Celtics, Grizzlies to meet again after going separate ways

Jim Fenton

They were linked together throughout the 2006-07 season as the two worst teams in the NBA.

The Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies resided at the bottom of the overall standings and battled for the most Ping-Pong balls in the draft lottery.

The Grizzlies came out on top, winning just 22 games, two less than the Celtics, and the two teams had the best chances to wind up with the first and second picks in the draft.

On the night of the lottery last May, though, the Grizzlies and Celtics were linked again as they tumbled out of the top three, Memphis dropping to No. 4 and Boston to No. 5.

Just like that, the teams with the fewest wins were out of the sweepstakes to select Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

The Celtics turned that misfortune into gold, though, dealing the pick as part of a trade that landed Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. A month later, the Celtics made a blockbuster move, acquiring Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Grizzlies, who now have former Celtics general manager Chris Wallace in charge, kept the pick and drafted point guard Mike Conley, Oden's teammate at Ohio State.

One season later, the Grizzlies and Celtics are no longer linked together.

The offseason moves have turned the Celtics into the team with the best record in the NBA at 27-3, the first time in franchise history that mark has been achieved.

The Grizzlies are no longer the worst team _ the Timberwolves have that distinction _ but they continue to struggle with a 9-22 record, placing them last in the Southwest Division.

Tonight, the Celtics and Grizzlies will meet at the TD Banknorth Garden (7:35, TV: Comcast SportsNet; radio: WEEI-850 AM), though they are no longer linked.

The Celtics and Grizzlies have gone their separate ways, one now in contention for a championship, the other bound for another trip to the lottery in the spring.

Memphis made few changes after its 22-win season, hiring Wallace as the basketball boss to replace the retiring Jerry West and Marc Iavaroni as the head coach, drafting Conley and acquiring Darko Milicic and Juan Carlos Navarro.

While the Celtics are ready for prime time after their dismal '06-07 season, the Grizzlies are not. Conley has played only seven games due to injury and made his first start on Wednesday night.

The Celtics, meanwhile, are the first team since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls to win 27 of their first 30 games. The latest win came on Wednesday when Boston was sluggish following a West Coast trip and barely survived the Houston Rockets.

As was the case in the Rockets game, the Celtics can expect the Grizzlies to give it their best shot against the team atop the NBA standings.

Memphis, led by Connecticut product Rudy Gay (19.2), Pau Gasol (17.9) and Mike Miller (15.9) is averaging 100.2 points per game.

"The games are more intense, which we like,'' coach Doc Rivers said of the way teams are approaching the Celtics. "The good part about us is when teams are attacking us, we have to keep having great composure. That's still a test for us. I don't think we've passed that test yet.

"It's only going to get tougher. If we can perform under duress, it's only going to make us better.''

The Celtics will also have to avoid looking ahead to Saturday night's showdown in Auburn Hills, Mich., against the Detroit Pistons, the only road team to win at the Garden this season.

The Enterprise