MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Even with a lack of focus and a less-than-stellar performance, the Memphis Grizzlies were still able to send the Minnesota Timberwolves to their 10th straight loss.
Zach Randolph scored 22 points, O.J. Mayo added 20 in the Grizzlies’ 106-89 victory Saturday night.
Memphis won its fourth straight and seventh in eight games to move a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Hornets for seventh place in the Western Conference.
But the effort was less than polished. At times, Memphis played to the level of its competition, struggling against the short-handed Timberwolves, playing without leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love, who didn’t make the trip because of the groin injury that has bothered him the last 10 days.
Tony Allen added 12 points for Memphis, Leon Powe finished with 11 and Marc Gasol had 10 points and nine rebounds. Memphis outrebounded the Timberwolves 44-34.
Michael Beasley led Minnesota with 20 points, Luke Ridnour had 17, and Nikola Pekovic 14.
Minnesota committed 26 turnovers, 17 of them coming on Memphis steals. The miscues led to 33 Memphis points.
“We played really hard and gave a good effort considering how short-handed we were,” said Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis, whose team also was without starting center Darko Milicic. “When you give up 33 points off turnovers, it’s too big of a hole to dig yourself out of. You have to do something extraordinary, if you’re going to give up that many points.”
Memphis, which leads the NBA in points in the paint, took advantage of the absences on the Minnesota frontline, outscoring the Timberwolves 56-36 in that category.
“I was just playing, honestly,” said Beasley, who had five rebounds. “We were down two starters. That’s about 20 rebounds. I tried to do what I had to do and tried to give our team a chance.”
After struggling beyond the arc in the first half, missing 10 of 11 shots from long range, the Timberwolves were able to cut into Memphis’ lead in the second half, going 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.
It wasn’t enough to overtake Memphis, which struggled a bit with 18 turnovers, but still shot 51 percent for the game. Minnesota finished at 49 percent against a Grizzlies team that beat the Hornets 93-81 on Friday night in New Orleans.
“It was a dogfight, and we just kept battling,” Randolph said. “We were a little out of sync. We were a little tired. Not really tired, but a little fatigued. It was one of those games where we came out a little slow and had to build up to it. We came out and played to our competition, but we stepped it up at the end.”
Memphis got out early, building a double-digit lead, hitting eight of its first 11 shots. The Grizzlies kept the offense flowing, and consecutive 3-pointers by Mayo and Shane Battier made it 39-22.
The Timberwolves seemed to be going through the motions at that point, but they weren’t the only ones. The Memphis reserves were undisciplined running their offense. The return of some of the starters didn’t change the trend much leading to sloppy play, poor ballhandling and ill-advised shots in the latter stages of the second quarter.
Minnesota’s defense collapsed on point guard Mike Conley as he tried to get to the basket, leading to Conley missing his first six shots and going 2 for 11 in the game.
“A couple times here and there throughout the game, our mental focus was out of the gym,” Conley said, later adding: “It was ugly. Turnovers, we had some times where there was miscommunication, lackadaisical passes. I think it was all focus.”
The spotty play still wasn’t enough to get the Timberwolves closer than 12 in the second quarter, and the Grizzlies carried a 56-44 lead into the break behind Randolph’s 16 points.
Beasley had 11 for Minnesota and Ridnour scored 10 before the break.
Memphis managed to maintain the advantage early in the third, but the miscues continued. The Grizzlies had seven turnovers in the quarter, and Ridnour’s 3-pointer cut it to 73-64 at the end of the third.
It was the first time Minnesota had been that close since the start of the second quarter.
The Timberwolves continued to whittle away at the Memphis lead, getting to 84-77 on Anthony Tolliver’s 3-pointer with 6:48 left.
Mayo scored a pair of baskets and Hamed Haddadi got a dunk to cap a rally, putting Memphis back up by 13.
That assured Memphis of moving up another rung on the Western Conference playoff ladder, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Houston Rockets, who are in the ninth spot, just outside the playoff list.
“We understand we have to keep winning,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “There is a point where we will be in if we keep winning and/or Houston starts losing. Our focus is to go out and play one game at a time, and when they tell us we are in, then we will be in.
“Until that time, we have just got to keep battling.”
NOTES: The Grizzlies held a moment of silence for former Memphis State player and coach Larry Finch. He died Saturday after a long illness. Finch, who was 60, was the leader of the Tigers’ team that played UCLA and Bill Walton in the 1973 championship game, under Gene Bartow, an executive with the Grizzlies. “In addition to having the utmost respect for Larry as a player and a coach,” Bartow said, “he was also one of the finest people I’ve ever been around.” The Timberwolves lost to Miami on Friday night, and Memphis has an 18-1 record against teams playing the second night of a back-to-back, including 15-0 at home. Minnesota has lost eight straight on the road. The last Timberwolves’ win on the road was March 2 at Detroit. Minnesota has allowed opponents to shoot 50 percent or better in seven of its last 11 games. Memphis has shot at least 50 percent in eight straight home games.
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