MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since center Marc Gasol returned from a knee injury, the Memphis Grizzlies were making their move, winning 16 of 22 since Dec. 21, 11 of 12 in one recent stretch.
A team that went to the Western Conference finals last season, a team full of players who over and over would say, “We hang our hat on our defense,” was again backing up its reputation.
The hot streak pulled the Grizzlies within a game of the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference heading into Wednesday night’s game between the rivals.
Dallas slowed Memphis’ momentum with a 110-96 win at the FedExForum.
Afterward, someone mentioned to Mavericks forward Shawn Marion that Memphis was the hottest team in the NBA.
“Are they?” said Marion, who finished with eight points and three steals. “That’s a good job.”
A great job.
“We couldn’t stop them, couldn’t stop them,” said power forward Zach Randolph, who led the Grizzlies with 25 points and nine rebounds. “They got a lot of weapons, a veteran team, a smart team.”
One of those veterans, forward Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas (29-21) with 26 points and added six rebounds, three assists and two steals. It was his fifth consecutive game with 23 or more points and his 29th game of the season with 20 or more points.
But Nowitzki had help. Forward Brandan Wright came off the bench to score 17 points. Center Samuel Dalembert had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and guard Monta Ellis also scored 14. Reserve guard/forward Vince Carter contributed 13 points and seven assists.
The Mavericks led 78-72 after three quarters, but they stretched the lead to as many as 17 in the fourth quarter and never led by fewer than 11 points in the last four minutes of the game.
While both teams shot well, with the Mavericks finishing at 53.8 percent (42-for-78) and Memphis at 53.6 percent (37-for-69), Dallas enjoyed a huge advantage on points in the paint: 56-32.
“I did a poor job of getting us ready for the multiple pick-and-roll action that they ran,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “So this is on me.”
The Mavericks are eight games over .500 for the first time this season.
“We don’t want to jinx it, but we’re headed in the right direction,” guard Devin Harris said.
The Mavericks also improved their record against the Grizzlies to 3-0 this season. The two teams meet in the last regular-season game, in Memphis on April 16.
“If we had won, we would still be able to make the playoffs; if we lose, it doesn’t change anything,” said Memphis center Marc Gasol, who finished with 12 points and six turnovers. “We have a lot of games left. Of course, we would like to win every game. But if you lose, you move on.”
The Grizzlies (26-22) played without starting point guard Mike Conley, who missed his third straight game with a right ankle sprain. He is unlikely to return before the All-Star break.
“Even without some of their good players, it’s a tough place to play,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was a heck of a win for us.”
Memphis shooting guard Courtney Lee scored 22, and forward James Johnson added 17 points and four blocks off the bench. Rookie point guard Nick Calathes finished with 16 points, but he offset five assists with six turnovers.
The Grizzlies now finish the first half of the season with four games against Eastern Conference teams.
“The biggest four games of the year,” Joerger said. “There are 30 after that. This is a game that was worth two — their win and our loss.”
NOTES: Since C Marc Gasol’s return, Memphis has led the NBA in defensive rating (94.3). … In that same span, Dallas led the league in offensive rating (114.2), but ranked last in defensive rating (112.8). … Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki averaged 30.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 32.8 minutes during a four-game homestand that concluded Monday. … Dallas went 3-1 on the homestand and improved to 17-8 at home. … Grizzlies F James Johnson, despite being signed in midseason, leads the league in blocks on opponent’s 3-point attempts with 14 in just 24 games; two other players are tied at nine. … In his first three starts for injured PG Mike Conley (ankle sprain), including Wednesday, Grizzlies G Nick Calathes averaged 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and two turnovers in 36.7 minutes.
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