NEW ORLEANS — When big men Robin Lopez and Anthony Davis play well on the same night, the New Orleans Hornets are transformed from one of the worst teams in the Western Conference into a threat to anyone in the league.
Lopez had 23 points, including a key putback and a pair of free throws in the final 1:11, and the Hornets beat the playoff-contending Memphis Grizzlies 90-83 on Friday.
Lopez also had 10 rebounds and Davis added 18 points and 15 boards for New Orleans, which has won two in a row against teams in playoff contention, the first coming against Boston on Wednesday night.
"Our big guys did a good job playing with a great amount of intensity and they were the difference in the game," said guard Greivis Vasquez, who had 12 points and nine assists. "When you have a guy like Robin Lopez, the way he played tonight, it’s huge. If he does that consistently, I think we can be a different team for sure."
Mike Conley scored 20 points while nearly leading the Grizzlies back from a 16-point fourth-quarter hole. His consecutive 3s had Memphis as close as 83-81 with 2:36 left, but Vasquez answered with a big 3 on a kick-out from Eric Gordon and Lopez’s putback made it 88-81.
Gordon, who scored 11 points, had only two assists, but Vasquez said Gordon deserved credit for the pass that set up his momentum-changing 3 with 1:50 left.
"He got me a wide-open shot," Vasquez said. "He could have easily scored or got a foul and he just kicked the ball out to me and I was ready to hit that shot."
Marc Gasol had 16 points for the Grizzlies, while Zach Randolph added 14 and Jerryd Bayless 12.
"We were just not playing defensively and the game got away," Gasol said. "They did a great job of rebounding and we did not help on the drive and did not contest shots. They just had an open lane for rebounds."
Lopez and Davis helped the Hornets outrebound Memphis 49-33. Lopez had six offensive boards, a key factor in the Hornets’ 22-12 advantage in second-chance points.
"Everybody was being aggressive," Lopez said. "I got some cleanup baskets. Anthony was attacking and they had to box him out. They left me wide open."
Hornets coach Monty Williams conceded that he left Lopez in the game longer planned — nearly 30 minutes — because Ryan Anderson was in foul trouble. The way Lopez, in his fifth season, and Davis, a rookie, played together this time left Williams bullish about how the pair might blossom in upcoming seasons.
"At some point, we are going to have a big tandem in this city that is going to be one of the best in the league," Williams said.
The Hornets also wound up outshooting Memphis 47.4 per cent (36 of 76) to 41.1 per cent (30 of 73).
"It was a disappointing loss. They really took it to us on the glass," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "Both Davis and Lopez worked hard all night. You just have to tip your hat to them."
Coming off an impressive overtime victory against Oklahoma City, Memphis dominated early, forcing seven early turnovers and going up by 11 when Conley’s free throws made it 21-10. That turned out to be the largest lead of the game for the Grizzlies.
New Orleans pulled into a 27-all tie on Gordon’s 3 in the middle of the second quarter. After that, Memphis managed to maintain a slim lead for much of the second period until Al-Farouq Aminu’s inside basket sparked an 8-0 run to close the half, capped by Gordon’s last-second floater that gave New Orleans a 48-43 lead at the break.
Memphis was back within a point after Randolph scored inside to make it 56-55, but the Hornets then put together an 11-1 run late in the third period, with eight straight points coming from Lopez before Anderson added a 3 to make it 67-56.
Anderson’s second 3 gave New Orleans its largest lead at 76-60. Memphis then began to make one final push during which Conley scored 11 points on three 3s and a pair of free throws, but the Hornets, who have blown several double-digit leads this season, uncharacteristically made all the plays they needed to in the clutch.
NOTES: The victory marked the first time the Hornets (24-46) have won two straight since the All-Star break. … A shot by Anderson that was ruled a 3 on the floor late in the first quarter was changed to a two-pointer on video review in between periods. Still, the two 3s Anderson made gave him 187 for the season, tied for third most in a single season in franchise history with Baron Davis. … Anderson has accounted for just more than 40 per cent of all made 3s by the Hornets this season. … Conley, who came in as the NBA’s steals leader with 148, had two more in New Orleans. … Memphis (46-22) has lost three straight on the road to fall to 19-14 away from home. … The Grizzlies finished with a 16-0 advantage in fast-break points.