Fizdale returns to Memphis with Knicks to face Grizzlies
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- David Fizdale makes his return to Memphis as coach of the New York Knicks on Sunday when his new team takes a two-game winning streak against his former club, the Grizzlies.
Fizdale was fired 83 games ago -- 19 games into the 2018 season -- after famously benching star big man Marc Gasol for the fourth quarter of a 98-88 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets that dropped the Grizzlies to 7-12.
Memphis went just 15-48 the rest of the way under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who was given the full-time gig in the offseason.
Fizdale, meanwhile, landed with the Knicks, in part because he had led the Grizzlies to 43 wins and the playoffs the previous season, his first as an NBA head coach.
The Knicks are off to a 6-14 start under their new coach but have played their best ball of the season in their last two games, which featured a shocking win at Boston and narrow home victory over New Orleans.
The winning streak is the team's first of the season, something Fizdale considered worthy of celebration the day after Thanksgiving on Friday.
"Our first two in a row. We're riding with this one," he gushed to reporters after the 114-109 win over the Pelicans, one in which a late 12-point flurry turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead. "We're gonna roll with this one for a little bit."
One of the things to celebrate in the win was the play of rookie Allonzo Trier, who came off the bench to contribute a season-best 25 points to the victory.
Trier, one of the nation's top prospects when he enrolled at Arizona three years ago, went undrafted in June after a shaky career with the Wildcats. The best offer he got from the NBA was a two-way contract with the Knicks, and he has made the most of it.
With newcomers Trier, Kevin Knox and Noah Vonleh leading the way, the Knicks have improved their scoring output 4.4 points this season to 108.9.
This isn't the same New York team that hasn't topped 100 points in any of its previous seven trips to Memphis, losing all seven games.
The same can be said of the Grizzlies, who split games with the Knicks last season, and were held to 88 points in an 11-point loss at New York.
The Grizzlies have made a similar offensive improvement as the Knicks, scoring 4.0 more points per game this season, up to 103.3.
Gasol mentioned earlier this week that the Grizzlies, known in recent years as a defensive team, are making strides on both sides of the court, resulting in a five-game winning streak that ended in their most recent outing, a 112-107 overtime road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We've been growing consistently defensively," he said. "Offensively, same kind of thing. We see things teams throw at us in a game and we talk about it and continue to grow."
Gasol has five consecutive double-doubles, including 20 points and 10 rebounds in one of the club's marquee wins of the season, 104-103 at San Antonio on Wednesday.
The Grizzlies open a two-game homestand Sunday and the Knicks tip off a three-game trip.
Updated November 24, 2018