williams often says his focus is only on the first quarter of the next opponent. Boston scored 31 points in the first quarter. Conversely, Memphis held Oklahoma City, one of the league’s best-scoring teams, to 15 points in the first quarter Wednesday.
The combination of poor starts by the Hornets and good ones by the Grizzlies is a concern.
“Right off the bat, we’re going against an NBA team playing at a high level,” Williams said.
Davis said he thinks there can be carryover from the second half of Wednesday night, when the Celtics were held to 31 points.
“Especially after they hung 31 on us in the first quarter, holding them to 31 in the entire second half really says a lot about our defense,” Davis said. “That’s how we have to play from here on out. We can’t come out with these lulls and not play defense for four or five minutes straight. We have to take it to heart, saying that we’re a defensive team.”