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Grizzlies defeat Timberwolves

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

A playoff contender defends its home court, brings the same intensity every night and asserts its will against lesser opponents, and that’s exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies did in a 106-89 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night at FedExForum for their season-high sixth consecutive home victory.

And that’s exactly why the Grizzlies are a playoff contender.

Having fared exceptionally well this season against the top teams in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies made sure to take care of the conference’s cellar dweller, dismissing the Wolves early to open a four-game homestand that features three losing teams.

Memphis jumped out to an early 21-9 advantage in just over six-and-a-half minutes of play, eventually leading by as many as 19 and never less than six en route to the wire-to-wire win. The way the Grizzlies have been playing as of late, though, even dominant 17-point victories don’t seem to be enough.

“We were a little tired from last night,” said Zach Randolph, who finished with a game-high 22 points after notching a 20-10 game in last night’s win in New Orleans. “We kind of came out a little lethargic and a little slow when the game began, but we picked our energy up.”

Perhaps Randolph’s disappointment stemmed from the absence of Kevin Love, who didn’t travel with the Wolves after experiencing discomfort in Minnesota’s loss to Miami last night as a result of a lingering groin injury. Love, who was selected to the 2011 All-Star Game ahead of Randolph, had been outplayed in two previous meetings with Z-Bo this season (Randolph missed the Oct. 30 contest due to an injury of his own).

Even if it didn’t meet the Grizzlies’ lofty expectations, the win cuts Memphis’ magic number down to three, meaning any combination of Grizzlies wins or Rockets losses totaling three will secure Memphis a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2005-06.

“We understand we have to keep winning,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins. “There is a point where we will be in if we keep winning and/or Houston starts losing. Our focus is to go out and play one game at a time and when they tell us we are in, then we will be in. Until that time, we have just got to keep battling.”

While Saturday’s game hardly felt like much of a battle, the Grizzlies fought through the physical and mental fatigue that is common this time of year, particularly after a big win the previous night. Along with Friday night’s win over the Hornets, tonight’s victory puts the Grizzlies in sole possession of the seventh seed in the Western Conference, only one-half game away from the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.

Thirty-three points off of 26 turnovers and 17 steals helped the Grizzlies move up the standings Saturday, along with strong bench play led by a resurgent O.J. Mayo, who had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 27 minutes.

Memphis also outscored Minnesota by 20 points in the paint, 56-36, helping them earn the first series sweep (4-0) over the Timberwolves in franchise history. Certainly, with just five games remaining in the regular season, this is a notably different Grizzlies team than those that have graced the hardwood at FedExForum over the last several years.

“When you have a good season, the difference is your energy level, your defense, your rebounding, your execution, your ball movement, and playing together,” said Hollins. “That is what is different. That is what makes a winning team. You have good players that accept their roles and they go out and do it every night as consistently and as well as possible.

“That is the difference.”