NBA Basketball

Magic host Grizz while trying to keep pace in playoff race

Two teams feeling pretty good about themselves go head-to-head Friday night when the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Orlando Magic.

The game has far more significance for the Magic (34-38), who will tip off Friday night 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The two teams directly ahead of Orlando -- Brooklyn (37-36) and Miami (35-36) -- both play on the road Friday, with the Nets visiting the Los Angeles Lakers and the Heat facing the NBA-best Bucks in Milwaukee.

Orlando has won three in a row to stay within arm's length of a playoff berth, opening a five-game homestand with one-sided wins over Cleveland, Atlanta and New Orleans (prevailing in those games by a total of 62 points).

Despite his players fighting to end the franchise's six-year playoff drought, Magic coach Steve Clifford was proud to claim this week that his guys appear to be immune to the pressure of the situation.

"They're watching the (rivals') games and watching the scores, and it's fun," he told reporters. "That's one thing I'm pleased with and hopefully we continue: I think they're handling it well."

One thing Magic players didn't enjoy was watching Miami hold on to win at San Antonio on Wednesday night. Orlando had already wrapped up an easy win over New Orleans an hour or so earlier.

Even though it had no bearing on their playoff situation, Magic players likely also kept their televisions tuned to Wednesday's later action, which included Memphis' remarkable 126-125 overtime win over Houston in a game in which James Harden scored 57 points.

The win was the fourth in the last six games for the Grizzlies (29-42), who are already eliminated from the Western Conference playoffs.

Mike Conley had 35 points and Jonas Valanciunas a career-high 33 for Memphis against Houston, but the big story in Memphis has been the recent play of Chandler Parsons.

Basically divorced from the team when he wouldn't accept a G-League demotion earlier this season, Parsons has been called upon in recent weeks in an emergency situation with five teammates out of action.

Wednesday's 11-point output against the Rockets was his second double-digit scoring contribution in a row. He's totaled 27 points in those games, with more than half of the scoring coming on 5-for-13 shooting on 3-pointers.

Asked after the game if he planned to keep calling upon a guy who sat out 56 straight games earlier this season, Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff basically responded: Why not?

"We hope so," he assured reporters. "It's been a while, obviously, since he's played this many games in a row. So that's a start for us. Now he catches his rhythm and his legs are underneath him."

The Grizzlies will be going for a season sweep of the Magic after winning 105-97 at home March 10.

Conley (26) and Valanciunas (12) combined for 38 points in that win, which was as much a result of the Grizzles' defense as it was anything Memphis did offensively.

The Magic were held to 35.6-percent shooting, with Aaron Gordon (5-for-17) and Terrence Ross (5-for-13) combining to miss 20 of their 30 shots.

Parsons got 15 minutes off the bench in the win, scoring five points.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 21, 2019

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