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Grizzlies roll in potential playoff primer

If Tuesday night’s game at FedExForum was a preview of a potential playoff matchup between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs—and if the postseason began today, it would be—the Spurs will have one of the most difficult first round matchups for a No. 1 seed in recent memory.

The Grizzlies (34-28) relied on playoff-caliber energy and defensive fortitude to defeat the Spurs 109-93, tying their largest margin of victory over San Antonio in franchise history and avenging a 95-88 loss just two nights ago that added to the playoff-series mood in Memphis.

That Tony Parker, the floor general who has led the Spurs (49-11) to the cusp of another 50-win season, missed his first game of the year with a calf injury did little to damper an undeniably quality win by the Grizzlies.

There’s a chance that we can be facing those guys in the playoffs,” said Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, who tallied 20 points to go along with his usual defensive effort. “We just wanted to come out here and make a statement, no matter who they had on the court.”

Besides, it’s not as if the Grizzlies played at full strength, either. Already missing star forward Rudy Gay due to a left shoulder injury, Memphis lost starting center Marc Gasol for the remainer of the game when he picked up his second technical foul midway through the second quarter. Teammate Jason Williams was T’ed up moments beforehand as the officials established their distaste for dissent.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, established themselves as a team that wouldn’t fold under the adversity that the first half provided. In spite of the calls against them, the Grizzlies gained some traction with an early 10-0 run to escape the Spurs’ last lead of the game and give them a 22-14 advantage with 4:08 to play in the first quarter.

“We came out with great emotion and intensity,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins. “We were physical and aggressive and we kind of knocked them back on their heels. We kept attacking and kept attacking. They were scoring early on, but we were coming at them and finally we got control of what we were trying to do in our schemes and we kept widening the lead.”

The lead grew to as many 25 points before all was said and done as the Grizzlies won at FedExForum for a fifth consecutive game, their 13th home victory in the last 15 attempts.

As has been the case all season, Memphis rode the steady hand of Zach Randolph, who collected his 28th 20-10 game of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds to go along with five assists and a season-high four steals. Despite Randolph’s offensive prowess, he was as quick as anyone to recognize that games this time of year are won on the other end of the floor.

“It was just a good team effort, especially on the defensive end,” Randolph said. “We were moving our feet; we were helping each other; we were talking. That’s what we have to do in these last 20-something games.”

Darrell Arthur, filling in for Gasol, notched 21 points and eight rebounds off the bench, giving Memphis three scorers with at least 20 points while San Antonio was held to just a single player (Gary Neal, 14) in double figures.

Mike Conley reached the magic number of nine assists to give Memphis its 10th consecutive victory when he’s dished out nine-or-more, and added 18 points.

With things clicking on all cylinders for the Grizzlies, they’re beginning to show that not only are they capable of making the postseason, they’re capable of winning in the postseason.

Manu Ginobili, held to just nine points after a season-high 35 against the Grizzlies on Sunday, knows as much.

“It would be tough because they play hard,” Ginobili said of a possible first round series with Memphis. “They know that they have a shot.”