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Grizzlies-Nuggets Preview

Jan 20, 2016 - 6:57 PM The Memphis Grizzlies just hit a season high-water mark with the return of their point guard, and they have a clear opportunity to keep climbing over the next month and a half.

With Mike Conley back, the Grizzlies open an extended softer stretch of schedule when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night - though that first game comes at an arena where they haven't won often since the turn of the century.

Memphis' struggles in Denver date to its days as the Vancouver Grizzlies in the late 1990s to early 2000s. The Grizzlies are 5-32 there all-time, including 3-26 at the Pepsi Center.

Memphis (24-19), though, has won three straight and five of six meetings in the series, the latest a 91-84 win Jan. 8.

That opened a 5-1 homestand for the Grizzlies, who improved to five games over .500 for the first time this season with Monday's 101-99 victory over New Orleans.

Marc Gasol, Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes and Jeff Green each scored 16 points, while Conley had 15 and 10 assists in his return from a sore left Achilles that kept him out six games.

The Grizzlies, who won the last three on their longest home stretch of the season, play only two of their next 19 games against teams that entered Wednesday with winning records.

"Guys don't care if you're beating good teams or teams that don't have a great record," coach Dave Joerger told the team's official website. "I think wins are wins. I think guys' confidence is going up."

The Grizzlies - losers of seven of nine away from home - have been one of the top defensive teams in the league since Dec. 14, allowing 95.2 points per game in 18 contests.

Along with the excellent play at that end, Memphis has been buoyed by better 3-point shooting. After making 31.9 percent from beyond the arc through 40 games, the Grizzlies have hit 48.9 percent in the past three.

They made eight or more 3-pointers in two of those contests, something that happened twice in the previous 23.

Conley, who didn't play Jan. 8, hit three 3s against the Pelicans while Barnes and Lee each made two. Barnes is 8 for his last 13 from behind the arc.

Denver (16-26) is among worst teams in the league at defending the 3-point shot at 38.1 percent. The Nuggets have lost two of three and are 3-2 on their eight-game homestand.

They held one of the best offensive teams in the NBA in Oklahoma City to 42.3 percent shooting Tuesday, but the Thunder won 110-104. Denver allowed 16 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points while turning the ball over 18 times.

The Nuggets lost the battle of the boards 52-48, falling to 0-13 when they are outrebounded.

"The key to becoming a good defensive team is not only defending but finishing your possession with a gang rebound," coach Mike Malone said. "Think about it. They got 97 shots up, we only got 83 up. That's because of their offensive rebounding, second-chance opportunities and all of our turnovers."

Danilo Gallinari scored 27 points, but only seven came after halftime. Gallinari scored 29 against the Grizzlies earlier this month but has averaged 12.5 in 11 career matchups.