Even a brutal stretch against quality opponents hasn’t slowed the Memphis Grizzlies, who have extended the best start in franchise history with yet another winning streak.
Memphis again will be tested by a pair of Eastern Conference contenders beginning Friday night at home against a Chicago Bulls team hoping to have Derrick Rose back.
The Grizzlies (21-4) are seeking a season-best seventh straight victory, though the last two haven’t come easy. They ended Golden State’s 16-game winning streak Tuesday with a 105-98 victory, then defeated San Antonio 117-116 in three overtimes the next night.
Marc Gasol scored 26 points and banked in a 3-pointer at the end of regulation after Memphis blew a 23-point lead. Zach Randolph added 21 and 12 rebounds, while Mike Conley finished with 14 and 10 assists.
“This was really a gut-check type of win,” Conley said. “For us to stay mentally focused, withstand runs, execute down the stretch and make plays regardless of the (opponent), we fought through.”
The Grizzlies have gone 14-2 against the much deeper West and have faced only one Eastern team that currently has a record above .500, losing 96-92 at Toronto on Nov. 19.
That will change with this matchup against Chicago (16-9) before Memphis travels to face Cleveland and LeBron James on Sunday. The Grizzlies are 7-2 against the East.
Coach Dave Joerger has continued to instill confidence in his club, and his players have responded.
“He can draw up some crazy stuff,” Conley said. “He’s really good at that, especially late-game situations. I think that’s why we execute so well because we know it’s going to be a great play. We just have to go out and do it ourselves and trust in it.”
Conley may draw a tough assignment in this contest if Rose plays after sitting out Chicago’s 103-97 win over New York on Thursday with an illness — yet another setback for the former MVP who had played the previous 11 games.
Taj Gibson also didn’t play because of an ankle injury, though he’ll make the trip to Memphis. Joakim Noah missed the previous four games with a sore ankle and showed some rust by shooting 1 of 8 from the field, but he grabbed 13 rebounds.
It’s unclear if Rose will be ready by tip-off, but the Grizzlies have plenty of others to worry about if he’s not in the lineup. Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points against the Knicks, and Pau Gasol — Marc’s older brother — added 20 and seven rebounds.
“He’s playing extremely well, with a lot of confidence, with a lot of aggressiveness,” Gasol said of Butler. “He’s asserting himself every single game at both ends of the floor.”
Butler is averaging a career-high 21.5 points while shooting 48.6 percent.
“I don’t want to be a star,” Butler said. “I just want to be a decent role player on a really good team.”
This matchup will be the 18th between the Gasol brothers since Marc entered the league in 2008. Pau, then playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Marc had 14 and 12 the last time they faced each other Feb. 26.
Memphis has won four of the last five meetings with Chicago, which played without Rose in each contest during that stretch.