Locked in a tight battle for a playoff spot, the Memphis Grizzlies know they must at least keep taking care of inferior opponents.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ recent woes against postseason contenders have doomed their hopes.
Memphis’ quest for a fourth straight playoff berth continues Wednesday night in the finale of a five-game road trip that could include Minnesota being officially eliminated from the race for a 10th consecutive year.
This trek has seen the Grizzlies (44-30) pull out narrow victories over sub-.500 teams Utah and Denver around losses to two teams ahead of them in the Western Conference playoff race – Golden State and Portland.
Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix will enter Wednesday within a half-game of each other for the West’s final two playoff spots. The Grizzlies reached the conference finals last season and haven’t missed the postseason since 2010.
"Every game for now on we have to get," Courtney Lee said after scoring 19 points in Monday’s 94-92 win over the Nuggets.
That victory gave Memphis a 9-0 record since Feb. 23 against teams currently under .500. Another one awaits Wednesday in Minnesota (36-37) and in Friday’s rematch with Denver, but then the Grizzlies play back-to-back games against conference leaders San Antonio and Miami.
"Each game is an important game for us, so we’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency," said Zach Randolph, averaging 20.6 points in his last eight games.
Randolph realizes his club can’t afford to take teams like the Nuggets and Timberwolves lightly with the playoff race coming down to the wire.
"A lot of teams is just free-styling, ain’t going postseason so they don’t care so they’re playing freely," he said. "We’re playing for something so we’ve got to come out from the beginning."
The Grizzlies certainly started strong against Minnesota on March 24, taking a 15-point lead after the first quarter and never trailing in a 109-92 home victory.
That’s part of the Timberwolves’ current 2-5 slump. Both wins came against sub-.500 clubs and every loss was to a team above that mark – by an average of 14.4 points. Minnesota surrendered an average of 118.6 points on 52.8 percent shooting in those defeats, including a 114-104 home loss to the Clippers on Monday.
A loss Wednesday would leave the Timberwolves mathematically out of the postseason hunt a month after they had climbed within five games of a spot by winning six of seven. They last reached the playoffs in 2004, when Kevin Love was a high school freshman.
"It’s definitely tough right now," said Love, whose 17.2-point average in his last five games is nearly nine below his season mark. "We’ve got to try to finish this thing strong and just try to play well. … We’re a little beat up right now, but we still have to come and play and try to give it our best."
Nikola Pekovic might not play after leaving Monday’s loss due to his troublesome right ankle. He had 19 points in a 101-93 victory at Memphis on Dec. 15 – Minnesota’s only win in the past 14 meetings – and missed the last two.
Randolph and Mike Conley have averaged 21.0 points in the season series. Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio has shot 6 for 24 in the three meetings, and he’s 9 for 32 in his last five games overall.
Memphis has won six straight in Minneapolis.