Ever since the Grizzlies traded backup point guard Kyle Lowry to the Rockets on Feb. 19, 2009, games between the Griz and Houston have always interesting. The Rockets' 97-93 win Monday at Toyota Center was no exception.
Every time the teams get together, it's Lowry vs. Mike Conley -- the guy the Griz chose to be their point guard -- and comparisons are always made. They have faced each other twice in the past week, and each of their teams has won a game. In those head-to-head matchups, Conley has averaged 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and a steal, and Lowry has averaged 24 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals.
On Monday, Lowry outscored Conley 24 to 16, hitting 3 of 7 three-pointers and all seven of his free-throw attempts, including a pair of freebies that clinched the win.
"We're still good friends off the court, and it's always fun to compete against him, because we both play hard against each other," Conley said after Monday's game. "He was the difference tonight."
Conley has settled in as one of the league's most underrated point guards. He's second in the league in steals, his outside shot has improved each year and he has become a masterful penetrator with a variety of ways to finish drives.
"I think more than ever, I understand when to be aggressive with the ball and when to be a facilitator," said Conley, who is averaging a career-best 6.9 assists and who has 18 games with at last six assists and two steals.
Last year during the Western Conference playoffs, Conley gained a great deal of confidence. He outplayed the Spurs' Tony Parker in the first round, and he more than held his own in the conference semifinals against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
This year has been especially challenging for Conley, especially since Jan. 2, when the Griz lost center Zach Randolph to a knee injury. It changed the complexion of the Grizzlies' offense, which had revolved around Randolph.
The Grizzlies had to adjust, and it was up to Conley to help his teammates shift gears.
"It has been tough," Conley said. "Last year, we hung our hat on going inside, and we still do that. But we also have the capability of going outside with Rudy and our perimeter game. So we're kind of caught in the middle of being an inside/outside team or an outside/inside team."
Griz coach Lionel Hollins said trading Lowry has worked out for both parties.
"Mike's the director we need," Hollins said, "Kyle got his own team and a lucrative contract."
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