MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies were laughing yesterday.
They were laughing not because they acquired Portland’s talented but perplexing Bonzi Wells in a trade for Wesley Person and a conditional first-round pick in 2004 but because some of the Washington Wizards seemed to be taking them lightly.
Following a 27-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks that sent the Wizards (6-11) to their third defeat in a row and their ninth loss in 12 games, Washington guard Chris Whitney and center Brendan Haywood both indicated that the Grizzlies, whom they face tonight, are a team they are supposed to beat.
Rather than feed into any of this, the Grizzlies (9-8) basically shrugged off the Wizards’ lack of respect.
“They’ll leave with respect,” promised starting center Lorenzen Wright. “But I don’t have a problem with them thinking they can beat us. In fact, that’s the way we like it. It’s good that they might come in here looking down on us. It’s good to be the underdog because then teams don’t prepare for you right. Then they go home wondering what happened.”
Pau Gasol, the European import who leads the Grizzlies in scoring (18.1), rebounding (8.2) and blocks (1.6), chuckled when told of the Wizards’ disdain.
“That’s naive. You shouldn’t talk like that if you are smart,” Gasol said. “If you play the game, you know that you keep that stuff to yourself. Why would you say something like that? They just lost to Dallas by a whole lot. Good for [Haywood] that he has confidence. We have confidence, too. But I don’t think anyone on our team would say such a thing after getting beat the way they did.”
Gasol also noted that the Grizzlies easily defeated Washington in the preseason 101-85.
The barbs really don’t matter, though. What does is what is happening on the court, and things are going quite nicely for the Grizzlies these days.
Their 96-93 victory at New Jersey gave them their first winning record this late in a season. In their nine-year history, the Grizzlies had never been above .500 later than the seventh game (2000-01).
Like the Wizards, Memphis has been beset by injuries — although perhaps not to the same degree as the Wizards, who don’t have starters Gilbert Arenas (abdomen) and Jerry Stackhouse (knee). Yet the Grizzlies have won their last three games, all on the road, with starting point guard Jason Williams missing all but the first four minutes with a strained back. Williams is doubtful for tonight’s game.
In Williams’ absence, others have stepped up. Mike Miller, the 6-foot-8 forward acquired from Orlando last season, has contributed 36 points and 30 assists during the winning streak. The Grizzlies are playing with confidence, but coach Hubie Brown won’t let them get too full of themselves yet.
“The only thing we ever talk about is the next game, not who we should beat, this or that,” Brown said. “It’s all talk, and we don’t want to waste time talking. Others can do that.”
Meanwhile, Wizards reserve center Etan Thomas practiced yesterday for the first time this week and is scheduled to play tonight. Thomas missed two games with the flu.