ORLANDO, Fla. — His seven-game run as a starter may be over, but Memphis rookie point guard Nick Calathes is thrilled with what it did for his game. He established himself as an NBA player.
Calathes, who has served as a fill-in for injured Mike Conley, played another well-rounded game Wednesday night in guiding the Grizzlies to an 86-81 victory over the Orlando Magic.
Calathes had 12 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots, helping snap the Magic’s five-game home winning streak in the city where he played his high school basketball.
“I’ll be back on the bench after the All-Star break,” he said, “but I’m a better player now, a more confident player. I’ll be able to help this team more from what I gained in the last several games. It’s been a good thing all the way around.”
Conley, who was out with a sprained ankle, will return to action when the Grizzlies reopen play Feb. 18 against New York. Calathes will return to a backup role behind one of the league’s best point guards.
In his seven games as a starter, Calathes averaged 15.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He scored 22 points in his first career start Feb. 1. He had 18 points in 36 minutes in a victory Tuesday against Washington. He played 37 minutes Wednesday in the victory over Orlando.
“He’s going to help us now as we move forward,” said veteran forward Zach Randolph, who led everyone with 20 points Wednesday night. “He’s a little more battled-tested now. This helped him grow.”
The victory Wednesday moved the Grizzlies (29-23) a little closer to a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The win was tainted by the uncertainty over center Marc Gasol, who left midway through the third quarter and didn’t return after banging his troublesome left knee with Magic guard Jameer Nelson.
Gasol missed 23 games earlier this season when the same knee was sprained. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday or Friday.
Memphis guard Courtney Lee added 17 points, including four free throws in the final 35 seconds to ice the victory. Forward Tayshaun Prince had 14 points and five rebounds.
“We’ll be a playoff team,” Randolph said. “We’ve done it before, and we can get there again. There’s a lot of confidence in this locker room going into the second half of the season. We have 30 games left to get it done. We’ll be there.”
The Magic (16-38) were led by center Nikola Vucevic, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Forward Tobias Harris finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Magic led 79-78 when guard Jameer Nelson scored on a running jumper with 2:01 remaining, but they didn’t score again until :05 remaining. The Grizzlies grabbed the lead when Randolph hit a basket with 1:35 remaining. Randolph added another basket, and Lee hit four free throws to seal the victory.
The Magic’s five-game home winning streak was snapped. It was the fourth game in five nights for the Grizzlies.
“This is a huge win for us going into the break,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “We are exhausted, but our guys gutted it out. Nick had another good game. He’s got the ball in his hands almost the entire game, and only two turnovers. I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
After trailing by eight at halftime, the Magic rallied behind Vucevic and guard Arron Afflalo, who scored nine and eight points, respectively, in the third period. Afflalo hit a 3-pointer for the 53-52 lead, Orlando’s first lead since early in the game.
The Grizzlies led 42-34 at halftime, dictating the slow-paced game that they wanted. They led by as many as 13 points in the first two periods. Both Lee and Randolph scored nine points before intermission.
Davis led everyone in the first half with 10 points, hitting five of his eight shots. Afflalo was scoreless in the first half and took only two shots. He finished the night with 10 points.
NOTES: Memphis PG Mike Conley (right ankle sprain) missed his seventh consecutive game, but the Grizzlies were pleased with replacement Nick Calathes. In his previous six starts, Calathes led the team in total assists (28), steals (14) and 3-point field goals made (nine). Only Zach Randolph has scored more points (109). Calathes played high school basketball in Central Florida, and he needed more than 40 tickets to satisfy family and friend requests Wednesday. … Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he would remind rookie G Victor Oladipo not to “overdo it” during the festivities at All-Star Weekend. … Oladipo, a starter earlier this season, averaged 19 points and 60 percent shooting during his previous three games in a sixth-man role. The Magic won all three. “I have to look at what works rotation-wise,” Vaughn said before the game. “This situation has been good for us.”
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