Grizzlies gear up for tough stretch vs. Pacers

NBA Basketball

Eastern and Western Conference teams jockeying for NBA playoff positioning will meet Sunday night when the Indiana Pacers visit the Memphis Grizzlies.

Despite dropping a 133-129 overtime decision Friday at New York, the Grizzlies head into the weekend two games up on San Antonio for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s matchup is the first in a three-game homestand before Memphis embarks on a season-long, seven-game trip beginning April 16.

The Grizzlies are coming off another road swing of four games, wherein they won the first three. Memphis had taken five of its past six games before Friday’s setback, but the intense atmosphere of the loss to the Knicks still has value for the Grizzlies, per guard Kyle Anderson.

“As a young team, you want to be in close games as much as you can before the playoffs come, especially around this time,” Anderson said in his postgame press conference.

The degree of difficulty does not drop off for Memphis in the coming days. Starting with Indiana on Sunday, every opponent in the Grizzlies’ next 11 games would be in either the playoffs or the play-in tournament for either conference if the regular season ended now.

Indiana sits in the No. 9 spot of the Eastern Conference, good enough to qualify for the play-in tournament. The Pacers are just 2 1/2 games behind Miami for sixth place, the last position guaranteed a playoff berth without participating in the play-in tournament.

Indiana won its third game in the past four with a 111-106 decision Friday at Orlando. Domantas Sabonis recorded 16 points and 15 rebounds in his return from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury, and Aaron Holiday’s 20 points led the Pacers on their way to 58 bench points.

“I’m used to shooting the ball and making buckets,” Holiday said in his postgame news conference. “I hold myself to a high enough standard to where that stuff doesn’t faze me.”

Holiday scored 22 points in the previous outing, a 141-137 win over Minnesota on Wednesday.

The 141 points Indiana scored against the Timberwolves marked a season high and came as a result of a balanced offensive effort. Justin Holiday added 21 points.

Caris LeVert — who underwent kidney surgery in January to remove a cancerous growth — is averaging 16 points per game since joining the Pacers on March 13. He scored 18 points against Minnesota after games of 26 and 20, respectively, and added 11 points with seven rebounds in the win over Orlando.

LeVert’s return last month was a needed boon for an injury-ravaged Indiana team. The Pacers lost T.J. Warren to a season-ending foot surgery just four games into the campaign.

They are not yet at full strength, with center Myles Turner sidelined by an ankle injury, but are nearing a deeper rotation approaching the regular-season stretch run.

Memphis has dealt with a bevy of injuries all season, and in New York, were without De’Anthony Melton, Justise Winslow and Jontay Porter. Jaren Jackson Jr. has yet to appear this season while he recovers from a knee injury.

Balanced contributions also have been crucial for Memphis, as was the case in its 131-113 win Wednesday at Atlanta. Grayson Allen’s 30 points led on a night all five starters scored at least 16 points.

Memphis has no one averaging more than Ja Morant’s 19 points per game, and seven players produce at least 9.6 points per game.

–Field Level Media

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