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Grizzlies dethrone Kings

There was something eerily familiar about the Memphis Grizzlies’ 120-92 win over the Sacramento Kings at FedExForum Saturday night.

Maybe it was Shane Battier sporting a Grizzlies jersey for the first time since 2005-06.

Maybe it was Jason Williams hitting jumpers and dishing out behind-the-back passes circa 2004-05.

Or maybe it was a big night from Gasol—Marc, not brother Pau—that gave 16,208 nostalgic Grizzlies fans in attendance a collective feeling of déjà vu.

“It really was a retro, throwback night,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins, who coached Battier and Williams together for the first time since he was an assistant in Memphis in 2004-05.

More likely, though, the familiarity surfaced as a result of more recent happenings, as victorious blue and gold streamers fell from the Forum rafters for the 12th time in the last 14 Grizzlies home games—including a fourth-straight win in Memphis.

Grizzlies fans are getting used to going home happy. Memphis has won 20 of 28 in the Bluff City by playing fundamentally solid team basketball, relying on unrelenting energy and defensive intensity to ensure that the home wins are a familiar sight.

They key for the Grizzlies (33-27) in their first home game since the All-Star Break was to properly channel that effort.

“I thought we had a lot of energy at the start of the game,” Hollins said after the 28-point victory, Memphis’ largest win in franchise history over Sacramento. “But it was misused energy.

“We had a couple of days off and guys were ready to play. (We) came out and were playing at a ragged pace that was too fast for us, which helped Sacramento. Then we finally settled into who we were and started getting stops.”

Before the Grizzlies could settle down, Beno Udrih and the Kings (14-43) were determined to shock the home team, fighting through tired legs as they completed a season-long seven-game road trip—including a loss the previous night. Foul trouble sidelined Mike Conley in the first frame, and Udrih took advantage, scoring 14 of his game-high 24 to help the Kings to a 28-23 first-quarter lead.

But the positives practically ended there for Sacramento. Memphis went on to score 30-plus points in each of the three remaining quarters en route to a season-high 120 points, combining for a 66-38 edge in the second and third periods.

The return of Battier, who entered the game to a standing ovation with 5:53 remaining the first quarter, helped spark the Grizzlies in that stretch, and more importantly, helped spark the crowd. But Battier admits it will take a little time to re-acquaint himself with his familiar surroundings.

“It is going to take a few games to understand everything, but my job is to come here and just play hard,” he said. “My performance has never been about stats. It is about making basketball plays and my stable presence in the locker room and on the court. Everything else will come with time.” The return of a prominent player to the lineup was evident, but Memphis continued to rely on what has worked this season—feeding Zach Randolph in the paint. Z-Bo tallied another 20-10 game (23 points, 12 rebounds) and Marc Gasol chipped in 21 to help the Grizzlies set a new franchise mark with 78 points in the paint.

“That is how we play, from inside out,” said Randolph. “Once we get it going, guys won’t give up shots so they come and double-team, so we pass the ball and get open shots.” For all the familiarities—Battier’s return, O.J. Mayo re-discovering his three-point stroke (3-of-7 3FG), and even former University of Memphis star Rodney Carney logging his first action for the home team at FedExForum—not everything remained the same.

Among the oddities, Hamed Haddadi logged his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and the Grizzlies’ bench set a season-high with 54 points—both well above the production the Grizzlies have received this season.

Everything old may be new again in Memphis, but don’t expect the Grizzlies to change their formula for success. The high-energy, paint-dominating Grizzlies will stick to their core strategies despite any changes, new or old.

Randolph put it best: “That is our team, and that is our team identity.”