The last two times the Memphis Grizzlies faced the Phoenix Suns, Mike Conley experienced the most prolific scoring night of his career in one game and things became hostile at the end of another blowout in the other.
Both games easily went in favor of Memphis.
On Tuesday, the Grizzlies look to chalk up another win in the series when they host the Suns.
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Memphis is 8-4 in its last 12 games and currently 1 1/2 games behind the fifth-place Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference. Two of those wins were against the Suns.
On Jan. 30 in Phoenix, Conley scored a career-high 38 points and hit seven of the Grizzlies’ 16 3-pointers during a 115-96 rout. On Feb. 8, the teams reconvened in Memphis and the Grizzlies held the Suns to 33 percent shooting in a 110-91 rout.
Conley scored 23 points in the latter game, which featured three ejections and six technical fouls for one incident in the fourth quarter.
With Memphis up 18 in the waning minutes, Phoenix’s Alan Williams exchanged words with Troy Daniels. Phoenix guard Tyler Ulis stepped in and was shoved by Daniels. Officials spent 10 minutes reviewing things and tossed Ulis and rookie Marquese Chriss while calling four technicals on Phoenix, including one on Devin Booker.
“It’s just basketball, man,” Booker said of the heated exchange. “You talk trash sometimes. I don’t know why he’d be talking to me. He’s been on five teams in three years and he has the nerve to talk trash to me? It is what it is.”
Nearly three weeks later the incident is likely not a focal point for either team. Memphis is 11-2 in its last 13 meetings with Phoenix since Feb. 5, 2013, and eight of those wins are by single digits or in overtime.
Memphis avoided a third straight loss when it bounced back from Friday’s sub-par showing in Indiana with a 105-98 road win over the Denver Nuggets Sunday.
“We brought a whole different mindset to the game than we did the other night,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said. “The other night we really played the game like it was a rec league game. We addressed it and we played with the proper respect for the game and our opponent. I thought we really competed on both ends.”
Conley scored 13 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter while the Grizzlies hit 11 3-pointers. It was the sixth time Conley topped 30 points and the 28th time Memphis hit at least 10 3-pointers.
“We needed it tonight,” Conley said. “It was a game where we were trying to find a rhythm since we lost two in a row. I tried to do what I could to be aggressive early, got into a good rhythm and carried that into the third and fourth quarter.”
Also in a good rhythm for Memphis were Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol added 23 points and Randolph contributed 20 while helping the Grizzlies to a 49-39 rebounding edge.
The Suns are hardly in a rhythm, especially in the last month. Since consecutive road wins over the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors Jan. 21-22, Phoenix is 3-12.
Phoenix is among the league’s worst in points allowed (112.5), and in the last 15 games, the Suns are allowing 114.6 per game. Those defensive showings are negating an offense that scores a respectable 107 points per game. Half of Phoenix’s defeats in the last five weeks are by single digits.
“We’re getting the feel for what it takes to close out games like this,” Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe said.
Phoenix heads into Memphis off a frustrating weekend in Chicago and Milwaukee.
On Friday, the Suns gave up 20 points in overtime in a 128-121 loss to the Bulls, committed four of their 19 turnovers in the final minutes of overtime. On Sunday, the Suns were handed a 100-96 loss by the Bucks in a game where the Suns trailed by one with 30 seconds remaining before allowing a 3-pointer to Tony Snell with eight seconds left.
“At the end, we did a good job of trying to fight back,” Suns forward T.J. Warren said. “We just couldn’t finish it out, but it is on to the next one.”
During the weekend, missed free throws ultimately cost Phoenix. On Friday, Booker missed the third of three free throws with the score tied with 1.5 seconds left in regulation, and Sunday Chriss missed two free throws with 30 seconds when Phoenix trailed by one.
“The fight is always there,” Phoenix coach Earl Watson said. “We just have to learn how to win.”