SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Memphis Grizzlies methodically moved up the Western Conference standings since the start of winter. They are doing so playing a brand of basketball that is just as meticulous.
“We’re not the kind of team that’s gonna go up and down the court,” Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. “We rely on getting stops, slowing the game down, getting to the line and pulling away slowly. That’s how we do it.”
That was how Memphis did it against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, clamping down late and using a surge in the final three minutes to secure a 99-89 victory at Sleep Train Arena.
Conley, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists, made a 3-pointer during Memphis’ game-ending 11-4 run. He added fuel to the argument that he should be picked as a reserve for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. The coaches’ decisions on which players will join the fan-picked starters will be revealed Thursday.
“Man, I’m just playing ball,” Conley said. “Right now, I’m playing it at a high level, and doing what my team needs me to do. I’ll let the other guys decide that.”
Forward Zach Randolph added 18 points and seven rebounds for Memphis, which has not cooled down since the start of winter. The Grizzlies (24-20) won their fourth straight, ninth in the past 10, and improved to 14-5 since Dec. 21. Since then, they have moved from 13th place to ninth in the Western Conference, only a half-game behind the eighth-place Dallas Mavericks in the race for the final playoff spot.
“The chemistry is as good as I’ve seen it,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “We’re having fun, playing hard.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas returned from an illness to score 24 points to lead Sacramento (15-30), which lost its fourth game in a row. Thomas, who sat out the second half of Tuesday’s loss at Utah after becoming ill, scored eight of Sacramento’s first 14 points before Conley started hounding him. Thomas missed 11 of his final 18 shots.
Forward Rudy Gay, playing for the first time in four games, added 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting but was unable to prevent the Kings from being held under 100 points for the first time in their past 14 home games. Gay, returning from a strained left Achilles tendon, drew the Kings within 86-83 with 3:46 left on a jumper that pushed him over the 10,000-point mark for his career.
However, he turned over the ball twice on the Kings’ next four possessions, and Memphis converted both into scores. Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince’s long arms created both of the turnovers, and Prince converted one of them for a breakaway dunk for a 97-87 lead with 1:32 to go.
Gay finished with five turnovers and appeared to tweak his Achilles injury midway through the fourth quarter.
“He was trying to make plays and maybe being a little too aggressive,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I’m not going to make any excuses for his turnovers. Hopefully, he’ll be better in Dallas on Friday night.”
Memphis, which benefited from 17 Sacramento turnovers, held its opponent below 90 points for the fourth consecutive game. The Grizzlies have gone eight straight games without allowing 100.
“Defense has been big for us,” Conley said. “We’re getting three, four, five stops in a row in bunches.”
Forward Marc Gasol added 12 points and five rebounds for the Grizzlies, and forward Mike Miller came off the bench to score 11.
NOTES: Kings C DeMarcus Cousins sat out his fourth consecutive game. Cousins hasn’t played since suffering a sprained left ankle against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 22. … The Kings last were held under 100 points at home in a 97-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 3. … Memphis F Tayshaun Prince has started 802 games since the start of the 2003-04 season, the second most in the NBA behind Miami Heat F LeBron James (808). … The Grizzlies were playing their sixth game in 13 days. … Kings G Ben McLemore, the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month in November, was left off the rookie roster for the NBA’s Rising Stars Game at All-Star weekend. McLemore is averaging 7.5 points since Dec. 1, and his minutes have declined since the opening month. … Grizzlies F Zach Randolph ranks eighth among active players in double-doubles with 385. … Kings F Rudy Gay finished the game with 10,001 career points.
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