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Preview: Grizzlies at Spurs

Now six games above .500 for the first time all season, the Grizzlies are looking to stay hot as they continue their push to the playoffs. They’ll get the ultimate test tonight when they travel to San Antonio to face the Spurs, owners of the league’s best record.

Not only do the Spurs stand atop the NBA standings, but they’ve also become nearly unbeatable on their home floor. The Spurs have lost just twice in San Antonio this season and boast a 20-game home winning streak, which includes a 112-106 overtime escape against the Grizzlies in the previous meeting at AT&T Center on Dec. 18.

Playing without Rudy Gay in their prior matchup, the Grizzlies stuck with the Spurs behind 27 points from O.J. Mayo and 24 from Zach Randolph. Of course, even with Gay sidelined again in San Antonio due to a left shoulder subluxation, the current Grizzlies squad looks a little different than it did in December.

Take a look at some of the keys to tonight’s game:

New faces, same places

Armed with some new (and old) personnel, the Grizzlies hope their reinforcements put them over the top in San Antonio. Since their last meeting, the Grizzlies have four new players in tow. The former face of the franchise, Shane Battier, and former University of Memphis star Rodney Carney made their 2010-11 debuts in Memphis last night. Meanwhile, free agent pickup Jason Williams has stabilized the second-unit in his return to the Bluff City, taking care of the ball while still setting up teammates with highlight-reel passes. Battier, acquired from the Rockets on Thursday along with Ish Smith, figures to see his role increase as the season progresses, providing the same veteran leadership and defensive savvy that many of tonight’s opponents have become known for in San Antonio.

Stat of the night

Since nearly knocking off the Spurs in December, the Grizzlies have found their identity: pounding the rock in the paint to big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Feeding the bigs has led to big success, to the tune of 21-11 since their last visit to the Alamo City. The Grizzlies, who lead the NBA in points in the paint for a second consecutive season, showed last night just how dangerous they can be down-low, setting a franchise record with a whopping 78 points in the painted area. Even little-used Hamed Haddadi, who will be relied on to play a more prominent role in the Grizzlies front court down the stretch, recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Spurs will call upon future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph-clone DeJuan Blair, who’s averaging 12.2 points and 9.1 rebounds this month, to knock the Grizzlies around and limit their effectiveness from close-range.

Matchup of the night

The best advice one can give about watching tonight’s point guard matchup? Try not to blink. Grizzlies floor general Mike Conley, a speedster in his own right, matches up with one of the quicker guards in the league in Tony Parker, who torched Memphis for 37 points back in December. It’ll be important for Conley to not just stay in front of Parker, but also force him to use precious energy on the defensive end. Conley has put his improved offensive game on display several times this season and can really pester Parker with his ability to both drive to the hoop and hit open threes, which he’s done at a .542 clip (26-of-48 3FG) in Memphis’ last 13 games.