Grizzlies 107, Hornets 96
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)
With elimination from the playoffs approaching, the Memphis Grizzlies still have a goal of finishing with a winning record.
Memphis built an early lead and held on to stay mathematically in the playoffs by the slimmest of margins. The Grizzlies trail San Antonio by seven games with seven to play.
Another loss will end the Grizzlies' playoff hopes. But if Memphis (39-36) can close the season with at least three wins, it will have its first winning season since 2005-06.
``I think it would be huge because 'Bad News Bears' is all I've heard for the last three years along with bad ownership, management and decisions,'' Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. ``To get to .500 would really set the stage for next year because I've always said that if we went from a downtrodden team to having a winning record, (it) is better than having a better season and still a losing record.''
Sam Young's 19 points and seven rebounds off the bench helped Memphis make a stride toward that winning campaign. Mike Conley had 15 points.
Marcus Thornton led New Orleans with 19 points, while Chris Paul had 16 points and eight assists. Darren Collison scored 15, and David West finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Memphis built an early double-digit lead, and still held a 19-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter. But the Hornets made it interesting with 10 unanswered points, including six straight by Thornton, pulling them within 101-92 with 2:33 left.
New Orleans could get no closer, assuring the Hornets (35-42) of a losing season.
``It's tough,'' Paul said. ``I think one thing it can do is motivate us and push us in the offseason to get better and come back stronger next year.''
Gay and Mayo provided the early scoring for Memphis with an assist off the bench from Young, who brought the fans to their feet with a one-handed rebound jam in the second quarter. The trio helped Memphis build its first-half lead, as Mayo connected on four of his first five shots outside the arc.
Memphis took a 61-46 lead into halftime as Mayo had 19 points, while Young scored 14. Gay scored 12 points, as Memphis shot 51 percent.
``The first half, they scored a lot of fast-break points and second-chance points,'' Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. ``Those two areas really gave them half of their total points.''
A 20-point advantage seemed comfortable, but Memphis had squandered a 21-point lead against the Hornets on Jan. 30, eventually losing 109-102 in overtime, matching the second-biggest comeback in New Orleans franchise history.
That comeback was in the back of the Hornets' minds.
``It was like deja vu,'' Thornton said. ``Here we go again. We tried to battle back, but this time we couldn't pull it off.''
The start of the second half provided some reasons it could happen again. Memphis started settling for jumpers with ineffective results. Add a half-dozen Memphis turnovers, and the Hornets quickly cut the lead to 10 points.
New Orleans continued to chip away, eventually getting within eight, but Memphis carried an 86-71 lead into the fourth.
``Every time we got it to single digits, they made a timely basket that they needed,'' Thornton said. ``They made shots when the needed to.''
Hollins talked to his players this week about finishing with a winning record, knowing the playoffs were out of reach. His goal was to keep the team motivated down the stretch. Gay, who like Hollins has seen lean seasons in Memphis, knows the benefits of getting to .500.
``That would mean a lot,'' the fourth-year forward out of Connecticut said. ``That basically means I'm seeing progress. We can talk about being a better team, but this year we really worked on it.
``We're getting there. A winning season would be proof of progress.''
NOTES: The Grizzlies announced earlier Friday that they have shut down C Marc Gasol (partially torn neck muscle) and F/G Ronnie Brewer (hamstring injury) for the rest of the season. Both tried to return after they were originally hurt, but aggravated the injuries. With 20 points, Gay passed Mike Miller for the third spot on the Grizzlies career scoring list. The Grizzlies are 13-1 at home against teams with losing records. Paul aggravated a nagging right hand injury when he was fouled late in the fourth quarter. Paul, an 80 percent free throw shooter, shot an airball on the first foul shot with his bad right hand. So, he shot the second with his left, and missed that one, too. ``I figured I would make it with my left hand,'' he said. Memphis G Marcus Williams hit a runner early in the second quarter, his first field goal in the last five games, going 0 for 9 in that span dating to March 20. The Hornets, who were 4-12 in March, have lost 11 of their last 12 on the road.