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Grizzlies continue March to the Playoffs with win over Jazz

In a playoff race, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise, though it’s not always clear when and where opportunities will present themselves.

And other times, it’s crystal clear.

Already at an advantage over the Utah Jazz, who came to Memphis after a two-point loss to Houston on Sunday night, the rested Memphis Grizzlies caught a couple of breaks—or rather, sprains and strains—during a 103-85 home win over the Jazz on Monday. Devin Harris (right hamstring strain) and Derrick Favors (left ankle sprain),the two key components to the trade that sent Deron Williams to New Jersey last month, both left the game due to injuries, leaving the Grizzlies to extend their lead over the Jazz to two-and-a-half games in the Western Conference playoff race.

Memphis avoided a season series loss to Utah, which would have given the Jazz the playoff tiebreaker and inched them to within a half-game of the eight-seed.

“I think we all knew the importance of this game coming in, with Utah pretty much on our heels in the standings,” said Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo, one of seven Grizzlies in double figures. “We just wanted to come out and play hard, be a more physical team and get a win here at home. I think we were all pretty much looking forward to this game."

“We had an opportunity to put a loss in their loss column, and we did that tonight.”

The Grizzlies were able to distance themselves from Utah thanks to excellent ball movement that translated to a season-high 33 assists on 45 made field goals. Mike Conley tallied his seventh double-double of the season with 11 points and a game-high 11 assists while Zach Randolph added five dishes to go with his 49th double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds).

“I think Mike Conley is playing outstanding,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins. “This second half of the season, he has been superb—both offensively and defensively. He’s been aggressive and kept attacking. He has just been controlling the game.”

The game almost got out of control early for the Grizzlies when Utah caught Memphis out of rhythm early and began the contest with a 10-4 lead, but the Grizzlies lifted the lid off the basket after a 0-of-7 start from the field and never looked back. Memphis’ opportunities in the early going came on second chances, as eight offensive rebounds translated into 11 second-chance points in the first quarter.

Hamed Haddadi made the most of his opportunity in the first frame after Marc Gasol picked up two quick fouls. The Iranian scored eight of his season-high tying 10 points to help the Grizzlies end the period with a 25-10 stretch.

“I think he’s a cult figure here in Memphis,” Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins said of Haddadi, who closed the game by giving the fans the hang-loose sign after his last bucket. “The players love him, and he brought his size to the game tonight.”

The Jazz crept back into the game early in the fourth quarter, cutting a 15-point deficit to seven (80-72) by scoring the first seven points of the frame, but Memphis tallied 15 of the next 18 points to claim a 20-point lead, its largest of the game.

The opportunistic Grizz improved to 13-0 at home when facing a team playing in the second game of a back-to-back set and won the battle in the paint (66-40) for an 18th consecutive game. Memphis also turned the ball over just nine times to Utah’s 19 miscues in earning a much-needed win before a two-game road trip to Boston and Chicago, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a good win over a team that’s very physical,” Hollins said of tonight’s 18-point victory. “We obviously benefited from Devin Harris getting hurt. We benefited from them playing last night."

“But I don’t feel pity for any of those teams because we’ve done it all year long.”