Lionel Hollins, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Conley

Lionel Hollins points to favorable schedule as the reason for the Grizzlies’ strong start

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PHOENIX — Reality has set in on the Memphis Grizzlies recently. But that doesn’t negate the team’s stronger-than-expected start.

After a loss in Phoenix on Wednesday to a Suns club that had dropped seven straight coming in, Memphis has now posted just two wins against three losses over its last five games. This may be closer to the true Grizzlies team that we will see over the course of the season, but they did open with a blistering record of 13-2, with quality wins over the Heat, Knicks, and Lakers during that stretch.

Before facing the Suns on Wednesday, I asked Hollins what he believed was the reason for his team’s early-season success. He clearly wasn’t overly excited about it, and was fairly logical in concluding that a favorable schedule was as much a reason for piling up those wins as was anything else.

“We won a few games against some really good teams that we didn’t do the year before,” he said. “I think our schedule was similar, except for the number of road games. In the past we’ve had 11 out of 14 on the road, and we played all of those teams on the road. This year we’ve had most of the good teams [at home] — except for the Clippers and Oklahoma City and San Antonio. We beat Miami at home, New York at home, the Lakers at home. It’s always nice to be at home.

“I think that we haven’t played a lot of back-to-backs; we’ve had a couple of back-to-backs, and we haven’t fared well in them so far. The schedule’s been very favorable.”

Memphis has only had three back-to-back sets thus far, and has won only once in that situation, on Nov. 17 at Charlotte.

Hollins is measured in his optimism because he’s well aware that early-season wins don’t translate to playoff success. Too many things can happen over the course of the year — including injuries, as Memphis was forced to deal with last season that affected its chance at a higher seed in the playoffs, and along with it, a lesser first round opponent.

The Grizzlies do have the league’s top-ranked defense right now in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, and if that remains constant, good things will happen. But Hollins knows there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that there are simply too many factors at play for him to be idealistic about his team’s chances, especially with so much of the season’s games still remaining to be played.

“I don’t think we’ve played great every game by any stretch, but no team does,” he said. “What we want to do is continue to win, and get in a rhythm going toward the playoffs that lends itself to being successful. If we’re not playing well at the end of the year, we’re probably not going to be successful in the playoffs. But if we get to the point where we’re playing well, like we have in the past, things bode well.

“And then, you’ve got to have the right matchup.”

Dwyane Wade with dagger dunk to seal Bulls win vs. Suns (VIDEO)

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The time off during the All-Star break did Dwyane Wade some good.

The Bulls guard turned back the clock on Friday night, leading the Bulls with 23 points and topping it off with this dunk that proved to be the dagger, sealing a Chicago win. The Suns were convinced Wade was going to run the shot clock way down before making his move and they lollygagged into position — so he just blew past everyone for the poster slam.

The Bulls won 128-121. Devin Booker led the Suns with 27.

DeMarre Carroll shoves Isaiah Thomas to ground on break, tempers flare

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Atlanta’s DeMarre Carroll picked up a deserved flagrant for this foul.

With a couple of minutes left to go in the second quarter, Isaiah Thomas made the steal when DeMar DeRozan lost the ball on a drive, and Thomas was off to the races. Trying to prevent a lay-up, Carroll decided to foul Thomas far from the basket, but did so with a forearm shove that sent Thomas sprawling on the ground.

Thomas got up and had words, as did Jae Crowder.

Carroll got a flagrant and a technical, Thomas and Crowder each picked up technicals for jumping in.

Seth Curry puts up career high 31 against Timberwolves (VIDEO)

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When Stephen Curry wore a headband through the All-Star Game last weekend, West coach Steve Kerr jokingly called him “Seth” all night.

Dallas’ Seth Curry came out of the week-long break playing like an All-Star. He dropped 31 on the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night, a career high for him. He hit 13-of-17 from the field, including three from beyond the arc, but did a lot of his damage in the midrange.

It wasn’t enough, the Timberwolves got a comfortable 97-84 win behind 27 points from Andrew Wiggins and 26 from Karl-Anthony Towns. Nerlens Noel was not yet with his new team in time to play for the Mavs in this game.

Spurs kick off rust from layoff to beat Clippers 105-97 in Chris Paul’s return

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard dunks during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points despite foul trouble and the San Antonio Spurs shook off the rust from a nine-day layoff to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-97 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in his return from a 15-game absence because of a fractured finger. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dewayne Dedmon grabbed 12 rebounds.

Blake Griffin scored 29 points for the Clippers, who have dropped consecutive games to the league’s two winningest teams since the All-Star break ended. They lost by 10 points at Golden State a night earlier. The Spurs have the league’s second-best record at 44-13.

Chris Paul added 17 points in his return after missing five weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb.