NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As animated as Quincy Pondexter was on a night when he couldn’t miss, it looked as though he wanted the team that traded him away to notice how well he’s doing these days.
Pondexter denied it, to which teammate Rudy Gay said, “I don’t believe him at all.”
Gay tied a season-high with 28 points, Pondexter matched his season-high with 16, and the Memphis Grizzlies maintained their NBA-best winning percentage with their second-straight victory, 96-89 over the struggling New Orleans Hornets on Friday night.
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Pondexter hit all six of his shots, including four 3-pointers.
“I didn’t look at it as I’m playing against my old team,” Pondexter said. “I looked at it as we needed a win and I’m really glad our guys pulled it off tonight. It wasn’t I was extra assertive or anything tonight. I was just making the right basketball plays.”
New Orleans put up resistance, despite losing for the 11th time in 13 games, and Memphis needed Gay’s 3-pointer with 2:10 left to get some breathing room.
“We just toughed it out,” Gay said. “This is one of those games that a young team probably wouldn’t win, but the fact that we’ve been around and know how it is, the fact that this is the NBA and everybody has a chance to win, that’s what got us over the hump.”
Zach Randolph added 15 points and Marc Gasol 13 for the Grizzlies, who improved to 14-3 (.824). Pondexter, the Hornets’ first-round draft choice in 2010 who was traded for Greivis Vasquez shortly before last season, appeared to be engaging in a measure of trash talk as he made his way down the court followed each basket.
“He was yapping with them and stuff like that. That’s how it is sometimes. Guys find ways to get yourself in rhythm and get yourself pumped up,” Gay said. “There’s a lot of games. You’ve got to find whatever you can to get up. It probably does feel good for him to play against them like that, to be able to win and play well.”
Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts each scored 15 points for the Hornets, who were within one possession of tying or leading several times in the fourth quarter. Xavier Henry, making his first start this season, had 12 points.
“It’s close to the right effort,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “I’m proud of how we competed but my heart aches because you lost a game you had a chance to win.
“That we held a good team to 45 points in the second half says a lot about how our guys competed,” Williams added.
Henry started for Al-Farouq Aminu, who did not play at all despite being healthy. Williams did not explain the lineup change in detail other than to say he wants to give chances to those who understand that playing in the NBA is a privilege and who play with passion.
Rivers’ point total was a season high for the rookie, drafted 10th overall.
Both teams shot well in a crowd-pleasing contest, with Memphis hitting 50 percent (36 of 72) and New Orleans 48 percent (36 of 75). The Hornets were 8 of 16 from 3-point range and the Grizzlies 8 of 17.
Memphis dominated inside, however, outrebounding New Orleans 46-29 and outscoring the Hornets 46-36 in the paint. The Grizzlies also had 17 second-chance points, thanks in part to 11 offensive rebounds.
New Orleans close to 86-85 when Jason Smith snagged Roberts’ lob feed at the front rim and laid it in. Memphis responded with Randolph’s inside basket and Gasol’s 8-foot turnaround bank shot as he was fouled by Smith. Rivers’ one-handed pull-up cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 91-87 before Gay drilled his key right win 3 to quiet the New Orleans Arena crowd.
Memphis appeared to be taking control in the last five minutes of the second quarter with a 12-4 run that began with Gay’s 3-pointer. Conley and Pondexter also hit from deep, giving the Grizzlies their first double-digit lead at 43-33.
Memphis’ lead grew to 14 before Anderson’s tip-in cut it to 51-39 at halftime.
New Orleans slowly clawed back in the third quarter, though, closing the period with an 8-2 spurt, featuring 3s by Rivers and Roberts, that cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 71-66 and setting up a tense final 12 minutes.
NOTES: Hornets F Anthony Davis, the NBA’s top overall draft choice, missed his 10th straight game. New Orleans is 2-8 during that stretch. … G Tony Allen (right groin strain) started after missing Memphis’ previous three games. He finished six points. … New Orleans, which plays in Miami on Saturday night, closed out its five-game home stand 1-4. … Gay has scored at least 14 points in every game this season. … Memphis had its highest overall and 3-point shooting percentages of any half this season, hitting 55.3 percent over all (21 of 38) and 55.6 percent from deep (5 of 9).