Grizzlies riding lackluster schedule to playoffs

A string of lackluster opponents couldn’t have come at a much better time for the Memphis Grizzlies, who are attempting to secure homecourt advantage for the opening round of the playoffs. The Grizzlies, though, aren’t necessarily making it easy on themselves in those games.

After surviving a late comeback attempt, Memphis will try to stay alive in the race for a top-four finish in the Western Conference by beating another sub-.500 team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, on Monday night.

The Grizzlies’ four straight wins have all come over teams with losing records but they’ve prevailed by an average of seven points in those games. They had to rally from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out an 85-80 victory Friday against league-worst Charlotte and nearly blew a 12-point advantage in the final 4:15 of a 93-89 win over Portland the next day.

Rudy Gay made a key block on a 3-point attempt with five seconds left and had a team-best 21 points during that game.

“Sometimes, we play to the level of our opponents,” center Marc Gasol said. “If we play a good team, we play a lot better. If we play the not-so-good teams, we play to their level. That’s a part of the process of getting better and being a good team. At least, we get up at the end and realize that we’ve actually got to win.”

Memphis (39-25) is 14-4 over its last 18 with some of those early wins coming on the road against marquee opponents Oklahoma City, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Grizzlies also recorded home wins over Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers, who lead Memphis by one game for fourth place in the West.

“Those are the kind of games these guys get up for,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “Then after we had that stretch of those teams, all of a sudden, we get a stretch of a bunch of teams that aren’t in the playoffs. I can’t say we struggled. We haven’t been as focused to go out and dominate them.”

The Grizzlies and Clippers each have two games remaining with Los Angeles holding the tiebreaker. That means Memphis needs to beat the Cavaliers (21-42), losers in 19 of 24, to maintain its chances of a top-four finish.

The Grizzlies also don’t hold the tiebreaker over the third-place Los Angeles Lakers, who lead the Clippers by one-half game in the Pacific Division.

After earning one of its rare wins Friday against New York, Cleveland fell 114-98 in San Antonio on Sunday. Antawn Jamison scored 21 points and Kyrie Irving had 19 during their team’s ninth defeat in 11 road games.

“There are (three) games that we have left, but right now, it’s just about getting better every day and just having a good momentum going into the summer,” Irving said.

Cleveland has lost in each of its last two trips to Memphis after winning three in a row there, but those two defeats have been by a combined nine points. The Grizzlies had four players score 19 or more points, led by Zach Randolph with 29, in a 112-105 win at the FedExForum on Feb. 4, 2011.

Gay, averaging 22.6 points on 50.9 percent shooting over his last 10 games, had 26 points despite an 8-of-20 shooting performance. The Cavaliers put only eight players on the court during that defeat.